When the time comes to write an article, web copy, or any piece, I always know exactly where to start. At the beginning. Or at the end. Sometimes in the middle.

I realized a few years ago that I don’t think I’ve ever approached two pieces in the exact same way and had it work out. When I try to do that it sounds forced. Each piece is its own creature that must be fed in its own way. There is no exact recipe for creating a successful piece of writing.

Writing is a process, and the part where I sit down to put the words on the virtual paper is one of the last stages. Before that comes questions, research, information gathering, thinking, mental organization, and some procrastination.

Then I start to write. And although the writing never seems to go exactly the same way twice, I have a bag of tricks I use to get things going. I might write a headline, or an introduction, or a conclusion. If none of those spur additional words to flow forth, I find the best quote and work from there. Sometimes I just type a byline to get something down.

I think of it like playing jazz. You know the song structure; you don’t know the exact notes you want to play. You need to react to what has been played. You can’t know what you’ll play until you hear the other notes. It’s improvisation — organized chaos.

What’s important is recognizing what isn’t working and to be willing to move on to the next trick when something is failing. I also have the benefit of experience: eventually, the piece will get written. It always does. Confidence goes a long way toward success.

Of course, that first draft is only part of the longer process. Then comes more research and rewriting. Cook until done, as the recipe says.