Be My Guest/Journalism 101: Clover Hope



A special treat today dear readers. Ms. Clover Hope, who blessed us with an awesome guest blog back in June, is back!

This time, she’s here to impart wisdom on the rewriting process.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it til I’m in the blue face: Clover is nice with the words. I’m honored and excited that she’s agreed to giving us a peek into her methodology.

Clover recently wrote a piece for XXL magazine on the phenomena of southern dance music. (Do the Hally Berry!) Today, she guides us through her process, from rough draft to published piece.


The Constant Gardener

On Re-Writing, Drafts and the Self-Editing Process

By Clover Hope

“But writing, dear readers, is actually re-writing.” —Aliya S. King, “Show Don’t Tell”

I’m an obsessive rewriter. Some writers can sit at their computers and pump out a story in one sitting. I can’t. Correction: I’m able to. But I prefer a few days or weeks to work on a lengthy piece.

The first draft is never the best in my eyes, especially if it’s a long story. The more you can revise a story, the better.

When I get to the point where I say:  “I HATE this story!” that’s when I know I’m nearly done rewriting. Nearly. I realize that doesn’t work for everyone. But I enjoy the process.

For an assignment, my self-editing process usually goes like this: I sit down to start writing after the interview is done and transcribed, after I’ve highlighted quotes that stand out, either on paper or in Microsoft Word. In the past, I would always rush to start writing the piece, but nowadays I pace myself and think about the story more beforehand, as long as there’s no quick turnaround. Better to have more ideas floating in my head. I will, however, jot down notes or phrases that pop up while thinking. Sometimes the best ledes come out of this.

I don’t do outlines. I’ve heard some crazy talk that it helps you stay organized or something like that? But I always end up structuring the piece on the spot. I’m usually extremely organized so I don’t know why I can’t do formal outlines.

When I was interning at Vibe a few years ago, the interns produced an in-house magazine called Vibe Remix. I was writing the cover story on the company’s president at the time, Kenard Gibbs, and had asked one of the Vibe editors for guidance. He asked whether I did outlines and said that it might help. I said, “Nope.”

I do always have an angle in mind beforehand. So after I have a good first draft, slaving over a lede that might not always end up as my final lede, I get into self-editing.

Then, there is a point where I need to see how the story reads on paper, so I print it out. I edit it on the paper, and then back on screen. And then I print it out again. Then I edit it on the paper, then back on screen, and then print it out. Then I edit it on the paper… you get it. In the end, I’ll have had about 5-10 different printouts with various editing marks. It starts out looking like this:

Clover Page One

Clover page Two

Usually I throw out my early drafts but for the purpose of this guest blog, I kept them and uploaded to my computer.

I hadn’t finished all of my interviews when I started writing (I don’t know if that’s bad) but I had done a bunch of research and surfed YouTube incessantly and I felt like, at least, writing down my thoughts. Above is what I wrote when I first sat down to write.

After looking at this, I realized that this could serve as my outline. I would advise doing a real outline if that works for you. This was an hour or so of writing. I sent it to myself to work on later.

Interjection from Aliya:

Although Clover says she doesn’t outline, she actually does. She just doesn’t outline first. And she doesn’t think of it as outlining. But check out this screengrab from her first draft:

clover 3

See how she writes the letters B D and E at the bottom? I asked her what those letters represented. She told me it represented different sections of the story and where she needed to move things around.

Essentially, this is outlining. It’s all about seeing the big picture of your story. And then cutting it up into manageable chunks and rearranging them for clarity.

It just happens that Clover actually writes a draft before outlining. (I do the exact same thing.)

Back to Clover!:

A lot of indecisiveness goes on, and I tend to go back and forth adding and taking away certain words or phrases. It is a bad habit I guess, but it’s part of my process. That said, here are some things to keep in mind.

1. Avoid repetition.
When I’m working on a story, I tend to repeat ideas over and over in an effort to prove my point. It’s a natural part of the writing process. But if you have two or more phrases that mean the same except that you’re saying it differently, don’t be afraid to take one out.

2. Tighten your transitions.
When I first started out, I had a really hard time with transitions. It’s an art in and of itself to not write something cliché. It’s about moving on to the next sentence or paragraph without being corny or excessive. It’s okay if you’re stuck to just move on. Sometimes I’ll write “Transition” and figure it out later.

3. Edit your descriptions.
Many times, I’ll have a general idea of what I want to say but don’t quite have the eloquence. In those cases, I’ll write the thought out and underline it. On the next round of self-editing, I try to come up with better phrasing. A good friend of mine gave me advice for whenever I’m stuck: Just write it in plain Midwest speak (she’s from Nebraska) and then go from there. This also goes for words you don’t like. The thesaurus is my best friend and I have no shame using it if I want to experiment with new words. I get tired of using “sultry” to describe a singer.

[Interjection from Aliya: I think I’ve described a singer as sultry about 1,464 times in my career. I’m banning that word. Effective immediately!]

4. Substitute quotes if necessary.
We’ve all learned that if you can’t write something better than how your subject said it, then just let the subject speak. In my Southern dance draft, I changed the sentence that starts with, “Some clubs in the South even show the music videos…” into the artist’s own words. Also, if a quote doesn’t quite have the right punch as you initially thought, take it out or find a replacement. Don’t fall in love with quotes that don’t make sense.

4. Cut, cut, cut, and cut some more.
I took a magazine writing class in college that basically made my journalism career. Don’t know where I’d be without it. My professor was the executive editor of ESPN The Magazine at the time and is now Editor. The most valuable thing I learned from that class is the power of cutting. Sometimes we fall in love with our words so much that we miss that we’re supposed to be telling a story that the reader understands. That’s where cutting comes into play. Cut. Once I get closer to the final draft, I start looking for words that can be cut and phrases that can be trimmed to read better and also get me closer to the word count.

And there you have it folks. Rewriting is really the only way to produce great writing. That’s why classic works of art take years, sometimes decades, to complete but end up sounding so natural. The purpose of my OCD self-editing is to complete a piece of prose that has flow, insight, readability, rhythm and a piece of me.

Here’s a great paragraph from the rewriting section in my bible, On Writing Well by William Zinsser:

“Rewriting is the essence of writing well: it’s where the game is won or lost. That idea is hard to accept. We all have an emotional equity in our first draft; we can’t believe that it wasn’t born perfect. But the odds are close to 100 percent that it wasn’t. Most writers don’t initially say what they want to say, or say it as well as they could. The newly hatched sentence almost always has something wrong with it. It’s not clear. It’s not logical. It’s verbose. It’s clunky. It’s pretentious. It’s boring. It’s full of clutter. It’s full of clichés. It lacks rhythm. It can be read in several different ways. It doesn’t lead out of the previous sentence. It doesn’t… The point is that clear writing is the result of a lot of tinkering.”

I really wish I could print the rest of that section but it’s too long. Get the book! Happy self-editing.

Dear readers:

Did Clover help you figure out the re-writing process? Can you share your method for re-writing. If you print out as many versions of your story as Clover does, do you make sure to use recycled paper? Do you use a thesaurus when you write? Do you read your story aloud? Tell us about your revision process.

Clover and I would love to hear from you!

P.S. Have you ever used the word “sultry” to describe a singer? I know I have. I Googled. Ha.

_aliya s. king_ sultry - Google Search-1

20 Responses to “Be My Guest/Journalism 101: Clover Hope”

  1. Laylah Amatullah Barrayn Says:

    Rewriting+time= an amazing piece of work. Rewriting reminds me of making wine. Or, enjoying day-old food that so much tastes better because the seasonings have absorbed overnight. Rewriting is actually my favorite part or the process. I dread the moments of transcribing and getting the words onto the page. I’m in bliss-mode when I’m moving paras around and fitting them in spots like a puzzle and chopping up sentences leaving them lean and clean. This was a great read, Clover, thank you for sharing!

  2. Aliya S. King Says:

    @Layla: This is exactly the way I feel about rewriting! I love it!

  3. Russell Nichols Says:

    Thank you Clover for sharing your rewriting process. I am on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. My newspaper experience made me a deadline writer, but even before that I was the type that had to get it as close to perfect as possible the first time. No printouts. No red-ink mark ups. I spend two hours trying to think up the perfect opening sentence and then freestyle the rest together as I go.

    I know that taking more time re-write would probably make my work stronger. But I have this issue where once I finish something, I struggle to find the energy to undo. Don’t get me wrong. I do review it, delete unnecessary sentences and move around paragraphs, but it usually still resembles the first draft. I outline more in my mind than on paper. Excellent post.

    LOL @ Aliya’s “sultry” usage. It is the definitive adjective for soul singers. What will you do now that you’ve banned it?

  4. Michael Says:

    I got three instances of sultry when I Googled my name + sulty. Eh.

    Great entry, Clover. I don’t feel I am as methodical in my writing/re-writing process as others, and as a result, maybe my pieces don’t pop as much as they could. I can chalk it up to my ADD, but I probably need to pay a bit more attention.

    For something important to me, I will print it out, look it over and such, but I reach the “I hate this piece” point a lot sooner than most (possibly).

  5. Tara Pringle Jefferson Says:

    Speaking of re-writing, I have found that being on Twitter has helped me tremendously as a writer. I’ve learned how to caress a sentence or thought until it sings but you can still get the meaning. When I tweet, I write down exactly what it is I want to say. Then I eliminate the fluff, resulting in a tighter, more coherent message.

    I loved Clover’s notes and tips – now if I just had an assignment to try them out on! :)

  6. clove Says:

    “sultry” is heretofore banned

    thanks for pointing out that I really do, do outlines! Had never really thought about it like that before…

    Another thing I wanted to point out was that I LOVE being edited (by good editors) but I also like to turn in copy as clean as possible to avoid being edited haha. just, the less minor errors you have, the more confident an editor is in assigning you a story

    you can read the first page of the published piece here to see how it came out:

  7. Haftime/Heather Says:

    I used “sultry” that ONE time. *I think…
    (side note: I just edited a story *not mine* with “sultry period of summer” in the lede. CUT!)

    I love this post Clover! It’s funny how similar our re-writing styles are – the 50 million printouts, the pseudo outlines. Zinsser’s On Writing Well is always near by for me. “The Craft of Revision” by Donald Murray is another good reference book.

  8. Haftime/Heather Says:

    @ Clover: Diggin the new folio layout! Clean, professional theme.

  9. Taiia Says:

    @ clovito: so i’m stealing your tip about highlighting quotes that stand out. never thought to do it on paper. doh! just did it mentally. and i’m so in love with the thesaurus. shoot, even my son (he’s 8) knows how to go to and look up another word for gooey.

  10. kenrya Says:

    Yeah, my process is nearly identical to Clover’s. (I do use recycled paper, and my printer defaults to printing on both sides, lol.) I enjoy re-writing much more than writing. For me, writing is just spewing all my thoughts onto the page; the re-write is what makes it shine. And that, my friends, is why I prefer editing to writing! ;-)

    Great post!

  11. T T Says:

    Very interesting. Thanks for sharing. I pretty much use a sim. process, but don’t print as much–trying to save trees, you know. (Long time reader, first time commenter–LOL.)

  12. The Constant Gardener « Dope Penmanship Says:

    […] The Constant Gardener I’m an obsessive rewriter. Some writers can sit at their computers and pump out a story in one sitting. I can’t. Correction: I’m able to. But I prefer a few days or weeks to work on a lengthy piece. […]

  13. KD Says:

    Oddly enough they don’t teach this at Howard, or anything magazine related really. =/

  14. Alisha Says:

    Thanks Clover! I’ve never used sultry, but I always use “Blah Blah’s album DROPS in the fall.” I hate using variations of “drop”. Ugh.

    Usually, after I’ve done my own research, I have an idea of how I will begin the story (usually my personal take on the subject). During the interview, the subject usually says something that is so great that I immediately change my direction when I sit down to write. I’m thinking to myself, “This will be a great lede.”

    The most frustrating and challenging thing is making sure everything flows and is in the right place in the story. That might be why I love to write. It’s like figuring out a math problem (even though I’m terrible at it). I think of a finished story as the answer to a difficult equation.

    I’ll be honest, I don’t print out my stories and edit them on paper as often as I should, but I will send it to another email address the next day and re-read it as if I never have. I find all kinds of errors and things I want to change.

    Thanks again for the info, Clover and Aliya!

  15. Charreah J Says:

    Great post! Nothing worst than that feeling of seeing all these rewrites when its already put to bed. Especially being in web, good reminder to still take that extra care

  16. Honey Walrond Says:

    Great tips Clover, I like the idea of different letters representing different sections of the story. I usually use different color pens marked with a asterisk.

    Re-writing makes my work so much better, but I have a love and hate relationship with the re-writing process. Once I get flowing in the re-writing process, I love putting the story together, cutting, changing words, adding quotes, avoiding repetition (my strongest writing flaw) etc…

    Sometimes I dread when it comes time to do it. Mostly because I get frustrated as to where I should begin. I’m starting to use outlines to help me out with this.

    I do print the story out on paper when editing. And I am getting in the habit of reading it aloud, when I can actually hear the words, it gives me a sense of what sounds good and what I need to fix. I also use a thesaurus, thesaurus is my best friend.

    I use to believe good writers can get everything in one setting, but I learned thats not always the case. True writing is re-writing.

    Thanks Clover & Aliya, great post.

  17. ak Says:

    great post!

    i always love to hear how other writers actually get things on paper. my problem is perfectionism to the point of paralysis. i’m a *very* anal editor, thanks to capricorn parents and the journalistic waterboarding i endured during an early career copy-editing boot camp.

    question for clover: when you have a quick turnaround, how does your revision process change?

  18. clove Says:

    @ak for quick turnarounds when I don’t have time to print out drafts, I stick mostly to Word. I’ll bold quotes from my transcript and cut and paste into a new doc and go from there, using the quotes as my outline/guideline. once I get close to a final draft, I still try to do at least one printout since I have a printer at home. To me there’s a difference between reading something on screen versus on paper. I feel like you catch more things when you can see it in front of you the same way you’d be reading it in the mag. it’s also important with quick turnies to take a break. sometimes i’ll go the whole day & forget I didn’t eat :/

    i’m glad so many other writers are meticulous! ha

  19. guerdley Says:

    I love this story. I almost forgot how obsessively meticulous writers are, i thought for amoment I was alone.. Yes, my process is similar. I start with a thesis and string of bullet points. The bullet point are usually my points of research. Then I throw in a bunch of words I;ve been dying to use to carry me along my way. So, I literally purge all my opinions in one cohesive monster of a first draft. Second draft is then initiated by lumber jacking all of the bullshit excess I had spewed. I get rid of the unneccessary, the exxageratted, the clear indicators that I’m obsessed with my voice. Yea, all those bad boys got to go. And then there gone, and I’m looking at a peice with some integrity. Then I check for the flow and make sure my adjectives have life. They should be loaded with sensory. Ideally.

  20. Newmie Newm Says:

    The best thing anyone ever taught me was “Get the damn thing on paper.” Oftentimes, I’ll spend so much time trying to craft the perfect sentence or paragraph in my head that I’ll agonize for way too long. Eventually, I realized that if you just get the idea down on paper, you can revisit it in later drafts and improve the verbiage.

    Outlines are great for those of us ADD kids who need a little structure. A physical separation of ideas on paper helps your brain (or at least mine) separate out different parts of the article into more manageable bits.

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