Posted by: nancyisanders | October 7, 2013

Highlights: Writing Session 1

The first paragraph of any manuscript is a unique entity all its own and Highlights is no different. So I sat down to write the first paragraph of my article. Here’s how it went:

First I went over the plot chart I made for my article to get it fresh in my mind again.

Then I read and re-read and then read the first paragraph again of my target sample article. It really gave an exciting and very interesting introduction to the whole article and had solid quotes in it to boot!

So I gathered several primary sources (the subject’s autobiographies…he wrote more than one) and also a children’s book I have on my topic.

Why a children’s book? Because I often start digging around in children’s books when I start my research. Children’s books just highlight the golden nuggets. I don’t have to wade through 300+page monsters to try to find what I’m looking for. They are so helpful to use as part of the research process!

My children’s book showed exactly which part of my subject’s life he achieved the narrow focus I’m writing about. It also showed how this fit into the era he lived in.

Armed with this information, I then picked up one of his autobiographies. I skimmed through the table of contents and found the chapters where he talks about the narrow focus I’m writing about.

Then I skimmed and read through these pages about this part of his life. I looked for quotes. And fragments of quotes that could have potential.

I put sticky notes on pages that I want to come back to. I jotted down on a piece of paper several quotes that I thought had potential to use in my article.

Every once in a while a sentence would start to form in my mind for the first paragraph of my Highlights article. I’d just write these ideas down. Plus, I tried to weave in several quotes I’d discovered in his autobiography. I made a note for each reference I used.

When I make notes during a research session like this, I give each of my research books a code such as:


So when I’m writing notes by hand, I can just write in: AC201 or AD32 next to the part I wrote that needs a footnote. This tells me quickly that I found that fact on page 201 of a particular book and on page 32 of a different one.

After about an hour and a half of reading through the autobiography and jotting down notes by hand, I had a rough three sentences that could work as the first draft of the first paragraph in my Highlights article.

So I moved to my computer. I typed out these three sentences and streamlined them a bit to work better together. I added several footnotes with a full bibliographical record to each quote I used and every fact I drew from somewhere.

Whew! I was finished for the day.

I had the first draft of my first paragraph. It stinks. It’s rough around the edges. It doesn’t quite have the kid appeal it should have.

But hey…it’s a first draft! First drafts are supposed to stink! That’s why they’re called first drafts.

I feel great that I actually have something typed. My manuscript is started. I can rework it and polish it and hone it to perfection in the days ahead.

So can you! So sit down and get your first paragraph written. You can do this! It’s just three or four sentences. Make it your goal today.


  1. I appreciate how precise and complete you’re being as you share this process with us. You don’t speak in lofty, amorphous language…you simply say it…and say it simply. Thanks for doing so. I love your hint about assigning letters to your research books. You’re a very generous woman Nancy, and those of us who follow your blog are the lucky recipients!

    • Audrey, you made my day! I’m soooo glad you’re being inspired and equipped by these posts on my blog!

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