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Who knows where this is going?

Detroit Lakes Newspapers columnist Lynn Hummel recently published his fourth book, "The Last Word," a collection of some of his favorite columns from the past 40 years.

I just read about a well-known songwriter describing his writing methods for lyrics. He doesn't start with a song on his mind (or in his heart). He says when he feels like writing, he just sits down with pen and paper and no ideas at all and starts writing. The song sings itself while he's writing.

I don't believe it happens that way, even for one writer. But since I get questions about the process of writing, and although I consider myself an amateur (an amateur is a writer who would starve to death if he didn't — or didn't once have — a day job), we'll explore the writing business (or hobby) and maybe answer some of the questions I've been asked from time to time.

Most professional writers of fiction say they never start writing a book without knowing exactly how it's going to end, because if they don't know how it's going to end, there will probably be a lot of re-writing once they decide.

There are other writers who say they don't plan the ending in advance and they just let the story develop as it goes. But I'm sure they have a good clear idea of the plot before they sit down with a blank sheet of paper and start writing. Some of those who let the story unfold as they write it say "I can hardly wait to see how it turns out."

They liken the writing process to walking down a long hallway with lots of doors and rooms to explore on the way through. Every door must be opened and the room entered as the story progresses. You can't know what's in there without going in and looking around. Some will be empty and some will have part of the story. The mental process of writing that book is the journey down the hallway and the side room. The imagination has many nooks and crannies.

Writing articles like the ones I write always start with an idea — a subject. As you may have noticed, there are as many or more bad ideas (dull, flat, banal) as there are good ones. Ideas come from reading, conversations, family life, observations, experiences (like parking one car in two parking spaces), and everyday living — love, children, expenses, broken hearts, disappointments, death and taxes.

The pen doesn't hit the paper (I don't use a typewriter or computer to write) until there is at least the beginning of an idea. Sometimes it is almost totally developed from the first word and sometimes it is developed by walking down that long hallway and exploring all the rooms. The rooms may be strictly mental or they may require research. Research may be in the form of newspapers, magazines, books, Google, conversations or phone calls to people who remember.

The more research is necessary, the longer the process takes. There is a first draft, a revision, then the article is dictated for a typist (thankfully, the typists seldom comment on how dull an article is). Then, once typed, it is reviewed again and tweaked, then sent to the paper. The process probably averages about three hours per article.

Many good writers develop a habit in their early days of keeping a personal journal to record their observations, experiences and ideas. A good way to start. I never did. For me, this is a hobby. I have no manual skills, I don't have the temperament to be a craftsmen, and I love to read, so I write. Nobody who doesn't love to read would enjoy writing.

When you get married, you don't know what the years will bring — children, jobs, moves, changes. When you start a job, you don't know how it will develop — promotions, thrills, changes, disappointments, even possible termination. And when you write, you may not even have the first word of your song, or the end of your novel or what's at the end of the hall you're exploring. But even if you don't know where it's going, you're hoping for a good journey. And, as the expression goes, the journey may be more important than the destination.

Order Lynn Hummel's new book, The Last Word (171 articles, 310 pages) by sending $15 plus $3 postage ($10 plus postage for additional books) to Pony Express Books, 1948 Long Bridge Road, Detroit Lakes, MN 56501, or order at: bevlyn@arvig.net.

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