“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Michelangelo
Edit, edit, edit. A mess of ideas and then wield the chisel. The ideas are the marble, beautiful in themselves but a blunt instrument. It’s the sculpture that you carve out of them that really counts.
First, find the ideas, source the raw materials. This is the easy bit: experience, reading, research, considering different opinions and perspectives, gather everything together in a pile. Then sift. Sift and sift again. Writing is editing. Find a way to step into the piece, a thread to link what you say. An extended metaphor works well because it sews ideas together. Sometimes writing is more like manual labour: stacking idea after idea on top of each other until you have a building.
Now test each statement you’ve made for validity. Do I genuinely mean this, or am I saying it for effect? Is this as exact and accurate as I can make it? Does this example hold true? Is this really what I mean to say? Check that your words do as little harm as possible. Be gentle, inclusive, kind where you can. If you state a strong opinion, accept that some will disagree, or feel wounded. Acknowledge the downsides and limitations of your argument. Where you use an example from real life, put yourself in the other person’s shoes. If I was this person, how would I feel about a writer using me in this way? If this was my child … is as good a measure as any.
Have a look at the colour and texture of your writing. Does it flow smoothly? Is it the right length, or does it ramble on too long? Sometimes short is powerful. Find a way to crystallise the idea rather than throwing lots of words at the reader. Are there cliches, and how can I get rid of them? Is there any repetition, are there spare words? Is there enough colour and variety? Or have I gone too flowery and overly-descriptive? (One of the great ironies of being a writer is that they spend twelve years at school teaching you to use adjectives and adverbs, then you spend the rest of your life trying to get rid of them.) Cut, cut, cut. Edit, edit, edit.
Put it all together and you should come up with a voice: your voice. If you get it wrong it’ll just sound as though you’ve glued a load of words together. If you get it right your readers will feel as though you’re sitting next to them, whispering in their ears. Now send your voice out into the world but understand that not everyone will want to listen to you or like what you say. Don’t worry; it doesn’t matter. Finally, start over again.
This is how I write.