I’m staring at my computer screen, wondering how to begin writing this blog post, and drawing a big blank. Hmm…maybe I should make another cup of coffee, or open that stack of non-essential mail I’ve been ignoring, or possibly just rearrange my sock drawer! Anything rather than face “blank page syndrome.”
Does this sound familiar? There is some comfort in knowing I am not alone, nor are you, if you find it challenging to sit down and write. People frequently tell me they assume it’s because they’re not “real writers.” “Real writers,” they say, don’t have this problem. They just flex their fingers over the keyboard and away they go, creating beautiful prose. However, nothing could be farther from the truth.
The reality is all writers have to work hard at writing. (For some blunt thoughts about this topic, watch this video of Bob Moresco, Oscar winning co-writer of the movie Crash.)
Here’s the thing. Anytime you sit down to write, whether it’s a marketing letter, an important email, or the first chapter of that novel you’ve been starting for the past decade, you need to embrace this truth: writing isn’t easy.
The better news is, there are ways to approach writing that will make it less daunting. Like any process, writing can be broken down into steps. Here’s what I do, based on years of “facing-the-blank-page.” (In fact, I ended up following these steps to complete this blog post.) The following is what I think of as a “road map for writing.”
- Begin by thinking about the ideas you’d like your document to contain. Sometimes this part of the process is actually best done away from the computer. (In fact, some of my best ideas come to me in the shower!)
- Next, simply get your ideas onto the page. Don’t worry about the shape your article/letter/proposal will take, just focus on getting the thoughts that are in your head onto the document.
- Now look at what you’ve written and decide which are the most important points, the key messages. (Another way of looking at this is to ask yourself: “Which story do I want to tell?”) Eliminate the non-essentials.
- Next, organize the ideas so that there is a logical flow. You may cut and paste (and save) various versions, organizing and reorganizing until you’re satisfied with the results.
- At this stage it becomes a matter of the language you use to connect the ideas, and to make the entire piece flow. You will find that using simple, direct language will help you every time, when it comes to a business document.
- Once you have a complete draft, begin to re-write, to massage and polish your work until you are satisfied. Good writing is frequently a product of careful rewriting, rather than the initial draft.
- If possible leave this draft of your work alone for a day, or even an hour, and come back to it later. Once you look at it with fresh eyes, you will spot errors of logic (or grammar).
Naturally my little “road map” will have detours. You may find it easier to work from a more structured outline, someone else may find it helpful to speak out loud and write down his or her ideas as they do so. There are also other approaches and resources to help you kick start your writing (for example Daily Writing Tips has a brief but helpful post about this). But many people I know choose to follow the kind of journey I’ve outlined above because it’s almost always a journey with a satisfying destination — a solid piece of good writing.