Tuesday, November 3, 2009

QT No. 1 -- Don't Write in Full Sentences

Quick Tip No. 1: If you tend to become paralyzed in front of a blank screen, write lists rather than full sentences.

By lists I mean things like this:

- 238.8 miles in 48 hrs on road
- how far she's gone, w/ peaks & valleys
- started small, but it was a start

Key point: Keep typing. Don't worry about structure, tone, vocabulary, spelling or audience. Just get your content down. Fragments? Good! Mispellings? Great. Typos? Bring 'em on! It's all good. In fact, the messier the better.

Only let yourself write lists. Don't slip into full sentences. Go, go, go, as if the higher crime is letting your fingers stop, not writing poorly.

Once your ideas are there, you can move them around. And later, after moving them around, you can begin to finesse the structure and vocabulary. Make corrections afterward. Don't start with "good writing."

This is called "free-writing." If you've done a good job of pre-writing, then your free-writing will be productive.

Some people become mentally constipated because (1) they haven't asked enough questions from the audience's perspective, which is part of pre-writing, or (2) because they jumped too fast into the mental mode associated with the final phase, which is re-writing.

Pre-writing means brainstorming, research, analysis, collecting questions and jotting down gut instincts. You can also call it critical thinking. In tech PR, we mine from three specific categories for effective pre-writing: (1) news value, (2) business value, (3) secret sauce. (I teach this in my workshops.)

Re-writing means editing for grammar, voice, impact on reader, etc. It's inherently judgmental. But if you *start* in this judgmental mode, you get stuck.

So, don't put the cart before the horse. First, search & find. Second, throw words at screen as fast as you can. Lastly, tidy up.

In "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott, you'll find explicit permission to write crap. (In my workshops I delicately spell it in make-believe French -- crappe.) In writing, crap is good. It's fertilizer for the pretty flowers that come later.