Saturday, September 20, 2008

Overcome the Fear of Writing

When you write your own business materials, it's not always easy to
get pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. Here are some tips to keep
the creative juices flowing - or to get them started.

First of all, are you clear what your purpose is? Before you start
writing be sure you know what your goal is.

If you get stuck facing a blank screen, try talking your ideas aloud, discussing them with someone, or mapping them on a sheet of paper.

Brainstorming maps work well for randomly generating ideas or use the cluster method of linking related ideas in spokes off a central idea.

Nothing is too weird if helps you work: the philosopher Immanuel Kant could only write with a shriveled apple in his desk drawer (he liked the smell). Some people swear by Baroque music (Handel, Bach,
Vivaldi)-for you it might be a bowl of corn nuts. Set up an environment that caters to your writerly needs. If you are at the
office, this might involve some compromises.

Much of writing is thinking, and much of thinking is listening
(erroneously referred to as "staring into space"). If you are in an
environment where you are distracted by noises (or there aren't
enough noises) find the right place. This might mean writing a first
draft somewhere else and revising at your desk.

If outlines work for you (take heart, they don't for everybody),
start your work with a rough outline of the areas you want to cover.
You don't have to go through this outline in a linear way. Start
where you have your ideas. If you get a random idea that doesn't fit
anywhere put it at the bottom of the page in a parking lot area for
later reference. Never, never say "I'll remember that" because it
just ain't true.

Don't try to sound perfect on your first go through. Just get it down in point form or crummy sentences first. Allow yourself the luxury of messiness. Type ideas as they come out. You may start to see a pattern emerge and be able to loosely group ideas together. Much of what we call "organization" goes on in our head while we are in the act of writing.

If you get stuck in the middle of a sentence looking for the right
word, type XXX or ???. You can come back later and fix it, but now is not the time to staunch the flow of ideas.

If you're really stuck, have someone read what you've written and ask you about the unclear parts. You'd be amazed how many times when a writer is asked "what did you mean by..." the writer answers in a
perfectly clear sentence which can be used in the written work.

If you're stuck on how to approach the writing, try writing in a
different "voice." Type as if you are speaking to a friend. Or fill
out details by using a question and answer format. Or start by saying what the reader won't find in this piece of writing (to arrive at what they will find). You can revise and refine later to adjust the style and format.

It's often a good idea to print a hard copy of your first draft and
revise it away from the screen. Changing medium like this is a good
way to get a fresh look at your writing.

Don't be too hard on yourself. Sometimes what we call writer's block
is actually the "processing" stage of the writing process. This is
where we wander around doing anything but actually writing-making
coffee, vacuuming-but all along there is a subconscious thought
process going on which is roughly ordering ideas.

Of course, it's up to you to determine where "processing" crosses the line and becomes outright work avoidance. Try a dried apple.

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