How to write something you can’t write

The_ScreamEveryone finds some types of writing difficult. Your thoughts hit a brick wall, your mind goes blank, your fingers freeze.  It might be a difficult chapter, a cover letter, your web text, or a biography. Usually, you’ve hit an emotional or psychological barrier: it’s too personal, too important, or too far outside your comfort zone. It feels like anyone in the world could write it better than you – but you’re the only one who can write it, because the information’s in your head. Longer term, you might want to sit down with your fears; if it’s just one piece of writing, though, and you need to get it done now, this is how.

1. Bullet point what you need to include

On one half of a page, write a bullet-pointed list of everything you want or need to include. Don’t worry about the order, amount, or wording: just list the information. Work on paper, with a pen or pencil, not on the computer.

2. Turn it into a tick-list of what they want to hear

On the other half of the page, turn it into a tick-list of what your reader wants to hear. You might want to say “am brilliant party organiser!” – what they want to hear is “your party brilliant!” Again, don’t worry about the wording.  (Even if you’re going for structured support and getting a professional in to write it, you still need to do up to this point. Your copywriter doesn’t have access to your thoughts!)

3. Group your tick-list

Put similar ideas together. My favourite way is to grab a handful of coloured pens and use colour-coded circles or asterisks to mark similar stuff. It’s visual and flexible.

4. Write each tick-point as a sentence

Treat each item in your tick-list separately and write each one as a full sentence. “your party brilliant” becomes “I’ll make your party brilliant.”  Yes, it’s that simple. Still don’t worry about the wording too much: you just want sentences. (I write these on paper then type them up.)

5. Put the sentences in order

You’ve already grouped your tick-points into categories; now put your sentences in order within those categories. I do this on the computer, but if I’m struggling, I’ll print them out and do it by hand, with arrows and scribbles. Don’t worry about joining the sentences: just put them in order.

6. Print and edit your sentences

Print it out – double-spaced is good – and edit your sentences. This isn’t writing; this is editing. Join them together and cut out any unnecessary words. Check that your paragraphs have topic sentences and link sentences. In an ideal world, edit it once today and then again a day or two later, when you have more distance and can see it afresh. (A quicker way to see it afresh is to email it to someone, then reread it through their eyes.)

And… voilà!

You have your finished piece of writing – without having written it!  You’ve planned the points, organised them, put them in sentences, and edited it, but you’ve managed to duck around the scary bit of actually writing it.

One thought on “How to write something you can’t write

  1. Pingback: How to write… an introduction | Thought Leader Books: The Blog

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