Whether you're writing an essay, an article, sales copy or the great American novel, there's a basic three-step process that, if understood and applied, can make it a whole lot easier for you.
If you've ever found yourself struggling to get the words out, or unable to get beyond the first couple of sentences, it's probably because you're trying to do the wrong step in the wrong order. Once you're clear on how to apply this universal three-step method, you're certain to find the process of writing easier, more effortless and hopefully more enjoyable too.
The three steps of writing are:
That may appear to be pretty much common sense! Yet you'd be surprised at how often we tend to get these steps muddled up, resulting in all kinds of problems. Each stage needs to be understood and done in sequence before moving onto the next.
Here's a rundown of each step.
- Planting a seed
Any creative endeavour begins with the planting of a seed. You get, wait for or are given an initial idea about what to write. Perhaps you have an idea for a story, or have received a brief for an essay or article.
- Allowing it to grow
Once you have a starting point, you need to give yourself time to brainstorm and play with ideas. If you started out with a fairly broad focus, then you have to gradually narrow and refine it. If you're writing fiction, this is the time to explore your story, theme and characters, to run with your imagination and allow the story to unfold and take shape.
If you're writing nonfiction, perhaps you need to do some research and gather information and then arrange and structure it. The initial seed you planted begins to germinate and grow. It's best to keep this stage as organic as you can, allowing it to unfold naturally. Trying to force it can restrict your creativity and obscure insights, inspiration and fresh ways of looking at things.
- Creating a blueprint
Once you have a fairly clear idea what you want to write, it's time to take things up a notch and create a blueprint. Whereas the first part of the planning stage should be quite free-flowing, it's now time to arrange things into a cohesive structure. Some people skip the blueprint stage altogether, and that's a matter of personal preference and also depends on what you're writing and why. But I find rushing ahead to write before I have a clear idea what I'm writing about often leads to dead-ends and a lot of frustration and wasted time. I like to have a blueprint for what I'm writing - or at the very least a clear idea of the beginning, middle and end. Then I can simply relax into th next step and be confident that there's an underlying structure in place to keep me right.
To create a blueprint, you simply arrange your ideas or information into the appropriate structure. If you're writing a story or novel, try to put all the elements of your plot into place so you know roughly what happens when. What this does is enables you to get a sense for the structure, rhythm and balance of the story. It's helpful to have this in place before you start writing, because it's a whole lot easier to change elements at this stage than it is when you've written the whole thing and realised that the basic structure of the story doesn't work (doh!).
This doesn't mean the blueprint needs to be rigidly set in stone. It should be flexible enough to add, subtract or move around elements as you write. But it gives you a solid foundation and the confidence to start writing. If you're writing an essay or article, your blueprint will set out your introduction, each key point in progression and end with clear summary or conclusion. Once you're happy with your blueprint you can move onto the next step.
The mistake a lot of people make when writing is to assume that writing consists solely of - well, writing! But jumping straight into the process of writing without having a clear idea what you're actually writing about is generally a recipe for muddle and frustration. So I'd generally advise people not to bypass the first step.
Once you have your blueprint in place, it's time to get into the flow of writing. Make sure your first draft is just that: a first draft. It might be helpful to even think of it as a zero draft. At this stage it's not about making it perfect; it's simply about getting words down on the page. Now's the time to write for your life and not look back!
Forget about formatting and editing and try not to read back over what you've written if you can help it. You may have a tendency to edit as you go along, trying to 'perfect' each sentence before moving onto the next, but it's best to avoid that temptation. The next step is the editing stage; this is simply the writing stage. So make it easier on yourself: don't skip ahead. You can edit and refine it when it's finished, and not before.
Just let go, relax and write. It can be helpful to do a writing warm-up exercise before you start. For example, you might take a random word and do some free-flow association. Just write whatever comes to mind; complete stream-of-consciousness writing. Try that for five minutes and see if it loosens you up and gets you into the creative flow.
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