Have you ever sat down to write, only to back down in submission to the looming blank page before you? This was how most of my college essays began (and the reason they were never finished until the night before they were due).
If you’re struggling to actually write anything during your writing sessions, you’re probably trying to do too much at once. Brainstorming, researching, and writing eloquent, clever sentences all at the same time?
Of course your blank Google Doc is daunting!
But what if sitting down to write meant just that..writing! Not browsing the web for articles or racking your brain for things to write about. Just taking your thoughts and turning them into beautiful sentences you can be proud of.
The truth is that writing is just one step of the writing process as a whole. To make your writing sessions as effective (and painless) as possible, you want to front load as much work as you can before ever crafting a full sentence.
With the exercises listed below, you can do just that and never feel intimidated by a blank document again. The beauty of each of these steps is that the more effort you put into one, the less effort that’s required for the next one.
The key is to break each step up into its own isolated task. Don’t try to write a paragraph while you search for supporting articles to back up your ideas–inevitably, you’ll wind up getting distracted in a dark Wikipedia rabbit hole and lose focus on whatever you actually meant to Google.
Whether you’re working on a magazine article or a full-length book, organizing your ideas first will help you write with clarity and speed so that your writing sessions actually revolve around writing!
Brainstorm, brainstorm, brainstorm!
Take the “storm” part of this seriously–this can (and likely will) be chaotic. Now’s the time to dump all the ideas you have onto paper. I actually embrace the chaos in this step: I take pen to paper with reckless abandon. Illegible cross-outs, arrows in every direction, a highlighter color coding system that Alan Turing couldn’t crack–I do it all. This step is all about recording your thoughts–the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Next, we organize that brain dump
Here, I bring in more colored pencils and Sharpies, but you can start on a new sheet of paper or Google Doc if you’d prefer–use whatever code that’ll work for you. Mark off the ideas you’re crazy excited about and the ones that you want to come back to another time. Then make two clean, easy-on-the-eye lists of those ideas that have passed initial judgment.
Choose your focus and EXPAND on that
Pick the idea (or ideas if they’re related) that you want to write about next and dig deeper. What about this idea excites you? What do you have to say about it? Jot down bullets of all the points you want to make–don’t worry about the order just yet; you’re basically doing another brain dump like in step 1, but with much more focus.
Back that s*** up
Did you notice that we’ve made it this far and still haven’t needed Wi-Fi? When you’re still deciding on your focus, the distractions that come with the Internet will only hinder your productivity. That’s why by the time you open yourself up to those outside influences in this step, you already have a much clearer idea of what you’re looking for. So do any necessary research to fortify your bullet points. Throw some helpful hyperlinks into your outline to refer back to and gather any images or other media that you may need for your piece.
Organize it into the most detailed outline possible!
At this point, you’ve chosen the overall topic of your piece (with plenty of other topics to choose from later), determined what exactly you want to say about it, and backed up your points with outside research. Now, it’s time to bring some order to all that information. Pair up your bullet points with any hyperlinks or images that correspond. Cut and paste your sections to go in the order that makes the most sense. Basically, put all your pieces together to start forming one cohesive message, and then…
Fill in the holes
Now that your ideas are in order, it should be easy to see any gaps that need filling. Do you need a better transition between two disparate ideas? Throw in a bullet point to connect them! Have you gotten this far into your outline only to realize you never really introduced your main argument? Add an introduction that sets the tone for your readers! You started putting your puzzle together in the last step, and now you’re identifying and amending the missing pieces.
When you’re done filling in the gaps, you’re left with a blog post/article/[insert what you’re writing here] written in phrases and bullet points–all that’s left to do is make it sound smart!
I know, all of this may seem like a daunting amount of work–why not just do all of these steps while you write? I’ll tell you why: because it’s unorganized.
The beauty of writing is that you have the opportunity to organize your thoughts before releasing them to the world (and that, dear readers, is the reason I’m a writer, not a speaker). To not take advantage of this opportunity would not only severely handicap the structure of your writing, but also multiply the amount of time your writing takes.
When you’ve created an outline this detailed and organized, the only task left is to turn those bullet points into full sentences and edit. By front loading your work, you can determine the entire structure of your piece before ever writing a preposition! That way, you focus strictly on grammar and tone during the actual writing part of the writing process.
Let these steps be your writing roadmap. No more staring at a blinking cursor waiting for inspiration to strike–now, you have a clear process to give your writing sessions direction.
OK, you’ve got the roadmap…now let’s get to writing!
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