Writing can be daunting, especially with a blank page or Word document staring you in the face. How do you stay organized? What do you do when you hit a roadblock? How do you edit to make your writing the best possible creature?
Here are my tips and tricks for breaking down the writing process and making it more manageable:
Once you’ve got your thoughts collected, organizing them can be quite the task. Left to my own devices, I start talking in circles and forget what I actually set out to say! Here are some ways to stay focused:
- List it! Flesh out those ideas by jotting them down in bullet points. Which ones do you want to cover? Translating your ideas from thoughts to words can help you better see what you’re working with; recognize patterns in your ideas and identify overarching themes; and make sense of all of the ideas buzzing about your head.
- Make an outline to make sense of how things fit together and give your writing a logical flow. Make a few logical categories out of your list and see where the supporting ideas fit best.
You’ve got your outline – great! But those bullet points aren’t going to assemble themselves into something more cohesive and witty. But how do you put pen to paper and get those words to start flowing?
- Write like you’re talking to your best friend. If the words just aren’t coming to you, forget the fancy lingo and just get your ideas down first. Say it simply, as if you were explaining it to a friend and go back later to polish it to fit your style, whether you’re writing a creative piece, a blog article, academic paper, or even an email. Just don’t forget to edit out your sass, if that’s how you like to initially get it down (I miiiight be guilty of this…)
- Fill in the blanks. Write what you can, and if you have a mind blank leave a space and come back to that part later. Sometimes a really great sentence comes to you, but you just can’t find the right way to finish it. Move on to another part and mull it over in the meantime.
Now that the words are flowing freely, it’s time to keep that energy going!
- Highlight a word or phrase if you’re not keen on it and keep writing. Sometimes I don’t like the way something sounds, and if after a few moments I still can’t straighten it out, I’ll mark it to come back to and move on to something that’s a bit easier to write.
- Explain your quotes. If you’re quoting a work for reference in your own writing, don’t just leave the quote hanging by itself. You should always have more of your analysis of the quote that you used than quote itself. Your readers aren’t psychic, and shouldn’t have to guess at the point you’re trying to make; walk them through your thought process.
Finally the grueling part: editing.
- Write your introduction. Now delete it all and write it again. The adage that you should write your paper, then make your concluding paragraph your first isn’t too far from the truth. Often, by the time you reach the end you’ve got a better handle on your topic and where you’re going with your writing once you’ve got it all on paper. You don’t necessarily have to rewrite it all, but once you’re done writing do go back and evaluate if your introduction lines up with the points you’ve made.
- Think Twitter: Be concise with your words and eliminate wordy phrases (things like the passive voice and meandering sentences can fit into this category too).
- Power up your words to really pack a punch. Use descriptive adjectives and verbs to communicate your message. No “very” or bland verbs like “walk”. Did you saunter? Scurry? Meander? You can fit so much more meaning into a sentence by using juicy words (and condense your writing too – take note Twitter-users!)
- Summarize your paragraphs. As you go through and reread what you’ve just written, can you quickly and concisely summarize what point each paragraph is making, and how it ties into your argument or topic as a whole?