How To Approach Writing Projects (When You’re Not A Writer)
Writing can be a tricky endeavor. On the one hand, it seems simple enough – after all, we use words to communicate all day long. On the other hand, sitting down to write a paper, article, or piece of marketing presents its own set of hard-to-quantify issues for people who are not strong writers or who aren’t used to longer-form (longer than, say, an email) copywriting. Here are some tips that can help streamline and guide your business writing tasks.
Before You Begin Writing:
- Research – Whether you’re writing for a technical audience or consumer audience, you have to start with research. Know your subject backwards and forwards. Know what information is going to be important to your audience, and compile an outline or bullet points that include all the information you want to convey. After your outline/list is compiled, take some time to review that.
- Walk Away - After you have compiled and studied your research, walk away and do something unrelated to your writing project. Our brains like to percolate new information and chew on it in the background, which gives it time to form a plan. Walking away and giving your creative brain a chance to digest what you’ve researched may seem like it’s wasting time, but when you sit back down to write, the information will flow much more freely and easily, which in the long run will not just save you time, but make your copy stronger.
- Set A Time To Write – Scheduling a time to write seems simple enough, but when your brain is faced with a task you’re not used to, or a task that may seem a bit amorphous, it likes to procrastinate. Scheduling a time to write gives your brain a set parameter to start focusing the information it has digested, and will force you to sit down, get it done, and avoid distractions.
- Don’t Get Stuck On The First Sentence – Staring at a blank page is incredibly intimidating, even for seasoned writers. Getting that first sentence out is difficult, and you may find you spend the majority of your time getting over that first stumbling block. But don’t worry about that first sentence. Just write something – anything – to start your flow. A gigantic portion of writing is editing, and it’s often easier to go back and work on that opening sentence(s) once all the other pieces are in place.
- Nothing Is Forever – To build off the last point, it’s important that you get your thoughts down on paper, even if they are just pieces and not completed, final copy. When you build a puzzle, you need to get all the pieces on the table, and then you move them around until your picture is complete. When you write, you can change the order of sentences and move them around until you get the picture you want – but that’s easier to do when you have all the pieces on the paper. Not everything has to come out in the correct order initially; that’s why we edit.
After Your Initial Draft
- Edit. Edit. Edit. – Now that all your thoughts are down, it’s time to complete that puzzle. While editing may not be as “exciting” as writing, it’s the most important part. It’s time to edit, delete, edit, and delete. Make sure every word has a purpose. Jettison words. Get rid of weaker sentences. Delete anything that starts to wander away from your main points. Trim your copy down like you’re trimming the fat off a steak. It will hurt a bit to lose some of your words and thoughts, but in the long run, less is more.
- Bring Someone Else In – Make sure yours aren’t the only set of eyes on your writing. Conversely, avoid the temptation to let more than a few people have input. Writing by committee is the least effective (and most excruciating) way to write, yet probably the biggest temptation within a company. “Too many cooks,” as the old saying goes. But it is still very important that you are not the only one reviewing and proofing your work – selective, strong guidance will always benefit your writing.
Using these basic tools will help you streamline the process of writing. And, like most skills, there is no substitute for practice. Following a simple method like the one above, and then augmenting it to fit your personality and situation will carve off much of the intimidation factor. Writing is a skill, and giving it context and a process will benefit both your writing ability and your time.