Don't be afraid! Writing can be intimidating for anyone that doesn’t do it everyday. But wait. Who DOESN’T write something every day? You write emails, texts, notes, reports...something. Every. Single. Day.
Well, since you write some sort of content every day, why is it still intimidating? The process. You may not have a defined writing process, but if you did, it would help you conquer the fear of writing.
If you’ve worried so much about the idea of writing that it’s become a scary proposition, relax. Here are 10 simple ways to improve your writing process and take the fear out of writing.
1. Think About Your Audience
Most writers forget about this. Don’t. You should always think about the end-user of your content. Are you writing for your co-workers? Your boss? Your church group? Your son’s little league team? Don’t start writing a word until you’ve spent at least a few minutes thinking about your audience. Not all writing is appropriate for all audiences. Check your tone, style, and any colloquialisms to make sure your content fits.
2. Research, Read, and Remember
Now that you’ve thought about your audience and their needs, research the topic that you’re going to write about. The best way to research is to read. Duh, right? Read as much as you can about your topic because that effort will serve you well when you’re actually writing. What makes writing easy? Knowing your topic well. Mark Twain said it best: “Write what you know.” The better you know your topic, the better your writing.
3. Think Again
Here we go again. More thinking! Now that you have some topic research in your head, it’s time to think about how you want to write your content. One-page briefing? A three-panel flyer? A long-form research-style document? Think about the best way to present your information.
4. Outline, then Line it Out
Ok. Enough thinking, researching, and reading. It’s time to outline your content. Quick rule of thumb: the document should have an opening, a middle (or body), and a closing. There you go. Simple, right? If it’s a press release, for example, the opening will have the Who, What, Where, How, Why, and When in the opening paragraph. The body will have a quote and a little meat about your news. The closing will wrap things up with another quote and a quick blurb about your organization. Once your outline is done, review it with a critical eye and slash any topics/points that don’t add to your message.
5. Mental Vomit
Outline complete. Whew! Let’s start writing! If it’s a long document (white paper, case study, report, etc.), just start writing like your life depends on it. It’s called “vomiting on the page” (gross, I know). All of the thinking, researching, reading, outlining, and more thinking will now come into play. Don’t worry that your first draft isn’t Shakespeare. It never is. No writer is satisfied with his first draft. All of the good (and great writers) know that editing is an important (if not the most important) part of the writing process. Just write. Get something on the page. You can fix it later (and you will).
6. Wait! Don’t Edit
Ok, the “vomit” is on the page. Now, unless you are on a super-tight deadline, don’t touch what you’ve written (except to add more or loosely move some things around). The hard editing doesn’t happen at this stage. Just make sure you have what you need on the page, it makes sense to you, and you haven’t forgotten your most important points.
7. Sleep on It
When you’re done with your initial writing and you’re satisfied with the document as a rough draft, put it away and go do something else. If you can wait a day, do that. Even if you only have 20 minutes, walk away from your writing. Don’t worry, it’s not going anywhere. Note: make sure you’re saving your work or have autosave activated!
8. Read it Fresh
Good morning! You’ve had a good night’s sleep. You’ve had a chance to decompress from all that writing. Now what? Well, read your work. You may cringe. It may seem like it’s the worst thing you’ve ever read. No worries. Relax and read through the entire document from beginning to end. Don’t edit anything yet. Just read. This is how you get “inside” the document and understand what you’ve written. Also, put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Read from their perspective. Does the order and layout make sense? Is the information they need expressed clearly?
9. Write Again, Write Now
Before you start revising or adding anything - and after your read-through - take some notes. Just write in the margins of the document. You can put a “?” next to a sentence that needs clarification, or a “!” next to a point you want to emphasize. The second read-through is when you’re starting to think about editing, layout, etc. With your notes in hand, start writing some more. You should have a good understanding of your topic and document now, so focusing on accuracy, brevity, and clarity is the name of the game.
10. Lay it Out and Be Brutal
Almost done! Now that you have a cohesive, coherent document, it’s time to start editing. Many writers edit their documents on their computer screen. Not me. I like to print out my drafts, lay them on a table and see how the document “flows.” This is a good way to holistically view your document. It’s important to see the whole document in one sitting. Have a red pen ready and BE BRUTAL. If you’re reading through and something catches your eye that you don’t feel adds anything to the story you’re telling, get rid of it! Go through the document with a hyper-critical eye, trim the fat, and you’ll have a clean document ready for your audience to read and enjoy.
Bonus Tip: When you’re reading your more polished document, read it outloud. This is a sure fire way of better understanding what you’re written and to ensure it makes sense.
Chris Obudho has over 25 years of writing, marketing, and public communications experience he learned in the public and private sectors. As a technical & marketing writer/editor, he can help you tell the right technical story through actionable content, precise editing, and passionate communications.