You’re given a tight deadline for a writing project. Do you:
a) Start writing anything connected with the job in hand. Anything will do, you’ll sort it out later?
b) Stare at the screen hoping the white rectangle staring back will give you the answers?
Answer a) You’re a splurger. So keen to get on with the job you write down any old thing. Thoughts are joined together with endless waffle. The output looks impressive – until you start pruning back the waffle, moving sections around and licking the thing into shape. And as you’re doing that, style and fluency go out the window.
Answer b) You’re a staller. Like a rabbit frozen in the glare of a PC screen’s accusing white glow. Blank page syndrome is something all writers recognise, but for some it creates permanent paralysis. Slowly the sentences eek themselves out. A hideous, halting, two steps forward, one step back, waltz of words across a page.
Both types of writer are victim to the brain sapping power of expression. Choosing the best word is a hugely complex mental activity.
You know a lot of words. Estimates vary, but probably somewhere between 20000- 35000 words according to The Economist.
You use just a fraction of those when you talk. Every time you choose a word outside of the day to day, your brain is rapidly processing 1000s to find the best choice.
And that slows writers down. Or causes them to waffle.
Stop writing and start organising
While one part of your brain expresses thoughts, a different area organises them. And when it comes to organising thoughts, the splurgers and stallers are in the same boat. Neither of them has done any.
Planning writing speeds up the act and reins in the waffle. Planning focuses on organising thoughts before you express them. With a good plan, a writer knows exactly what’s coming next and can focus on the words.
We’re great believers in visual planning. We like drawing to organise the shape of the document. The steps are simple:
- Write down thoughts in one or two words – not sentences
- Keep going until you’ve got at least 20 thoughts
- Now group those ideas together like this plan for this blog:
Splurgers write less waffle, spend less time cutting and pasting, and write more fluently. Stallers find they write far more quickly – they’ve already worked out what’s coming next and can focus on the choice of words.
Separate the two and you’ll be a faster, more fluent writer who’s never lost for words. Just remember that writing is two activities joined at the hip: organising and expressing.
This post was written by Richard Spencer