Why planning makes perfect writing
Updated: Apr 14
Pardon? Giraffe bras? By St David Attenborough’s underpants, surely that’s not a real item of lingerie? No, but it is a useful aid to copywriters trying to beat deadlines without losing quality.
Let me explain.
When we run writing workshops, we encourage writers to plan their writing. We find people write faster and better if they do the organising of their thoughts first and then find the best words and phrases to express them.
Tip 1: Organising thoughts and expressing them are two different mental functions. Don’t try and do both at the same time.
People find it much easier to structure their writing coherently when they aren’t bogged down with worries about grammar, spelling or finding the perfect word.
So we run a little exercise, which requires group participation.
Around the flip chart (or chat window these days) we ask someone to suggest an animal – in this case a giraffe. Then an article of clothing – some wag suggested a bra. Put them together and you have the Giraffe Bra (other recent fashion choices include Hippo Shorts, Cats’ Scarves and Monkey Socks).
Having defined our item of clothing, we then ask the group to tell us 20 things about it.
You’d think 20 things about a giraffe’s bra would be a stretch, but after a few minutes the list is filling up nicely. There’s no logic to it, just thoughts. Interestingly, as the list grows, people become more creative.
Tip 2: It’s easier to generate creative thoughts when you’re not struggling to find the best expression. Ideas first, words second.
It’s a habit called divergent thinking and all copywriters benefit from developing this skill. It’s not creative in itself but having a volume of ideas to work from makes it easier to create something new or interesting.
We lose the skill as we get older because we make assumptions rather than see possibilities. I’ve always liked this RSA video on the way school kids develop. Divergent thinking comes in at 7.44.
Back to the giraffe’s bra.
At this point we have an apparently random set of ideas with no structure. So part two of our exercise is to shape the random suggestions into some sort of pattern. Typically suggestions for grouping the ideas together will be around style, function and the logistics of buying.
Three core themes should be enough to get going (too many themes means a messy piece of writing). Once we’ve jotted down the points against the themes, the group can see we’re creating order out of chaos.
By the time we’ve got all the points down, most people are happy we’ve got a coherent looking structure and something they could write to.
Tip 3: Limit the number of themes – readers can’t remember too many points and structuring the detail improves recall.
Quite a few groups want to go off and write the post – or bring the product to market!
What they also recognise is:
That this hasn’t taken long
That we’ve created order out of chaos
At no point have they been worrying about grammar or spelling
That they’ve been creative in their thinking
That they could probably write something to this plan
So next time you’re stuck, or got a bit of writer’s block, think of giraffes’ bras and you’ll be able to sketch out a plan that releases your inhibitions and creates a great post, web page or article.