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Barbara Brown
Marketing writer and consultant
Saint Paul, Minnesota

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Writing Tip #1: From brain dump to rough draft

You need to write something. A memo, a report, a letter, a brochure. Where the heck do you start? What's the headline? Overwhelming? Yes. Impossible? No. Not if you slice it up into manageable little chunks.
Written Jun 15, 2009, read 2911 times since then.
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You need to write something. A memo, a report, a letter, a brochure. Where the heck do you start? What's the headline?

Overwhelming? Yes. Impossible? No. Not if you slice it up into manageable little chunks.

The first slice: Dump everything you want to say into a Word document. Every note, every incomplete thought, no matter how random. Perhaps you won't need all this stuff, but it's helpful to have it right there in one document. 

If you want to give yourself a feeling of accomplishment, take all your notes out of your project file. Now read through each page, typing notes into your Word document as you go. Once you're done reviewing a piece of paper, put it back into the folder. Before you know it,  you've worked through a pile of papers, your desk is clear, and you never need to go back to those papers again.

Now save your document and go get a latté. Put some space between you and your project, even if it's the space of 10 minutes.

So, now what? How do you make sense of this mess? 

 

Ask yourself: What's the most important thing you want the reader to do or know? If it won't disturb your work neighbors, say it out loud:

 

"This marketing plan isn't working, and I have a better idea."

"Save 15 percent on your next purchase." 

"Come for the food, stay for the pie." 

 

Sometimes we need to say things out loud to really understand and simplify them. And simple is good.

 

Write that important idea at the top of your document.

 

What's the next most important thing? The next? Write 'em down. 

 

Scan through your brain dump document and look for duplicate ideas and phrases. "Clump" them under each important idea.

 
Now your piece is starting to take shape.

 

If you feel ambitious, you can build an outline from here. If you're lazy and/or time crunched (like me), you can start putting together a rough draft.  

 

It's called a rough draft for a reason.

 

At this point you should have a big, messy...mess. And this is where many of us get stalled. We think we're supposed to move directly onto the final, polished piece. Instead, let it be rough and messy a little while longer. And...

 

Start looking for redundancies. Are you saying one thing several different ways? What's the best, simplest way? Keep that sentence in your draft, and move the others into a separate word document -- in case you need them. (You probably won't.)

 

Make editing a game. Pretend you get a prize for cutting the most words out of your piece. Wasn't it Michelangelo or some other artistic genius who said that when he sculpted, he'd just carve away whatever wasn't part of the sculpture? Start carving.

 

Let someone else read your draft. They'll have a fresh perspective.

 

Take a break. Get away from it -- at least for an hour, overnight if you can. (Exactly what I'm going to do with this article.)

 


 

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Comment on this article

  • Undress the Stress Coach 
Surrey, British Columbia Canada 
Marianna  Paulson
    Posted by Marianna Paulson, Surrey, British Columbia Canada | Jan 07, 2012

    Learning to be okay with the "big messy mess", knowing that it will be sculpted and polished is an important step in the creative process.

    Taking a break - another step that is crucial. Sitting, staring at the computer, waiting for words that don't come, creates stress. The more stress - the less flow.