Wednesday, 16 October 2013

How to start writing

You know that the time has come – in actual fact it probably came about three weeks ago – when you really must sit at your computer and write that report, article, content piece for the website, important business letter…

But one of the main reasons for your timidity about doing this, possibly your dread of doing this is, is how to start.

On previous parts of this blog I’ve given advice about the need to marshal your thoughts, take notes, organise material, get prepared, before you sit down to write anything. I won’t repeat any of that here. I want to keep this simple and just say that in my experience there are far too many logical and perfectly acceptable beginnings to reports, business letters and so on to allow your fear of starting to have sway over the process.

My advice is simply this. Once you’ve reasonably focused your ideas and organised your material, just start writing. Start anywhere you like and work towards your theme. Do not try to uber-craft every word or sentence from the outset because nine times out of ten the good stuff, the proper logical direction of your argument, will not appear until at least the second or third paragraph. It’s as if your initial words are like the preparation before the real paintwork begins; they provide a fix and a foundation, an even and clean surface, but they will not be seen when the job is done.

So having written all or a considerable amount of your first draft, look back at your opening and be very critical. Does it lay a half-decent basis for the arguments that follow? Does it grab attention? Are you trying too hard to encompass everything that follows in a few short swift strokes and so confusing the reader?

Be prepared to use the scalpel and if necessary cut all the beginning section and try to forget that you spent considerable time squeezing your brains in its preparation and that some of the sentences are really quite felicitous; what a shame to lose them.

Honestly, this is hard-won advice. I spent years crafting and re-crafting the opening lines and early paragraphs of speeches, presentations, brochure copy, website home pages, reports – you name it – only to return and make the painful incision, dropping all of it to the cutting room floor.

Of course, this hard editing approach is necessary right the way through your work and not just for the beginning section. Read, reread, cut, shape, refine. It will improve the message. I believe in hard editing generally. But in my experience it is usually the beginning that needs the most attention – which is why I am advising you to be easy on yourself when you start. Start anywhere and in due course you’ll realise that you are doing the job you set out to do.  

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