When was the last time you wrote? I don’t mean a quick email reply to your officemate or 140 character tweet. I mean really took some time to sit down and write out your thoughts. It is a practice I often find myself doing when I am trying to develop an idea or clarify my opinion on a matter. It helps to solidify my positions and makes me much more articulate when I need to talk about the topic or my position later.
Of course, the fact the I have to write a lot for work, gives me motive to write regularly but, now that I have realized the benefits of putting my thoughts on paper I find myself doing it a lot more for reasons other than blogging or proposal writing. Usually while in the middle of putting my thoughts into words I will see my thoughts take a natural order, one I might not have come up with if I had tried to find key point before fleshing out the full argument. I even sometimes find myself questions my initial opinion or finding a whole new side of the argument. I vary my approach depending on my mood or topic and I always feel better –not to mention, more prepared - after I’ve put my mind through a bit of a workout.
If you think starting your own writing workout would help you make better at forming arguments and sort through your thoughts here are the two main approached I use.
When I have a nugget of an idea or even something as vague as a general direction I will often let my natural synapses take control. To keep the thoughts flowing freely I’ll pick up a pen and go at it; sometimes when I type I find the process can interrupt the stream of ideas. So, with nothing between my mind and the paper in front of me I begin writing everything that comes to mind, doing my best to make the thoughts string together somehow but ultimately not fussing with semantics. I’ll do this until I hit a block or until I feel the ideas have really played themselves out. Then, I step away and let it sit for a while.
After at least an hour but sometimes as much as a week I will return to the work and start to give the piece shape. I’m not looking to necessarily make it publishable, just to extract the strong points and find the most concise relationship between them. I work with the brain dump until I feel like I’ve absorbed enough to either help me in future articles and/or presentations or in conveying opinions.
Much like a brainstorming session this no rules approach often shakes loose some ideas that wouldn’t have been revealed by a more formal process. It also helps improve my understanding of the way I write. Becoming familiar with my patterns and voice makes writing on assignment easier and more efficient.
On the occasion when I’ve been gnawing on some ideas but can really wrap my head around how to connect them or what angle to use to dig a little deeper I give myself an assignment. I take a basic editorial approach. First, by making an outline. In fact, I often push the outline step to it’s fullest trying to organize the various thoughts I’ve already come up with. Then, I begin to build prose around that outline. Challenging myself to make my writing as concise and relatable as possible.
This approach requires me to be more structured but it usually provides the connections I need to make the best argument succinctly. I generally us this when I need to understand my thoughts but, more importantly, I want to be able to share them with others. I will edit the prose until I‘ve reached a point that I feel it stands on its own then I put it aside. The mere exercise of working through my thoughts and refining them primes my mind for future conversations. Instead of worrying I may not be explaining myself effectively or trying to justify a position I haven’t fully thought through I am more confident in presenting my thoughts and opinions.
While this may seem like a lot of work it saves me a ton of time because my head is clear and my positions solidified. At least try it once and see if it doesn’t help you with your formal work.