The other night, a friend-of-a-friend who is new to blogging told me she was struggling to write her posts. She has the desire, she knows she should do it, but just couldn’t get over that seemingly high first step.
She’s not alone. A blank sheet is daunting to anyone.
Here are some of my tips for making your task a little easier. (If you’re really stuck, you could always ask us to write the words for you!)
1) Just begin
The tower of nine storeys begins with a heap of earth.
This Taoist saying from the Tao Te Ching pretty much sums up my first tip.
All good writing is the product of much editing, so don’t worry about starting out with gibberish. Just start writing and don’t stop until you find your voice.
5 minutes is all you need: The next time you sit down to write a blog post, email, web page, sales brochure (anything!) try free-writing instead.
Don’t write the page, or email, or post. Just write about what you’re going to write about.
Set a timer and write down everything in your head on the subject. Don’t stop writing for the full 5 minutes. Get everything down you possible can in that time.
If you find yourself pausing or stuck, just repeat the last word your wrote: “the the the the the the the the” until you find the next thought on your subject.
You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can fill a page with information in 5 minutes when you don’t pressure yourself. If you want to keep going, set another 5 minutes and keep on writing. Don’t stop again until the next 5 minutes are up.
This is the best way to write a lot in a little time.
2) Outline first, write second
Another wonderful technique for getting your writing done, is to outline your page, post or report first, before you even think about the writing. Remember outlining? Yes, it does actually work.
Begin with your topic at the top of the page. This is now your heading. Don’t worry if it’s not snappy, you can fix it later. Now write your main points below it. These points make your sub-headings.
Now focus on each subheading section and write (free-write?) about that point, and that point only. Don’t wander off. Just write that one section. Then move on to the next subheading. And so on. Before you know it, you write an introduction and you’re done.
Is it too long in some places and not long enough in others?
3) Let the editing do the work
The beauty of writing is that, unlike speaking, you can change words, phrases and even whole pages before anyone else reads them.
Now that you have put down all (or most) of your thoughts onto a page, you can relax and let the editing do the real work of writing.
If you’ve done free-writing, highlight the good bits or copy and paste them into a new document. Order them into a structure (try building an outline) and add or re-order the thoughts and information accordingly.
Cut out anything that doesn’t belong, repeats something else, or sounds awful. You can re-write passages you’re not happy with until they sound great.
Which brings me to:
The bonus tip
If you’re a little bit unsure about grammar, or a bit shy about your composition, just take another 5 minutes and read your blog post, email or web page out loud to yourself.
You should do this even if you’re an editor at the Times!
Say the words. Every word. Say them out loud so that you can hear your voice. You will hear the bits that don’t sound great, and you’ll be able to fix them.
Your ears are better than your eyes at helping your writing read (sound) well. Trust them.
That’s all. Just begin. Use an outline. Edit. Read out loud.