Editing is integral to the writing process, but its role is often misunderstood by writers. What if editing could make writing less stressful and more enjoyable? What if it could help authors write sharper, more compelling prose?
The Editor’s Eye: A Practical Guide to Transforming Your Book from Good to Great shows established and would-be authors how editing can enhance and accelerate the writing process. In this guide, professional book coach and editor Stacy Ennis takes readers through the ins and outs of the often bewildering book-editing process. Readers will understand how writing and editing complement each other, become more confident as writers, finish their books faster, and move toward the ultimate goal: publication.
Get from Good to Great
In this practical guide, seasoned and would-be authors will learn about the four core editing stages and when they should take place; how to streamline their writing with self-editing tips; where to look, what to expect to pay for editing, and how to collaborate with editors; and how to implement editor and reader feedback with less frustration, among other things. The Editor’s Eye also provides wonderful insights from others on the joys and challenges of writing a book through multiple drafts and revisions. Brimming with examples and case studies from interviews with over 20 industry experts, editors, and authors of fiction and nonfiction books, the book is an invaluable first-stop for anyone embarking on a book project.
The Editor’s Eye is the first book of a planned Author Education series, educational guides for turning creative ideas into publishable prose. Visit www.stacyennis.com for more details. The Editor’s Eye is available in paperback and e-book for the Kindle, iPad, and Nook.
Socially responsible enterprises thrive because they are able to move people to change. How do they do this? By tapping into the emotional connections that inspire.
Stories act like catalysts to action. Businesses should take note.
In the old, business-as-usual paradigm of getting information across about your business, think of the familiar tools you’ve used: Powerpoint presentations, jargon-laden bullet point lists, sterling but stale reports and policy briefs, manifestos that are intellectually seductive, though emotionally hollow. What do they have in common? These are tools and techniques that convey information but don’t do much else for your cause. Numbers are the lingua franca of business, but I argue that much more can be gained in adding storytelling strategies to your campaigns.
Companies that are focused on a business idea that solves a social or environmental problem, or are trying to make a change in the communities around them have one thorny obstacle to overcome: the inertia of indifference and getting buy-in from your market. Your target market has to care enough to use your products or services not because you tell them it’s good for them and the community around them, but because they feel moved at some level to do business with you.
What Businesses Can Learn from Writers
Social enterprises can improve the way they do business by focusing on good storytelling– in their marketing and promotional campaigns, in the way they give people glimpses of their ventures, and in how they interact with customers or clients. Storytelling humanizes your business. A good story connects your business to your target market in a very visceral and potent way.
At Night Owls Press, we make it our mission to help small businesses and organizations tell those stories that inform, motivate, and inspire.
Why should a business care about telling a good story? Stories are what make up our lives. They make us feel connected, alive. They provide the material that moves people to act. As an editor, I always tell authors I work with that their first job is to get their works read. No self-respecting writer should dismiss the value of readership.
It’s the same in business. Don’t dismiss the value of reaching out to your clients, your employees, and the community around you. If people are inspired and compelled by your story, then they will want to know more about you and your company. By exploiting that intrinsic love of a good yarn, many businesses can start forming that invaluable base of followers, clients, fans, and admirers.
Constructing a good story and compelling narrative isn’t rocket science, though it often makes people nervous. “I’m not a writer,” they say. How do you get started? Read the rest of our article at SocialEarth.org.
The images of writers sitting at their desks have always fascinated me. Nabokov fiddled with his index cards. Ernest Hemingway in his no-frills style had a pack of cigarettes by his typewriter. Flannery O’Connor balanced a lap desk on her knees.
These are romantic, but deceptive tableaus. Why? Because they never show what every writer or editor has to deal with literally and metaphorically around them and on the page.
There’s the literal mess: Piles and landfills of notebooks, Post-It notes, and books mixed in with an array of digital devices like iPhones, Kindles, and iPads. It’s a cacophony of material. All this detritus carries our ideas, umpteenth drafts, outlines, and somewhere (we like to believe) a masterpiece that will be published.
All the good writers I know are curators and collectors, hoarding stacks of books from the library, articles on their LongRead or InstaPaper lists, and stories from other writers they admire. There’s always the earnest hope that if we read, collect, digest, and chew enough, then we can absorb all the information we need through some kind of mystical osmosis.
And then, miraculously, it all comes flowing out in brilliant, Pulitzer-worthy prose. Sigh. If only…
Then there’s the metaphorical mess: Writers like to go off on tangents. They write and write— even without starting a piece. I’ve seen a writer draft an outline for a 1,500 feature article that went on and on for pages. Many first drafts are often just word dumps of facts and observations on paper, with little cohesion. In their exuberance, many writers want to get everything down.
So how do you cut a swath through this bountiful muck and come up with a tincture of clear, elegant prose? Through painstaking editing, of course. In fact, I think the real writing comes in the revising.
You might think, “Well, that’s usually what my editor is there to do.” But editing doesn’t have to be a separate, post-mortem type of process that’s tacked on at the end. It can be integrated right into how you already write.
Start editing at the very beginning. That’s the secret. Here’s one way to do it:
1. Write like a banshee.
“What?” you ask? Yes, just write. Write it out like a good crying fit. Don’t be too self-conscious. No one’s watching at this point. Silence the inner critic and tell yourself, this is just your first draft. It’s almost always going to be drivel. Hemingway, father of the muscular, stripped-down prose, said, “The first draft of anything is sh*t.” Embrace the sludge that generally comes forth, and write everything down.
2. Take a break. Relax.
Leave your writing cave and go outside. You’re like a diver entering a decompression chamber to get rid of the nitrogen that has been building up in your blood stream for days. Writing haze detox, I call it. Forget about what you wrote. This is a cooling off period that’s essential to letting a work settle. That is to say, you, as the writer, need to escape a bit, so that when you return to the work, you’ll have gained some distance and objectivity. Some writers treat their work like precious children. This creates creativity-stifling attachments. Get over it and leave the computer. If you suddenly come across a brilliant image, turn of phrase, new opener— save these ideas in a separate file. Leave that first draft alone.
3. Edit and revise: 1st Round.
Return to your work with new eyes. Address the major issues first: Is this piece as a whole structurally sound? Does it have a beginning, middle, and an end? Do I have good transitions from section to section? Does it flow and lead the reader toward a clear and logical conclusion? Is the angle and viewpoint you’ve taken a sound one or does it need to be changed? Was there enough background material? Is there a compelling point to this story that needs to be drawn out more?
At this stage, your draft may be like a run-down house you see at the end of the block. It might need major demolition, but it has potential. And no matter how good you are with phrasing or imagery, it will all be garish paint without good structure. This is the point where you fix these big picture problems and deepen your writing.
4. Edit and revise: 2nd Round.
Return to your work with a machete and start cutting away extraneous material. This is the stage where you start honing and streamlining the verbiage. You’ll find that you’ve rambled and were overly heavy-handed with description that goes nowhere. Your draft is probably a garden of weeds at this point and it’s time to do some selective culling. After the carnage (yes, it will be painful and bloody), you’ll be left with a solid draft where your subject is clear and well-presented. A reader who stumbles on this draft will still catch some mistakes and awkward phrasing here and there, but overall, it should fairly stand reader scrutiny. Now it’s time for some serious editorial scrutiny.
4. Edit and revise: 3rd Round (hang in there).
Here, you’ll focus on stylistic matters. How does that opening paragraph read? The opening you start with is rarely the opening that ends up in publication. You’re often myopic when you write, writing so that you only see a few feet at a time in front you. But now you’ve seen the piece in its entirety and have a better idea about where the ‘real story’ begins. It may be a couple paragraphs down or a few pages in. Try to find that compelling image or quote to enliven your opening.
Check again your transitions— the endings of paragraphs should complement the beginnings of successive paragraphs. Writing is building. It’s construction work. Grunt work. Ideas and paragraphs reflect that, and when done well, they build to a crescendo.
Finally, check your pacing. Does the piece move too fast in some sections and slow to a crawl in others? Pacing is often a product of sentence length and paragraph density. Sentence variety affects pacing and the reader’s experience. Punctuate long sentences with short pithy ones. If you must have a long sentence (more than 20 words) with several clauses (maybe you’re doing it for stylistic reasons or dramatic effect) limit it to a single idea. Same with paragraphs. Don’t make the writing too dense with big blocks of text.
5. Copyedit and proofread.
Time to switch to the fine-toothed comb and check your sentences line-by-line for grammatical mistakes and spelling errors. Don’t just rely on Spellchecker. You’ll often miss words that are spelled right but are completely inappropriate (for example, I’ve seen “pubic” instead of “public” on a draft). Free your work from passive sentence constructions and switch out all those ‘to be’ verbs with active, brawny verbs.
6. Have someone else read it.
Now it’s time to deal with your writing blind spots by submitting your work to an editor who can read your draft with fresh eyes. Human error will inevitably leave its mark. An errant typo. A clumsy section. An editor can provide just the right alchemy to transform your piece.
7. Stop tinkering.
Writing can be a notoriously inscrutable process in the sense that there’s no right or wrong way to write. There’s also no right or wrong moment to stop editing a piece. At some point, you’ll usually have to stop revising because you have a deadline looming over your head but otherwise some writers can work on a piece over and over again ad nauseam. Don’t fall into the black hole of perfectionism. Trust your judgment and learn to let go. You’re done. Leave the computer and go outside. Hopefully, the sun is shining. Celebrate.
I’ve been inspired to write this post because we are so excited to be working with freelance writer/editor Stacy Ennis, one of our new Author Partners we just signed up! Stacy will be writing about her own “art of the edit” perspective for aspiring nonfiction book authors. The book is expected February/March 2012.
Our recommendation to any new authors looking to publish is to get their manuscripts professionally edited. Most books don’t sell or aren’t picked up by publishing houses because they are sloppy and lack cohesion. You may have a groundbreaking, brilliant story, but it just needs the extra polishing to get it ready for publication.
“Good editors work with and not against a writer. They calibrate how aggressively they edit according to how good the writer is, how good the piece is, the type of piece it is, the kind of relationship they have with the writer, how tight the deadline is, and what mood they’re in. But an editor’s primary responsibility is not to the writer but to the reader. He or she must be ruthlessly dedicated to making the piece stronger. Since this is ultimately a subjective judgment, and quite a tricky one, a good editor needs to be as self-confident as a writer.” – Greg Kamiya
As readers, we all know instinctively the difference between a good and bad story. Good stories leave an imprint on your readers that lasts beyond the moment their eyes leave that final page of text. Getting to that unforgettable status not only takes great writing– but also great editing and revising to clarify and present a creative vision in the best light possible.
Capture some aspect of the human condition in your story. These can come in the form of thematic elements, and can be as simple as ‘love conquers all’ or ‘people never learn from their mistakes and tragically repeat them’. A story theme provides the essence of your narrative, the lasting idea that you want your readers to take away when they finish. We all read to experience something new and to gain insights into our own lives. The themes in your story should engage the reader at this deeper level and remain consistent throughout.
Here are some questions we ask when editing fiction:
Does the story illuminate the human condition in some way that inspires or moves the reader?
Is the theme made obvious through action, plot, and characterization?
How well is the theme and supporting points integrated into the narrative?
2. Does your story have ‘good bones’ (a.k.a. strong narrative framework)?
Many writing guides have suggested (a bit reductively sometimes) that all fiction falls under seven archetypal plots— all of which come from the basic human drama— the Jungian development and integration of the mature self: 1. Conflict with nature. 2. Conflict with fellow [wo]man. 3 Conflict with the environment. 4. Conflict with machines/technology. 5. Conflict with the supernatural. 6. Conflict with the self. 7. Conflict with god/religion. There is also the 20-plot and 36-plot taxonomy—but these are mostly variations of the 7.
A well-written story has robust narrative threads that are (no matter how complex and clever) focused and clear. Your characters, plotlines, and themes should complement each other so that the story in its entirety is a unified piece. Lack of focus, narrative redundancies, and nonsensical tangents disrupt the reader and convey sloppiness.
Here’s what we check:
Does each chapter steadily build toward some climax?
Are the dilemmas in the story consistent and articulated in a believable and fresh way?
3. Does your story have power?
A well-written story— whether a thriller, comedy, high literary or genre piece— creates a lasting impression on the reader and resonates at a deeper emotional level through its characters, themes, and storylines.
Some questions we ask to determine level of emotional ummpph:
Does the writing use active language, fresh imagery, and have an authentic voice that engages?
Are the characters well-developed and three dimensional?
Are readers challenged or provoked?
Night Owls Press provides creative, thorough ghostwriting and editing services for budding authors. We polish your prose, so your ideas and stories shine. Contact us for a free quote. Get more writing tips here.
As writers we all have our quirks. Even the literary stars can’t escape their writing tics.
Word has it that Virginia Woolf wrote all her books standing up. Not bad advice considering we now know that sitting for long periods of time is a potentially lethal activity. (In one study, men who spent “six hours or more per day of their leisure time sitting had an overall death rate that was about 20 percent higher than the men who sat for three hours or less. The death rate for women who sat for more than six hours a day was about 40 percent higher.”)
Lewis Carol and Ernest Hemingway also eschewed the chair in favor of penning their masterpieces while standing.
There are also writers with fashion quirks. Edgar Allan Poe was the spooky man in black; Emily Dickinson and Mark Twain chose white– the color of wide-eyed innocence.
Not all writers are sedentary folks chained to their desks. Charles Dickens purportedly walked nearly 20 miles a day (perfecting the art of people watching along the way I’m sure– no wonder he’s a master at the character study and capturing mannerisms). Dan Brown likes to break for push-ups and sit-ups several times a day while writing.
Balzac was a coffee addict, reputedly downing 10 cups of coffee a day.
I was surprised to find out that Stephen King (Mr. King Prolific– cranking out 10+ pages a day) wrote in the same seat at home and arranged his manuscript and notes in neat piles. Other writers are decidedly haphazard. Nabokov wrote on index cards.
The wide variation in these quirks makes these habits less personal rules than a way to ensure creative excellence on a day-to-day basis. Honing the craft for writers is about finding the right combination of habit and defiance, I think– rebellion against convention.
One of my self-admitted quirks is that I have to read before I can write. Reading masterfully written text by others becomes both a warm-up and a self-taunt for me– a challenge to pull off something equally stunning and gripping. It also provides a way to get off-tangent in a creative way. It’s also the best way to procrastinate for half an hour before getting started on work. Writing for me is jumpy and associative– and that’s where the best ideas come from– the alchemy of disparate ideas that produces something new and fresh.
There are works, of course, (David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, recently) that I read whose utter balance and perfection floor me for days and I can’t do anything else but slobber on my keyboard…
Another quirk I confess to having: my first drafts are always chaotic (and have to be). When I was in college, I could write something that was orderly and clean right from the first word on the first draft. Today, I’m a much better better writer and my first drafts have regressed into chaos. I write drafts that are more like pages of notes. They spill out like jumpy fish dumped on the deck of a boat. They hurl and flop, gasping for air. Rather than ‘writing’, I’m brainstorming and collating the results, grouping common ideas, banishing minor ideas but later bringing them back as interesting lead-ins. I become essentially a whirling writing dervish.
The first readable draft evolves slowly but steadily (I don’t linger over phrases and words, preferring to edit in a later stage). Writing first drafts is messy (and should be) because it’s as close to creation as you’ll get. To evolve past the first draft, you need to edit. Editing is just as important, if not more so than writing– it is the stage where your piece finally reaches a steady-state of readability and impact.
I just saw this phrase blogged by writer Danielle Evans in discussing what bad writing looks like: “A lion as taxidermied by a taxidermist who had never seen a lion”. Evans uses this vivid image to parse out a more nuanced revelation and also takes the old standby rule, ‘Write what you know’ dished out in writing classes– and blows it out of the water. Here’s what she says:
The phrase itself has always seemed to me alarmingly imprecise, and I’ve wondered about a better way to express the portion of the idea that’s useful…
Since it wasn’t originally a writing lesson, I plan to make it one: write what you know shouldn’t mean you need to be the lion, or to have raised lions, or lived with lions, to write about lions (wherein lions can be either the material conditions or the emotional underpinnings of the world you’re writing about.) If a person says that, they may think that’s what they want, but they’re wrong. What they mean is don’t write anything that’s fundamentally untrue to the basic nature of the thing you’re writing about, that’s so far from what you meant to represent that it evokes none of the reaction that it should. If you don’t know enough to tell the difference, then maybe you better ask some questions about lions before you get to writing about them.
In my commercial work, I’ve earned a decent living writing about things I don’t have doctoral-level expertise on. With a little sleuthing and smart research skills, you can vet and develop any idea with finesse and rigor. In fiction, it’s much the same. If writers only wrote what they knew, there wouldn’t be any need for imaginative flights. Maybe we’d all be like J. Alfred Prufrock– contemplating whether or not to eat the damn peach!
I picked up a book the other day– something I wouldn’t normally read– about a 12-year old genius map maker, T.S. Spivet who undertakes an adventurous trip on freight trains from his home on a ranch in Montana to the East Coast. He meets some memorable characters along the way, hitching rides here and there– including a Winnebago that could be alive, a preacher with homicidal tendencies, a foul-mouthed trucker, and members of a secret club. T.S. is a scientist at heart and the story told from his perspective comes with beautiful, illustrated marginalia: footnotes, digressions, drawings, and maps– lots of maps. There are great backstories and poignant revelations, too. A unique tale that would never have materialized if Reif Larsen, the author, decided to stick to mundane real-life. (The coolness factor of this story doesn’t end there– it’s now a fully interactive story with breathtaking digital elements that you can read on your iPad.
At the recent Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, a topic in vogue was the idea of ‘gamification’ or ‘game thinking’– which is essentially the practice of improving user engagement by adding gaming features to non-game applications. Experts at the conference touted that gamification created “a loyalty program on steroids” — getting prospective clients hooked onto a product, service, concept, or app.
We thought it would be interesting to try to refashion the gaming tenets proposed by Venture Beats‘ Dean Takahashi into a creative approach to writing stellar copy for everything from marketing campaigns to web content.
Here are three lessons we can learn from game designers:
1. “Know who’s playing” and “Embrace intrinsic motivators”. Write text with your audience in mind. Reader-centric copy means engaging your audience with your ideas, and sparking the innate desire to explore your ideas or concept further. In practice, this means researching your target audience and finding out what they do and enjoy. Try crowdsourcing campaigns to launch mass brainstorming sessions with your fans and potential clients. Dan Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us is required reading on the power of incentives.
2. “Build fun, pleasure, and satisfaction into your core activity loop”. Take Farmville, the online game where over 55 million average players per month got to milk cows, grow carrots, and partake in the joys of idyllic cyber animal husbandry. In fact, just enough players (1-2% reportedly) make actual money purchases to buy ‘special items’ to add to their virtual farms, including pink tractors and purple Breton horses. Why were people flocking to these games (and even paying for make-believe purchases)? Because their friends were playing them and because there was an immediate payoff– an experience: you planted something and later you could harvest the ‘fruits’ of your labor.
How can your writing inspire that kind of following? By offering an immediate payoff. Are you trying to sell your e-book? Offer an ethical bribe such as a giveaway excerpt, or maintain a blog where you can offer ‘variations on a theme’ of the ideas and concepts discussed in your book. Don’t be afraid to ‘lure’ your readers with a bold statement or an intriguing detail. You need to get your readers interested first– create a captive audience– before building your case with nuanced arguments.
3. “Change the user experience over time” or “As players progress, increase the challenge and complexity”. In gaming, there are three types of players– the novice, regular, and enthusiast. In marketing, segment your target audience and write your advertising copy accordingly. Novices, or those new to your business, need to be enticed with ‘hooks’. For your regulars and loyal customers, serve up new, quirky content, maybe in the form of premium information. Your enthusiasts are your groupies– cultivate solid alliances with them and treat them well with special rewards and ‘first-peek’ privileges.
For more wordsmithing advice, ask Night Owls Press for a free consultation. Check out other writing advice here.
People ask us how we can crank out so much verbiage (say 5,000 words of finished, polished prose) on projects on a weekly basis. Writing like a wordsmith ninja takes three basic elements: quality caffeine in measured doses, reading lots of good writing– and more importantly– having and implementing a really simple and basic writing process.
Why? Having a process in place helps increase your writing capacity, plain and simple. No– writing isn’t factory work and Night Owls Press is definitely not a content farm (see Wired’s take and Google’s policy to take them down)– but we do advocate having a process. By following a few tips and tricks you can train yourself to write much more without sacrificing on quality or clarity. Here’s our advice on having a writing process:
1. Write to a model. Unless it’s an unconventional piece, or some arcane, avant-garde number– most writing projects have predictable standards. The writer looking to write better and faster should take advantage of this predictability. Don’t be turned off by the monotony of writing the same thing over and over again; instead, use this consistency to your advantage. Over time, every writing team (Night Owls Press included) accumulates a portfolio of work that has the same structure, the same ‘bones’. If you could do an X-ray of everything we have produced– reports, feature articles, and even books– you start to see commonalities emerge.
Here’s how we make use of models: Do an inventory of work you have created and classify them. Find a set of ‘samples’ of each type and rank them by quality or complexity. The objective is to have a handful of finished products that represent the creme de la creme of each type– these will serve as your models. Ideally, you will have these templates or models for a policy report, an analytical report, a business/management e-book, a self-help e-book, and so on. Dissect the model and see what makes each one tick– word count, layout, writing quality, structure and organization. Once you have a recipe, you are on your way to writing better and faster.
2. No blank checks on word counts– stick to a number. Writing more doesn’t mean writing MORE. When working with clients, we always make sure that we are clear on the expected word count– and I try to write within 100-200 words of that limit. Writing to a limit ensures that we do not eat up precious real estate in a column, or end up with a runaway Indiana-Jones-rolling-ball of text that keeps picking up speed and gets longer and longer. Writing without limits in mind can be good for certain pieces– like e-books that have more leeway on word count. But as a rule, and if you are juggling other projects– keeping yourself corralled by a number helps focus your thinking on paper.
The result: you end up writing tight, mindful copy, and stay conscientious about the details and presentation. A piece jammed with every fact under the sun can be tedious, boring. Keep your writing lean and clean with word counts.
3. Don’t write a house of cards– structure well. Seasoned writers can always spot the logical and predictable structural patterns required in certain pieces. For example, I know that when I write a policy report with an advocacy message that there will be certain sections, organized to an outline with key action words and a particular style of ‘wordslinging’ that will have the most impact on readers. An example outline of this for a typical nonprofit report would be something like: ‘Challenges (discuss the pressing problems that need to be addressed), Causes (give the underlying causes), Impact (describe effect on populations), Solutions (offer strategies for dealing with these problems), Practice (instruct on how to put it all to work)– sandwiched between a compelling introduction and conclusion’.
4. Don’t spend too long on a first draft; circulate and revise many times. A lot of people get hung up on their first drafts, drafting too long and trying to perfect text on the first go. The first draft should be the most creative: use the ‘rabbit-out-of-hat trick’ and ‘moshpit’ prewriting techniques to get started. In the drafting stage, I often write in stream-of-consciousness, which gets the ideas down on paper where I can review them later and move them around like chess pieces on a board in the revision stage. Think of yourself as a movie director trying to record all the footage you can in a single take. The real writing comes later– in the revision process where you polish text and ideas on the page, focusing less on the words and more on the content and structure and how to make each idea move seamlessly from one to the next. Over-drafting is inefficient and drags out a writing project longer than necessary.
5. Know the difference between revising and editing. It’s every writer’s ‘a-ha!’ moment when they realize that revising a piece is a completely different animal from editing. Knowing the difference between the two can help you move though the writing process faster. Revisions are changes to the meat and bones of a piece– fine-tuning the ideas and arguments or making the storyline more compelling and logical for readers. When revising, anything goes: the sequence of sections may be changed, ideas may be dropped or merged together, an introduction may be scrapped for another. In contrast, editing is more cosmetic: grammar, punctuation, syntax– any type of text-o-plasty to polish the text.
When I think of outlines I often think back to fourth grade. Tuesdays were designated ‘composition’ days, in which students were given 30 minutes to write an essay. A collective shudder would ripple through class as the teacher announced the topic and told us to get our pencils out.
The playbook was simple: deconstruct writing, which paralyzes many people, into rote form. This meant having a formula, like in algebra or geometry, and it went like this: Start with an overall thesis statement (your position statement) and write 5 supporting paragraphs, including an introduction, 3 supporting points, and a conclusion. Each paragraph was also written to a pattern: start with a topic sentence, add supporting details, and end with a wrap-up sentence. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
These were essentially writing drills. As mechanical as these sessions were, it helped us otherwise distracted kids buckle down for 30 minutes and write something focused.
Verdict: Great for writing quickly and organizing thoughts into logical form.
Sketching: A Writer’s Moshpit
For those who don’t like this kind of prefabricated writing, there is another writing technique: sketching. The goal of a sketch is to record a brain dump of ideas, impressions, and words around your key concepts. There are no rules. Sketching invites loose exploration and forces you to think outside the box. It can help you push past the superficial and obvious ideas towards deeper ones, often leading to a ‘Eureka’ moment.
Compared to the outline, which looks at writing as construction projects (‘solid foundations first before the pretty windows’), the sketch is like a free fall from the top of a spire. It lets half-sprung ideas or even just fragments of sentences tumble out of your head. Sketching also serves as an early flaw detection device, so you can easily catch logic bombs in arguments before you invest too much time crafting sentences around them. Sketching is also great with collaborative writing when discussions are more apt to be conceptual and ideas can get slashed or promoted.
Verdict: Great for flexing creativity and inviting collaboration on projects.
Our advice? Throw the rabbit in the moshpit and do both!
Here are some tools to help you test run your outlines and sketches:
Notebook: Very mobile, analog, never runs out of juice, but also prone to getting left behind on the bus or disintegrating under spilled coffee. Try Moleskin or Field Notes, which are hardier brands. Or go even more basic and get a simple spiral notebook.
iPad: Use software like Draft and Sketchbook PRO , which offer some great features, though they are mostly useful for artists and graphic designers.
IdeaPaint: Sells paint that turns your wall into a whiteboard. Here are some great videos of outliners and sketchers in action.