In college I was an English minor. Now I have this blog. And I do a lot of writing for work. So what I’m saying is: I’ve done a lot of writing in my day. And while I’m by no means an expert, I’ve learned a thing or two along the way. Here are a couple things that help me when I’m struggling. Maybe they’ll help you some time, too.
1. Start early.
Whether it’s an English paper or a toast at a wedding, there’s a deadline. Start at least a week before then. It alleviates stress and allows time for “the process”.
2. Make an outline (especially for long pieces, like essays).
I’d almost say a good outline is half the work. The more detail, the better. Here’s how to build a good outline: start with the big ideas- they’re the paragraph topics. Each should have a topic sentence that says what the paragraph is about. Then it should have a few other sentences supporting or related to that. So build your outline that way. Then you can just follow your outline for your first draft- all you have to do is form complete sentences and string them together!
3. Expect the first draft to suck.
It takes the pressure off. You’ve got plenty of time to improve it. That’s why you started early! Read through it and make edits. Do it again. Now put it away for a little while.
4. Give it some time.
At least 2 days. Then pull it back out and edit it again. This is usually where it starts to get kinda good.
5. Say it out loud.
If you’re having trouble with a sentence, say/read it out loud to work on the prose. Sometimes if I’m having trouble putting a sentence together, I think about how I could communicate the information to a friend over the phone. When the whole thing is finished, read it aloud. It will make any awkward points obvious, and you’ll notice things (like typos) that you miss when you read it in your head.
6. Read it backwards.
This is a tip I learned from my boss when I was an intern. Reading something backwards helps bring out things like typos where you meant to say “hear” but put “here” instead- the kind of thing Microsoft Word’s spell check won’t catch.
Does anybody else have any good tips to share?