Words on a Page Writings about writing

Combining analog and digital to get your writing done

A woman writing on a tablet with a stylus

In 2015, my daughter decided she wanted to go back to school after several years of homeschooling. In late 2016, she had to give a short speech in front of her high school English class. That sounds routine, I know, but it was a major challenge for my daughter.

My daughter is autistic. While she has an extensive vocabulary, in a couple of languages, she has trouble using that vocabulary in spoken form.

As I often do when working with my daughter, I threw out the rule book and improvised to help her write and practice her speech. I came up with a technique that combines both handwriting and digital to 1) focus her ideas, and 2) get her started writing.

Recently, I adapted that technique and tried with writers I’ve been coaching. They’ve been having a bit of trouble getting started writing. As it turns out, the technique is helping them beat whatever’s preventing them from writing.

Let’s take a look at that technique.

Start with a blank sheet of paper

And a pen or pencil, of course.

Think about the structure of what you’re trying to write. Specifically, think of the main headings. Write those headings on the sheet of paper, with three or four centimetres (one to two inches) of blank space between each heading.

From there, think about the main idea that you want to cover in each section. Don’t worry about detail at this point. Instead, think of a one-sentence statement that encapsulates the idea you want to put forward. For example, Why I believe that calm technology, as it stands now, fails.

Repeat that for each section. Once you’ve done that, think about the detail around the idea for each section. In each section, create a set of three to five bullet points. Use sentence fragments to represent each piece of detail.

Again, repeat that for each section. When you’re done, you’ll have a skeleton. The next step is to …

Flesh out the skeleton

Grab another sheet of paper. On that sheet, expand upong the details you added to each section. Write in full sentences and paragraphs.

Don’t focus on style or grammar or even clever turns of phrase. Just focus on adding bulk to the skeleton that you created. Think about what you’re writing, but don’t think too closely or deeply about it at this point. What you’re putting down isn’t the final product.

Add the details in a more fully-formed way. This is your first draft, warts and gaps and all.

The next step is to …

Go digital

Fire up your word processor or text editor or blogging tool of choice. Create a new document or post, and then start typing. Transfer what you’ve written by hand — headings and text — into that document or post.

Remember that after you’ve typed that final word or punctuation mark, you’re not done. What you have needs some tuning.

Add any additional detail that you think is necessary — links, quotes, background information, segues or turns of phrase. Add a bit more personality and warmth to what you’ve written.

Once you’ve done that, let your writing lie for a little while. Go back to it, and edit. I don’t mean a quick copy edit. Instead, try to do a content edit. Look at what you’ve written with a critical eye and mercilessly cut or tighten or rewrite or rearrange it. Only then will you be done.

Why not go digital from the start?

One of the writers I used to coach tried just that. He struggled a bit, until I created a template for him. You can find that template here. It’s a Google Doc, which you can download as a word processor file.

To use the document, just follow the process I’ve outlined in this post. Replace the text in the square brackets in the document with what you want to write. Before you know it, you’ll have a completed article, blog post, book chapter, essay, or whatever it is you’re writing.

Using this technique is a bit of work, but if you’re having trouble writing then using this technique can be worth that effort. You’ll reach done faster than if you just sit there and worry and stress about what you’re trying to write.

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