Writing sdrawckaB

May 14, 2010

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been spending a lot of time writing articles and pulling together ideas I’ve collected for an information product for people considering self-employment. I enjoy writing because it’s a slightly new experience each time.

Sometimes things just flow, but the next day I reread what I wrote and it looks like… it flowed, alright, but for a very different reason. Sometimes I wrestle and fight with a piece and don’t like it very much, but other people give me great feedback. Considering that, I might just be writing some of my best stuff ever right now, because I’m having to unscramble things I originally wrote backwards.

Some of the articles I’ve been writing are based on posts to the forum for coaches in the Profiting From Your Passions™ Career Coach program. Those posts made sense when I wrote them – I swear they did! Other people even seemed to understand them. But as I read through them to pull out the “good stuff” for my articles, I noticed they were written backwards.

It wasn’t strictly backwards. That would have been easy to fix. They were mostly backwards but pretty jumbled, too. For example, I would find a sentence or a three-sentence paragraph and think “keeper,” so I would leave it where it was. After I pulled out the redundant parts (how much time I waste saying the same thing twice or more in the same post!) I looked at the framework that was left.

The jumbled, backwards mess had been hiding behind too many anecdotes and needless repetition. But there it was. The piece opened with a summary paragraph, and the summary statement was the last line of it, not the first. Near the end, after rambling all over the place, I finally stated my main point, as the third sentence in a lengthy paragraph. It was a great main point, the kind you structure an opening paragraph to support, like the appearance of the lead actor early in the play after the stage has been set. But I had just thrown it into the middle of a mishmash paragraph.

Sometimes it was an easy fix. I would put the last sentence of a paragraph first and move the first sentence closer to the end and finally understand what it was I had been trying to say. But most of the time I found material for the beginning of the article written near the end of the post and vice versa. I would fix a paragraph and then move the whole thing to the other end.

I think this happened because my forum posts are the most conversational writing I do. Someone has just asked a question and I start “talking” to that person, typing madly to get an idea out before my brain moves on to the next one. I quick-edit for spelling and grammar before I click “post,” but that’s about it.

I think we tend to talk like we’re filling in different parts of a mind map at the same time. I think that’s why someone can read my jumbled forum post and understand it. We’re used to that pattern in conversation.

I think this hodgepodge style of conversation even explains why I can listen to a presentation and think afterwards it was very compelling with great points, but when I listen again later it seems to go all over the place. Several times I’ve heard a teleclass or recorded workshop and thought it had a brilliant flow of logically connected, inspiring ideas summed up with memorable anecdotes. Listening a second time I realized it was actually disjointed. My own mind had rearranged the parts to find the connections and fill in some pieces, similar to the way we process impressionist art.

This suggests why it can be so important to take notes or jot down thoughts inspired as we hear something being discussed – but it’s okay to throw the notes away afterwards, since triggering your mind to organize thoughts is sometimes the only value of note-taking. It’s why talking about a new idea is important, too. As you tell it to someone else your mind is organizing the information, seeing the connections in it and finding similar patterns in your other experiences. This is part of integrating and assimilating new understanding.

In my writer’s journey, I’m noticing my quick e-mail replies and forum posts are lightly polished and only as structured as my comments in conversation. My blog posts get a little more work, but only a little, because as I write them I practice welcoming ideas and words without the filter of the writing teacher looking over my shoulder. I edit and rearrange to make sure there are coherent ideas presented in an understandable way, but I don’t polish too much. I spend about half as much time editing and rewriting as I do writing the first draft. This is part of my regular exercise to produce and publish in spite of a clamoring tension to make everything as perfect as possible. Seth Godin talks and writes about this a lot, like in this post. He calls it the struggle to get things “shipped.”

I give articles the most attention. I spend a lot more time polishing one than I do writing it. I might move the parts around and reword things multiple times. It’s kind of like deciding how to arrange the furniture in a room by actually moving the sofa here… and then over there, but now the chair won’t fit… so we put it back here but now the window is blocked.

I wonder if a 3G 32-Gig iPad would help me do that better? (See? No filter.)

How are things going for you as you wrestle with your inner writing teacher? Mine gets perplexed a lot and sighs. But I’m being patient with her while she gets used to me.

May You Know the Joy of Sharing Your Gifts,

Steve Coxsey

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