If you’ve seen the creation process behind a drawing or painting you’ll know that artists rarely produce a finished artwork without a rough sketch beneath.
What starts off looking like a lopsided scarecrow eventually becomes a beautifully rendered person. The canvas that begins as a few splotches of color eventually morphs into a life portrait.
The artist knows generally what they want to paint. What they might not be sure on until later is the detail.
This model is incredibly useful to us. As producers of written content we can adapt this strategy to what we write.
This is a simple tip, but it can increase the quality of what you write and allow you to produce articles faster.
Once you have an idea for an article it’s relatively easy to work out what you want to say. It’s the how that trips us up, so often causing writer’s block.
We’re trying to paint a masterpiece in the first sweep, when every great masterpiece grows from very humble beginnings.
Building the foundations of a strong article
Like a painting, the articles we write need a firm foundation to stand on. It requires we put up with some pretty ugly writing (for a little while).
I use this method all the time now, and every blog post I write starts out looking horrible. If I published the posts as they are then I’d lose my readership overnight – just like any painter who tried to show off a sketch as a finished piece would be laughed at.
A post like ‘Criticism: A Rite of Passage on the Web?’ (picked at random) would have looked a lot like this when I first sketched it out:
1. Recognize that unconstructive criticism has no value
2. ‘mass viewing + unaccountability = idiocy’
3. Logic doesn’t work on an illogical person
4. Aim to diffuse
A little ugliness can be a good thing
(in the beginning)
The above ugly and useless for the reader. Without explanation, none of those points have value. For the writer, however, this sketch is incredibly useful.
Rather than tacking the post as a whole, this process breaks down the article into manageable chunks. You’ve sketched out what you’re going to say. This makes the how easier.
Flesh out your first point. Explain it. Qualify it. Define it. Say everything that you want about it. Once you’re done, move on to the next point, tackling each one at a time. As you focus on one point, don’t think about the others.
It’s a lot easier to write one paragraph than it is to write a whole article, but an article is built out of paragraphs, one after the other.
When you’re done, your sketch points can be deleted. Or they can be retained, as sub-headings, or emphasized sentences. If it helped you write the piece, chances are it will help visitors to read it.
Give it a try: next time you write an article to publish online, first, set out (very loosely) your points and then flesh them out, one at a time. You could even write the introduction last if you like.
The advantage of doing so is that introductions can seem a lot less daunting when you know exactly what you’re introducing!