Viewing time: 4 mins 10 secs
The Write Question is a weekly video podcast all about writing. Today’s question? How you can make your writing less ‘blah’? If you have a question you’d like me to answer you can email me, tweet me @pubcoach, or leave a message for me at the Skype account, The Write Question.
How you can make your writing less ‘blah’? That’s the topic I’m addressing today in The Write Question. I’m Daphne Gray-Grant, the Publication Coach.
I have a question from Susan Chaplin, a writer based in Troy, Michigan. Here’s what she’s asked by email…
“In the past, when I had a poignant moment that I wanted to build a non-fiction chapter or story around, I would do so, editing as I wrote. I always knew before I started what the emotional content was going to be. The way I’m working now, I have a topic and I know there are several different stories to be told that fall under that topic. But I don’t tend to have a single, compelling feeling that ties all the stories together. As a result, the stories are coming out rather “blah”. How can I put more life back into my writing?”
Thanks for the question, Susan. It’s really challenging to break the habit of editing while you write. I know because I had to do it myself about 15 years ago and I found it extraordinarily difficult. BUT, it really paid off. It allowed me to double my writing speed. And, more importantly, it helped me to enjoy the act of writing, something I never thought I’d be able to say.
I think you’re blaming your current challenge on the wrong thing. The problem isn’t that you’re not editing while you write. The real issue is that you’re not adequately preparing to write. You and I exchanged emails about this issue, and I think your challenge relates to mindmapping and other steps you can take when you prepare to write.
(For anyone who’s unfamiliar with mindmaps, check out the show notes below for a link to my blog posts and videos on the subject.)
Susan, in looking at your mindmaps, I could see that the questions you asked yourself were totally lacking in emotional content. I want to protect your confidentiality, so let me rephrase one of your questions. Let’s say you were mindmapping about someone named Michael. Your original question might have been something like “How did Michael [a made up name] become interested in XYZ corporation?” Do you see how that question is lacking in emotion?
Instead, I would try something like: “What did Michael LOVE about XYZ corporation,” or “Which people connected with XYZ corporation meant the most to Michael?” If you want a mindmap that’s going to allow you to explore emotional issues, which are surely the most interesting issues to write about, then you need to ask yourself emotional questions.
Yes, it can be challenging to figure out what these questions should be. Don’t try to do this sort of thinking and planning at your desk. Instead, get out of your office and go for a walk. Take your cellphone with you so you can record some voice notes to yourself if you’re worried about forgetting anything.
Following my system of writing requires turning the writing process on its head. I suggest spending as much as 40% of your time preparing to write. Then, try to spend only 20% of your time actually writing. And, to conclude, allow yourself another 40% of your time for editing. In many ways, writing is really the least important step of the process.
Finally, let me wrap up with the words of American film critic and journalist Roger Ebert: “Your intellect may be confused but your emotions will never lie to you.”
Susan, if you want to make your writing less ‘blah,’ there’s nothing more effective than emotional content. You just need to figure out a way to identify those emotions by thinking and mindmapping. You’ll be much more successful identifying emotions this way, than by editing while you write.
If you’d like to learn more about how to make writing a happier and more rewarding process, check out my latest book Your Happy First Draft. I don’t sell it in bookstores or via Amazon. The only place to buy it is on my website, link on the screen below and in the show notes.