This guest post is by Amit Sodha of Unlimited Choice.
Have you ever had an idea, a thought, or a burst of inspiration that, while it was still in your mind, sounded amazing? But, when you tried to articulate it on screen or paper, or in speech, it didn’t sound nearly so good?
I’ve found that effectively conveying my ideas is not only critical for my blog, but also for writing comedy and creating links on my radio show. One of the biggest challenges for me has been to get the ideas out of my head sounding just as good as they did whilst they were still cocooned in my grey matter.
The question, then, is how do you become less like Frederick Spindal (Who? Exactly!) and more like Aaron Sorkin (we love you Aaron!)?
It’s easier said than done, but if you look around at most successful bloggers, writers, comedians, and even successful business people, you will find that they’ve mastered this skill, coupled it with passion, and used those ingredients to excel them to the top of their field.
When your written expression doesn’t emerge as clearly as the initial idea, it can be incredibly frustrating and disheartening but, if you’re ready to take some steps with me right now, I can help you put an end to those blocks.
The importance of instant action
Have you ever seen a stand-up comedian performing on stage? They all have scripted material that they’ve meticulously rehearsed and polished. Most comedians will break their sets and engage with their audience; ask them questions, and very often they come out with hilarious responses to the answers. Those parts weren’t scripted … so where did they come from?
They vocalised their thoughts almost instantly. They didn’t question whether what they were about to say was funny or not, they didn’t worry about what people were going to think, they just reacted.
That’s what your finished article should be. It should almost be a reaction to an idea. Speed is critical. If the idea isn’t acted on instantly, or it becomes tainted with any kind of derogatory self-talk, then it will never come out with the purity with which it was conceived. Editing and polishing only come later, once the core idea has been laid out.
I also remember hearing a DVD commentary by Joss Whedon, who recently co-wrote and directed the box office smash, Avengers Assemble. He said that when he gets an idea, he uses it instantly and rarely does he deviate from the initial concept.
Any hesitance, and a million-dollar idea may become shelved permanently. Thoughts like, “What if people don’t like what I’m about to say; what if it’s wrong, what if people don’t agree with me?” stop our natural flow of brilliant material.
Over-thinking and perfectionism are two of the biggest culprits in this matter. The good news is there are two wonderful techniques you can employ as a writer (skills transferable in other fields also such as comedy and speaking) which will help you to present the ideas you had as equally clear on paper.
Here are two wonderful techniques that have helped me immensely, which you can utilise to become a more articulate, clear writer.
Technique 1. Un-edited thinking
The first of the two methods is a technique I call un-edited thinking, or naked dictation. I think some people also refer to it as “free-writing.”
The principle is relatively simple. Take a dictation of all the thoughts going on in your head right now. No matter what they are, write everything down. Imagine you’re a secretary and your mind is the boss telling you what to write. Go on, do it. Do this on a regular basis.
The purpose of this exercise is to ignore the blocks you might normally put in place. If you override them, and allow your thoughts to flow, your ideas will also come out—and be expressed—more naturally.
The more you practise this, the easier it becomes to capture the fresh ideas in the way they sounded in your head. Why? Because you’re ignoring all the things you may have done in the past to taint them.
Technique 2. The 30-minute deadline
The second technique is a pressure technique using a timer. My preferred method is to use a countdown timer on my phone. I set it for 30 minutes and make it a goal to complete the blog post I had in mind within that time.
I enforce it as a strict rule. Rarely do I complete the editing within the 30-minute limit. But this method puts the pressure on, ever so slightly, and enough that I negate blocks, and get the main essence of the piece completed.
When you do this, you’ll find that you spend less time faffing around re-reading, or worrying about perfecting it, and be more focussed on getting it done. It’s not about rushing to complete the finished product; it’s about rushing to get the idea out as as quickly and clearly as possible.
Practise both and combine these techniques to produce a more refined piece of writing. Make these exercises part of your daily writing routine and you’ll find that your finished article will be more pure and succinct.
Above all, remind yourself regularly that not every piece will be a masterpiece. Some ideas will be awesome, and some will be mediocre, but your audience will decide that. That’s not your responsibility. It’s your responsibility as the writer to put your work out there, to welcome critique, and most importantly, to write those ideas so they sound as good as they did in your head.