Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Art of On-the-Job Writing, Part 2

The last and next few installments of the WORDS ON THE LINE blog features excerpts of each of the seven chapters of The Art of On-the-Job Writing by writing consultant Philip Vassallo. The book takes the reader through the writing process and key consideration for each step.

Here’s a brief excerpt from Chapter 2, “Planning”:

Remember the only way to start writing: by writing. This is an important point. You can’t get started by simply sitting there and meditating about your topic. You actually have to move your fingers, either by pushing your pen or pencil across a piece of paper to form words, or by tapping at your keyboard to form them on the screen. Anything else is something other than writing.

How often have you heard someone say, or have you said yourself, “I have a hard time getting started, but once I do start I can’t stop”? Naturally. You needed to connect the brain to the fingers and think through writing. It’s much like the way we speak to one another. When we first meet, some awkward moments may pass. Our speech may be halting, guarded; we may even stumble over a word or two. But once we feel comfortable and connect with each other’s language, minutes fly by and we don’t bother to censor our speech. Words just burst from our brains and pop from our mouths like an endless barrage of firecrackers without our seeming to think about them. Yet we are thinking—thinking through speaking or thinking through listening, depending on which you’re doing at the moment. And if you think about it (no pun intended), as you are now—thinking through reading—you can think about other things while thinking through speaking or thinking through writing. Try it during your next informal conversation with friends about, say, food. As you listen to your friends speak, think about irrelevant matters, such as Neil Armstrong’s moon walk followed by Jennifer Lopez rocking on an electrified stage and see whether you understood what your friends were saying. You probably will. Then as you speak to your friend, think about Jack in The Titanic sacrificing his life to save Rose from drowning in the North Atlantic Sea followed by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. addressing thousands of people at the Lincoln Memorial and see whether your friends understood what you were saying. They probably will. As you read this paragraph, were you thinking about other thoughts and still understanding these words? I’d bet you were.

A problem for people with writer’s block is that they ponder instead of write—which causes their writing minds to go blank. How ironic: They’re stressed out because their minds are blank when they unwittingly caused that very effect! Pondering doesn’t start until we start to meditate, speaking and listening don’t start until we start to speak and listen, reading doesn’t start until we start to read, and writing doesn’t start until we start to write. So all three steps of the PDQ Process—planning, drafting, quality controlling—require us to write.

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