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.
Amit Sodha has been blogging for over 6 years, is a life coach, stand-up comedian, and a radio presenter. To find out more you can connect with him on twitter.
This is fantastic! I’ve found that the voice to text on my iPhone is the best thing that ever happened to my writing. I am able to talk my thoughts out and then go back and add/edit/fill in from there. Some of my best posts have come in the car after a in depth conversation in a meeting or training session.
If you don’t have a voice-to-text option, get a voice recorder and use it!
Hi Graham, that’s a great suggestion which I also often use too, I wish I’d included that in the article now! :-) Thank you.
I enjoyed your article Amit, and I am going to try and practice what you preach. I am new to blogging and I am finding it very difficult to put my ideas into words. While I consider myself an authority in my field, I am not the best copy writer. I have been trying to edit my articles in my head, trying to make it better before I even write it. I often end up with nothing because the idea goes away.
I am going to use both of your techniques to try and improve my articles, and produce more.
Hi Larry, thanks for getting in touch and I’d be really intrigued to find out your results after trying those techniques. Please do keep me updated.
Produce less and make it count.
What’s important is to get the post to a stage where you think it’s “good enough”. So setting a time limit and deadline really helps set that boundary.
There are some who want the post to be “perfect” and keep tweaking the post for a really long time, when it was not necessary in the first place.
Hi Shamelle, absolutely! The perfectionist in all of us can really prevent us from making headway because of the fear of doing something not so good, but getting it done none the less. Appreciate your input, thank you!
If you think “good enough” is acceptable, you should stop writing for other people immediately. Try a diary.
I absolutely loved this post! It was very well put together and well written. I especially like the 30-minute technique. I find that I work much better and my mind is much sharper when I know I have to meet a deadline. Thanks, again.
Hi Freddy, thank you so much for your kind words. Same here, that technique above all really gets me going and strongly focussed on the task at hand. If it’s enforced regularly you’ll find you’ll accomplish so much within such a short space of time. :-)
Excellent article! I often think of this problem as “writers block”. But, you are right it’s so much more. Next time frustration takes over I will implement your ideas.
Hi David, excellent and let me know what kind of results you get by applying these after you’ve had some writers block.
I like your point on Un-edited thinking. I actually implement it and it really keeps the writer’s block off!
Hi Norbert, you are the proof that a method such as the unedited thinking really works. Thank you!
Certainly, making a particular time frame and write the article in that time and after that analysing it is a great exercise and I always doing it. Thanks for sharing great post. ;)
Thank you ayaz, you are the proof in the pudding that the time frame technique really is a great way to get things done. :-)
Great post and great techniques. Capturing those ideas which come in a moment of clarity and articulating them again when you re-think the thought often mean they lose some of the punch of the original moment.
I am not a blogger, but the same issues arise when verbally articulating the ideas. Regardless of conveying the idea in a written or verbal context I think the idea of confidence in your idea is very important. Not to second guess, not to wonder what everyone else will think but to believe in the idea and sell it to everyone else. It’s what good comedians do and it’s what good leaders do.
Hi David, thank you for your kind words. I agree when I preparing notes for speaking. I often do the same thing and apply the same techniques to great results. I can also speak without preparing anything when I reach that place of clarity and don’t think too much about what people think of me, more about just sharing what I know is important.
This was a really helpful post. I love your 30 minute timer idea, definitely one I need to try!
Hi Marie, thank you for you kind words and let me know how it goes with the 30 minute technique. :-)
this is the only problem i face after writing a post
thanx for this nice post
Hey Abhishek, you’re welcome and I truly hope these techniques benefit you.
Hey Bro, First of all congratulations for being a guest blogger on this site. I make use of the un-edited thinking technique all the time, it’s great for getting ideas down quickly – what I try to do is incorporate the feeling I’m trying to convey. I make a note of it beside what I’ve written. This helps me later to make the scene as real as possible. Love the 30min deadline idea. Great article bro.
Hey Milan, thank you for the kind words and I love the addition of adding the feeling next to what you’ve written, conveying emotion in the writing is so import.
Great post, Amit…excellent advice. As a writer and speaker, I particularly appreciate your thoughtful, practacle, and doable ideas.
Keep the posts coming.
All the best,
Hi David, it was my pleasure and glad to convey something useful to an experienced writer and speaker! :-)
The 30 minute technique to get blog posts out of your head on to the computer or on to paper is a useful and absolutely efficient technique. I’ve found that it can be more productive to write blog posts on public computers in schools, cafe’s, community centers or libraries, etc. and even a friend’s house can prompt you into action when it comes to putting everything that you want in the post out in front of you so you can then work with it to assemble the post that conveys what you want to say.
Opting to use computers that you don’t own works wonders for writer’s block….you’ll likely work a lot faster if you’re writing blog posts on “borrowed time”…or at least, that has been my experience. Many times when I visited a friend’s house to use her computer, I made sure I did everything that I needed to do and only focused on necessary tasks, so that I could hurry up and get out of her way! Borrowed time on other computers is a great motivator for writing blog posts.
Hi Nicole, that’s a cracking addition to this idea. It’s an effect that also has got me working faster in the past but I never realised it. I may have to do that even more often! Thank you.
I use un-edited thinking the most of these ideas, sometimes I write what I call raw pieces where there’s just the idea as it is. I just check for grammar and thats it press publish. I must try the 30 minute method as well at some point.
Hi Ismo, you are proof that the idea works! Thank you for the comment! :-)
Do you really care if anyone actually reads your verbiage?
Outstanding advice! Blogging five days per week and the occasion weekend post is proving tough. I find the over-thinking to be an issue, so I like the un-editing thinking approach. Writing a blog post can take 30-45 minutes, but the setting up of the post and timing the social media posts out the post exercise to 70-90 minutes. Any tips on reducing the overall time? Cheers!
Hi Al, thanks for your kind words, when you say setting up of the post and timing the social media posts, what do you mean exactly?
I despair. You NEED to craft your work. When you prepare a meal for guests, do you bring it to the table half-cooked? Who are you writing for? Yourself or for other people? If you want to entertain readers, you need to put in some work. You need to edit yourself. Bash out your words to keep block at bay, but go back after your burst of creativity and add some polish to your work … and hopefully make it shorter.
What makes a blog sing? Sometimes you don’t even know. So these tips encourage us to write naturally (and quickly). Kind of like taking lots of photos, the masterpieces are mixed in with the other efforts.
Thanks for the comments and feedback Corky! :-)
As soon as I click “post comment” here, I am going to get cracking on the 30 minute technique. This is something that I really need to start, and continue doing. I spend way too much time obsessing over what I write.
Hi Angie, you and me both, but I try as often as I can to stick to the 30 minute timer and try and get out something special. Let me know how it works out for you.
Sorry, but if you want your writing to mean something, you need to obsess a little. Certainly, you need to edit your work before you publish it.
I like the idea of using a timer. I am going to try it the next week or two and see what kind of results I get. I spend way too much time going over and over each post I write until every single word and punctuation is meticulously placed. The result is good, but it takes much more time than it should. Plus I find myself sneaking off to Twitter or something when it gets a little difficult. A timer would help me get past that and also be a little more spontaneous! Thanks!
Hi Marc, thank you so much for the kind words and please do let me know how you get on with the addition of using a timer with your writing. I’d love to know the results.
Amit Sodha … your work, techniques and pure “simple-man genius” works a charm everytime! Love this blog and love all your blogs @Unlimited Choice! Thank you for always beng a great inspiration and sharing your easy to read and insightful blog messages! Keep up the great work Amit ; )
Thank you so much Eve! It’s messages like that which keep me going! :-)
Rubbish. This is fine for blabbers and the chattering classes, but for professional writers who understand the critical need for brevity, clarity and understanding, it is nonsense. The editing process is ESSENTIAL. There is simply too much information out there. Your message needs to be as short and succinct as possible.
Thanks for your input but I’m sorry to say but you must have missed reading a big portion of the article. Nowhere did I say you should not edit your work, neither did I say you should complete the piece in 30 minutes. To quote myself “Rarely do I complete the editing within the 30-minute limit”.
The 30 minute idea is just about getting the core idea out onto screen or paper as quickly as possible. Once the core idea is out, then you can focus on the editing.
To quote one of your earlier comments “but go back after your burst of creativity and add some polish to your work … and hopefully make it shorter.” – that’s exactly the message I’m trying to convey.
In the famous words of the comedian Kat Williams “if you don’t have haters or people who criticise what you do, you’re doing something wrong.” Thank you for letting me know I’m onto a winner here. :-)
I just finished reading a post by Harry French on negative posting. How appropriate.
I’m guilty of making negative comments in the previous couple of days because I am new to this form of communication and I’m trying to understand how and why it works.
I wasn’t downright rude and didn’t use any profanity, but I was intolerant of your feelings and the feelings of your readers. I was thoughtless and pompous and I apologise.
Your post was well-conceived, well-written, entertaining and useful.
These are similar words to the ones I have used to apologise to another fellow writer I’ve criticised in the past day, but it does not diminish their sincerity.
I need to chill out and accept that this is a new and exciting medium ungoverned by traditional rules.
Once again Amit, I’m sorry.
Hi Leith, I truly appreciate those sentiments and thank you for responding. :-)
I’ve used the 30 minute timer method quite often (and not just for writing).
Even when it doesn’t work out and the piece isn’t what I was hoping for I still save it in a file as “incomplete” and often will look there when out of ideas!
Hi Warren, I actually employ the same method too. I have many draft posts in WordPress and I sometimes just browse them to see if something jumps out at me for that moment that I can work on.
Fantastic post. I will certainly try the timer route this week. There’s so many times I will spend an hour or more on a post only to hit the move to trash link as if I were crumbling up a piece of paper out of frustration. Thank you so much. This is exactly what I needed.
You’re welcome Eddie. Let me know how it goes.
Nice article. I couldn’t imagine how easy it is to write something. Before, it took me hours to come up with a great topic. But I would have to say that free writing is definitely useful. I would always use my instincts first before I put something on paper. Thanks for the post!
Hi Michael, thank you for the kind words and feedback and you’re welcome.
Awesome! You surely give helpful tips especially for a blogger like me.
With English as a second language, sometimes I struggle on how to put my thoughts into words that don’t sound awkward. It’s slowing me down during the process. Then, I would realize that I’ve spent too much time trying to make one good sentence. I wonder what you have to say about this…
Hi Caryl, I know it can’t be easy trying to put your thoughts into words, especially when your native language is very different. Even though English is my first language I do speak a second language, if I tried to write an article in my second language I would struggle.
The only think you can do is keep practising and also, most importantly, keep reading well written articles or books and over time your English will improve and you’ll begin to find it easier to construct those sentences. :-)
Thanks for the great advice Amit. I used to be a creative writer but turned engineer and found that I lost my writing skills…
What suggestion would anyone have for a ‘dispersed mind’ that wants to get too many ideas on paper? Using the free-writing technique helps but I end up writing something too big and then cutting up into different peices.
Any suggestion to contain this monster…?
It sounds like have bulk and cutting up later is not a bad thing at all. In many ways it just sounds like you’re doing what comes naturally to most writers or comedians even. A joke may initially start of as an entire paragraph but by the time the comedian has finished the editing it may be down to a single sentence.
Maybe I misunderstood what you’ve said but I genuinely admire the position you’re and in and through if you’ll be able to develop strong editing skills.
Hope that helps :-)