Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Smart Writers Start At The End

I was just reading a website by a professional firm. They were advising writers on the matter of how to write. Their very first subject was “where to begin.” Their recommendation was with an introduction. Having written more than a hundred speeches in over 40 years, I completely disagree. So…  where should we begin?

In most things in life you start at the beginning, right? Seems simple and reasonable enough. But life isn’t always so simple—identifying the starting point isn’t always self-evident. Consider: You get in your car, headed to a destination you’ve never before visited. To make it worse, it’s slightly foggy (or maybe it is still dark outside). Regardless, your vision is impaired and your target is not clearly in mind. Where do you start then? Did you come up with, “first I would have started by consulting a map so I had some idea of where I needed to go.”? If so, you are 100% correct. You start by knowing where you are going to end.

So why are some people able to sit down and immediately start writing, and do so starting with the introduction? It is because they intuitively already knew what their goal was. Although the details about getting to the goal may not have been exactly clear in their mind, as they began to write, it just seemed to “flow out of the pen” (or fingers on keyboard). While this method works, when a writer hits a road block, because they have not learned how to write correctly, they are stuck. Its called writer’s block.

What is the “map” that writers can use, regardless of the type of writing they are endeavoring to embark on? Again, we checked our driving map, not for our starting point (the introduction). We checked it for ending point, (the conclusion). Applying that to writing, we need to know what our conclusion is, what message we want to convey to the audience. If it is a novel (sci-fi or such), having clearly in mind where we want it to end gives us a destination to write toward. If it is a college essay, knowing the key point(s) you are trying to make will help lift the fog of aimless wandering and dead-end streets.

So, start with the conclusion. I am not saying to write the final chapter. I am saying to write a few sentences on paper that will be like your beacon to keep every direction you take one that moves your audience along in your reasoning. Once you've written that, next you will make a list of the bullet points that will become the body of your document (perhaps main chapters). Again, if it is a novel, make a list of the key scenes. Disney Studios is credited with creating “Storyboarding,” a technique of graphically capturing the main scenes in animation. (Note: After years of contemplating this, I was finally successful in developing a speaker's/writer's form of storyboard or speech-mapping. If interested, let me know.)

I amaze my wife with being able to quickly look at map for distances of around a 100 miles or more and have a clear idea of where I need to go. Do I really know each of every turn? No. What I know is that the greater distance of where I’m going is probably no more than a transition of three, four (or five) freeways, followed by single off-ramp. After that, the town streets will probably be just a few main intersections followed by a few turns. The freeways I can commit to memory; the off ramp, likewise. After that point, I’ve either printed a map off the internet or just consult my GPS for details.

Likewise, as a writer, having the bullet points of your main subject-matter outlined and having your conclusion clearly envisioned, you are now ready to start putting details on the bullet points (turning them into whole chapters or storylines), always keeping clearly in mind that everything you write should lead the audience to the conclusion.

Guess what’s next. Yes-sir-ee, the introduction. Now, instead of starting out in a fog, the introduction is something you write having clearly in mind where you are going. It should raise your audience’s anticipation for what is to come.

The above is just a thumbnail of how to make writing less stressful and more productive. There is much more to say on each part of the journey—the conclusion, body, and introduction.

See also:

No comments:

Post a Comment