How to Kickstart Your Writing

The American National Commission on Writing surveyed 120 major American corporations affiliated with Business Roundtable (an association of CEOs leading US corporations in manufacturing, finance, services and high technology) and discovered that writing is a “threshold skill” for the hiring and promotion of professional employees in today’s workplace.

The report, titled “Writing: A Ticket to Work… or a Ticket Out”, reveals that: – People who cannot write and communicate clearly are not likely to be hired or, if hired, not be considered for promotion, – More than 40 per cent of the responding companies offered or required training for salaried employees with writing deficiencies, costing as much as US$3.1 billion annually. – More than 50 per cent of all responding companies report that they “frequently” or “almost always” produce technical reports (59 per cent), formal reports (62 per cent), and memos and correspondence (70 per cent). Also, e-mail and the need for documentation mean that writing skills are essential.

Interestingly, writing is not as easy as one may think, which explains the frequent complaint, “I have writer’s block!” In fact, some people get highly anxious when asked to write: college students have been known to avoid courses which involve writing, and executives (young or old) are unsure of how to use information gathered and, ultimately, spend less time planning, writing, editing or reworking their texts.

Writing the first sentence is usually the hardest, especially if you have a highly critical imaginary inner voice (or a real external one), but the good news is that gathering your ideas, information or thoughts and a little planning can kick-start your writing.

A Brainstorm Of Ideas The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a “brainstorm” as either a “violent, transient fit of insanity” or “a sudden bright idea”. Whichever meaning you prefer, your ideas, information and thoughts are the meat of the matter or the body of your e-mail, memo or report. The first step to writing is to record initial ideas on paper before they float away at the sight of a pretty girl or evaporate after tonight’s home-cooked dinner at your mother-in-law’s.

  • Listing

I would write the topic or assignment title at the top of a page and then quickly list keywords associated with the topic. In five-minute sessions, I’ve often used listing as a way to show college students that they have the information and ideas to start off their writing assignments despite their moans of “We don’t know what to write!” The most important rule: NO COMMENTS ALLOWED. Focus on gathering as much information as possible; the review comes later.

  • Free Writing Or Free Typing

Do you stumble upon great ideas when you’re chit-chatting with someone? Discoveries happen also when you’re free writing or free typing. Many writers have turned bloggers because informal writing is relaxing and, in turn, produces some of the best ideas.

  • Copying and Pasting

I find this useful for research-based writing like college assignments, journal articles or even a magazine article. I would highlight the relevant text and paste it in a new Word document or postcard-sized cards, along with the reference details. The “list of ingredients”, compiled in one document, is ready for me to review, sift through, blend and then knead into the desired shape.

  • Clustering or Mind-Mapping

For some writing assignments, especially complex ones with overlapping or conflicting topics, this visual way of clustering ideas together or mind-mapping helps me dig my way out of an avalanche of information. Using a pen and a blank sheet of unlined paper, write the topic title in the centre and then note down key ideas related to it as they come to mind. Add each new idea to the most suitable section and soon, you’ll have a cluster of notes for review.

Tony Buzan’s mind-mapping techniques encourage you to use an image or picture as the central idea and colours for your mind map, which are great for group writing. Check out: for samples of mind-maps.

Pulling It All Together: Now that you’ve got the building blocks, you’ll need a structure to get your house in order. Go back to your list, free writing or mind-map and sort through the ideas and assign similar or related ones to separate groups.

For example, a progress report may include sections on the team members and their profiles, background to the project (objectives, outputs, timeline, the allocated budget and projected expenditures) and a status update. A rough outline (shown below) could later be converted into a table of contents. Armed with information and an outline, you’re now ready to write.

A. Objective: To improve customer feedback rating from “Satisfactory” to “Good”

B. Team Members:

1. Front office and reception

2. Customer service representatives

3. IT Helpdesk

4. Section Heads – Marketing, Operations

C. Outputs:

1. To increase customer response time by 20%

a. Pick up phone calls by the third ring

b. Respond or acknowledge e-mail enquiries within 24 hours

– IT to advise front desk on spam filters?

– Checklist of questions and answers

2. To increase productivity by reducing face-to-face meetings

a. Limit meeting times to a maximum of 30 minutes

b. Post weekly meeting and agenda items every Friday (for review and agreement on Monday)

D. Timeline:

E. Budget