To be a better writer, “talk it out”
A common piece of advice for writers is, “share your work.”
I think feedback is critical, which is why I say you should share your thoughts before you share your work.
When I started writing on Medium, I struggled with my output. It had been a long time since I’d written content like this so consistently. The ideas for my articles came slowly at first, and I spent too much time perfecting each piece.
I’ve written about my creative process in the first month, but the gist was this: I’d bang out a first draft and then realize my thoughts and ideas were all over the place. Then I’d go back and restructure the whole thing.
I found that it helps to discuss my ideas before I write my articles. My dad is my go-to person for brainstorming and talking out loud. I don’t know who that person is for you — a friend, a family member, a mentor, a fellow writer — but choose someone you trust to bounce ideas off of.
Here’s how it helped my writing, and a few of my tips to make it work for you:
Clarify your thoughts in conversation.
Having a quick conversation often helps me sort through my thoughts. There’s something about describing my ideas aloud that allows me to clarify my main idea. Conversation has a way of getting to the core of something quickly; whereas it takes me a long time to get there when I’m writing.
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” ~ Albert Einstein
- Keep it casual; you’re simply having a conversation.
- Ask your friend to listen while you explain your main idea, or the “thesis” of your piece.
- What’s your “takeaway” for the reader?
When I’m describing an idea for an article to my dad, he listens patiently while I attempt to explain the perspective I want to share in my piece.
If my stream of consciousness rambling doesn’t make sense to him, I have to find new words to make my point. In doing so, I’m often able to narrow in on my main argument and shove out all other distracting ideas.
Invite new perspectives.
Sharing your thoughts with others will invite new perspectives. You’re approaching a particular topic from your point of view, and it’s eye-opening to consider other points of view. You’ll see your idea or topic in a new light.
You might think it’s counterintuitive to invite others’ thoughts because you don’t want their opinions to influence yours. This is why you’ve got to find someone you trust, who will challenge your opinions but not change them.
- Don’t ask “Is this a good idea?” That’s an opinion question.
- Where did the idea for your piece come from? Describe your inspiration and your perspective on the topic. Then invite your friend’s take on it.
- Ask your friend to play devil’s advocate.
During conversations with my dad, he’ll raise new points and perspectives I hadn’t considered. His questions help me understand how my audience might perceive my article. When he plays devil’s advocate, my writing is stronger for it because I’ve anticipated counterarguments and am able to address them.
Clarity leads to more efficient writing.
It is so much easier to write efficiently when you know what you’re trying to say. Having clarified my main argument, supporting points, and takeaway for the reader, my first drafts take less time to write and aren’t as messy.
- Take notes while you’re chatting.
- Number your bullet points or notes so you can remember the order of ideas later when you’re writing.
As I mentioned, I used to struggle with the structure of my articles. My thoughts and ideas were out of order, and I had to perform surgery on each piece before my argument made sense.
I’ll chat with my dad until I understand the logical order of ideas. Now, my first drafts are more structurally sound. There’s still significant revision, but overall, the process is more efficient.
Look to additional resources to add depth.
When you’re drawing on someone else’s thoughts and experiences, they’ll add depth to your piece. They may point you to resources or examples to expand your research or give your topic new depth.
You may have only scratched the surface before, but discussing your thoughts with someone else helps you dig a little deeper.
- Draw connections to similar topics or ideas.
- Could you quote any recognizable thought leaders or writers who’ve said it better?
- Discuss your personal experiences and how they’re relevant to your topic.
Even better, one idea leads to another, and sometimes you’ll find that your topic lends itself to spinoff articles. Sometimes I can’t see it until my dad points it out.
In that case, I was able to cover each of those topics in more depth. And that’s more value for my readers (not to mention, gave me more content!).
It can be scary to share your thoughts or talk openly about your ideas. At this point in the process, your would-be article is unformed — it’s just something that exists in your head. And so you feel protective of it, and a little wary, unsure whether it will even pan out in the end.
But there are so many benefits to sharing your thoughts and ideas before you put pen to paper (or fingers to the keyboard). A trusted confidante will help you clarify your argument, share new perspectives or insight, add depth, and ultimately push you to be a better writer.
Don’t work in a silo. Creativity is such a collaborative process, and if you’re stuck in your own head all the time, you’ll miss out on the cool stuff that comes from creative discussion.
I encourage you to find someone you trust, and give this method a shot. Let me know how it works out!