Do you ever write reports, marketing pitches or sales proposals? Have you ever experienced writer’s block, where you stare at a blank screen and wonder where to start? I have.
I wish I had read ‘Bird by Bird’ by Anne Lamott earlier in my career. It would have made writing, especially the dry business kind, so much easier. ‘Bird by Bird’ is a highly-rated, easy reading book about how to write well. It focuses on fiction writing but also applies to any type.
Here are 3 useful tips from the book that sound obvious yet, when you are really busy at work, you can lose sight of the basics:
1. Discipline your mind with some structure
Lamott believes that creativity and inspiring ideas come from persistence, structure and hard work. Few people have the ability to sprout creative, meaningful ideas at random. Your brain does not work like that. The subconscious is like an unruly child – it needs some discipline and routine in order to operate well. For example, set aside uninterrupted time, always write at a tidy desk or in a certain quiet place.
Structure also helps discipline your thoughts so you can focus on the task at hand. This is especially important with business writing when distracting thoughts often come tearing in.
2. Think of a one inch picture frame
Your brain is likely to go into frightened spasm if you have to write about something big and complex such as ‘the effect of the economic downturn on strategy’ or ‘our business in 2012’.
Lamott says you need to focus on a small piece of your topic at a time. She keeps a little one inch picture frame on her desk to remind her to work with specific areas and then slowly build up to the bigger piece.
3. It is ok to make a mess (at first)
Children make messes in order to discover who they are and why they are here. When you are an adult, it becomes less acceptable to create a mess.
Allow your first draft to be chaotic. It is impossible to create the perfect first draft – perfectionism cramps creative muscles. Put whatever comes to mind on the page. Just write and get everything down on the page so it will be a random, mish-mash of thoughts. Lamott says, ‘the first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later.’
The second draft is about cleaning the mess and saying what you need to say more accurately. The third draft is the ‘dental draft where you check every tooth to see if its lose or cramped or decayed or healthy’.
‘Bird by Bird is definitely worth reading.