Imagine you’re a non-swimmer and you’re standing on a shore, contemplating the waves. They are quite high, but there are people still swimming in the ocean. It’s a peaceful scenery. Until a wave tries to catch you. It becomes bigger and bigger, and you realize that it will break any second, taking you with it. Your first impulse is to run away. But it won’t help much. The wave will get you anyways.
Although I can swim and therefore I can’t be 100% certain, I have often had a similar feeling when I was told to write a text. Why does it sometimes feel so threatening? Because this particular wave isn’t made of water, but of the highest expectations, self-doubt, the lack of time and a lot of pressure. Even though I now work as a professional writer, the wave hasn’t completely disappeared. Its shape alters, its components vary. But my feeling towards that wave has changed with the experience I have gained: I have learned how to surf it.
Maybe you don’t feel the same way, maybe you do. No matter what, here are some tips that will help you write a text. A text in your own words. I will teach you the basics and help you get out of the water, looking somehow elegant while getting to touch the ground again. If it doesn't work for you, please let me know. I’ll be happy to find a different solution for you.
Please make sure that, before you take the following step #1, you already have a basic knowledge of the subject you chose. A minimum of expertise should be required to make your text relevant to others. Read the most important articles or personally get yourself into the situation you want to write about. Done? Alright, let’s start!
Take a look at the word “keyword”. It contains the word “key”. Interestingly, this is the case in other languages like German, Spanish, French and Italian as well. A key opens doors, it helps your readers to go further, to open new horizons. These words are like the skeleton of your text. Place them into the right wording and you already look like an expert. But don’t rush, let’s find them first.
There are two starting points before writing a text.
It might seem that #1 has the most advantageous starting point, but this isn’t always the case.
If you have to write a text without knowing how it should look like, give your “PR-self” a break. “PR-self” is the part of you who is responsible for Public Relations. Yes, that part who tells you things like “you can’t write this like that or people will laugh at you”. Instead, just open an empty document on your PC (or even take a white paper and a pen) and ask yourself a concrete question. In the case of this article I would ask: “What can people do to start writing a text if they don’t know how?” Give yourself a time between ten and 30 minutes and start freewriting as fast as you can. No worries about spelling, grammar, style, logic, other peoples’ opinions or the one of “PR-self”. Just you and the words. The advantage of this technique is not only that at the end you get at least a glimpse of what you want to say, but also: You will have found important keywords and key-sentences. I agree that most of what you will have written is probably crap, but: a) Are you Goethe? b) I promise the crap contains precious keys. You’ll find them! The only important thing is to ignore “PR-self” for the time of the exercise. As you mark the keywords and key-sentences, you now belong to group #1. On top of that, you’ve got a big advantage: You already have words and sentences you can use. You might even have a structure of your text!
I usually recommend to group #1 to do the same freewriting as group #2. Nevertheless, I have experienced that these people tend to be even more critical with themselves. If you are aware that you’re insecure, you are more inclined to ignore “PR-self”. But, if you already know “everything” and how exactly your text will be, you might not realize that the words in your head are not the same as those on the computer screen. Not convinced? Then skip the freewriting and try to structure your thoughts in a mindmap or a cluster. Just use the most important keywords.
Why do you write a text? Some people want to show off by presenting their writing skills. They use pretentious words and create complicated sentences. The result are articles that nobody understands, not even themselves. This technique could be useful if you have nothing to say and you want to hide it. If this isn't the case, rather write for your readers. Give them the chance to understand you. That does not mean that your text will be shallow. I have read texts written in a very simple language explaining the most complicated connections.
So, let’s get back to your work: Take those keys and lay them on the ground. This means: Stay down-to-earth. Pretend you’re talking to a friend and you’re explaining to her or him the topic of your article. Write simple sentences. I hear your “PR-self” screaming in horror. Don’t worry, we’ll get to it later. You will NOT publish this version, I promise. Just be humble, use your every day words, use the keywords and ignore “PR-self”. (By the way, and I’m realizing this as I’m writing this article: If you speak a foreign language, it might be helpful to write in that language first. You won’t be tempted to use complicated word creations.)
Now it’s time to let “PR-self” out of the cage. Whereas it would have destroyed your early work, it can now really help you! It will mold the earth around your keywords. It will refurbish your text, make it more sophisticated, add (more) personal style.
Don’t forget: This step requires a small balancing act. While obviously you should keep in mind the purpose of your text, you shouldn’t forget that writing is creative and playful.
In this step, adapt the style of your text to your target group:
You might now be sure that your text is amazingly awesome, but trust me: Time can also work on it. Before I send an article to the publisher, I always wait at least one night. Even though I have read it a trillion times, I will always find something I haven’t seen the day before. Trust Pascal when he (indirectly) says that time is your friend.
If you have worked with one or more techniques I have introduced in this article, or you already surf the wave like a pro, I’ll be glad if you'd share your experience in the comments section below. How do you start writing?