Writing to think

I regularly urge authors to work separately on two forms of composition: “writing to think” and “writing to deliver.” Writing to think is journaling, stream-of-consciousness style, to air and shape thoughts. It is part of “prewriting.” Writing to deliver is composing for publication, the actual words that will go into print.

The quickest route to the best possible printed words is to do both—“writing to think” first. You can jump right into writing for print, but you’re almost sure to suffer undue pain from wrong turns, U-turns, and dead ends—and get stuck with fixing passages snarled with the verbal traffic of finding your footing via trial and error.

What should you “write to think” about? Below are a dozen questions to answer. This is the time to engage yourself in a debate as to which words and forms of expression will work best. It’s also the place to test outlier ideas and dismiss the unworkable ones. On paper or on the computer, insist on coming up with answers. Let your ideas rip—and keep a record of them.

  1. Goals: What are your goals in writing the book? Fame? Fortune? Spreading knowledge? Advancing new ideas? Creating a calling card? Securing a legacy?
  2. Passions: What insights are you not just interested in but passionate about sharing? What makes your mental engine go into overdrive?
  3. Readers: Who are your core readers (book buyers)? These are the people who would wait in line outside the theater for your message. Will they see you as the right author?
  4. Distinctions: What new distinctions have you drawn? Also, are there better ways to arrange them in the book, creating a progression of new insights?
  5. Metaphor: What metaphor(s) conveys your concept? (More than a cliché?) Does it help you hint at powerful universal themes?
  6. Simplification: If you were speaking to a loved one (mother, brother, son, daughter), how would you rephrase your message?
  7. Catchiness: What material in your book is most edgy? What will grab reader attention? Should you develop your book from there?
  8. Differentiation: Describe what your book is not. (It is not a how-to book; it is not a book just for technical people; it is not like John Doe’s book because…)
  9. Positioning: Would a different market positioning delight core readers? How will your book stand out from others?
  10. Platform: What marketing and sales channels do you control? A speaking circuit? Blog/newsletter? Seminar series? How can you leverage these strengths for publicity and sales?
  11. Sales: If you went on a sales call to a bookstore with your publisher’s sales rep, what would you say to sell your book? You have 30 seconds.
  12. Zinger: What can you say in one or two sentences to make people hunger to read your book immediately?

Don’t make the mistake of daydreaming your way through these questions. Capture your thoughts by writing them out or keyboarding. When your fingers are moving to compose words, one word rubs shoulders with another and invariably moves your mind down new avenues.

The great thing about journaling is the attitude you bring to it: You naturally sense that you’re on a brainstorming adventure. You remain eager to discard language that falls flat, won’t fit, or doesn’t measure up. By traveling to the ends of your introspective mind, you turn yourself into a seasoned navigator for sailing through your manuscript.

The other great thing about writing to deliver only after you’ve done your writing to think is that you’re more relaxed when you get to the manuscript. You carry a much lighter burden of shoulder-hunching tension. You’re able to draw on your record of “writing to think” in surprisingly spontaneous ways.

Another way to think about this is that writing to think is like trying out new lines in the shower. You can rework your bad notes. No one is listening! Writing to deliver is singing those lines onstage. Everyone expects you to choose words like an expert. The world is hanging on your every word! This one-two approach will not guarantee reader applause. Still, it will set you up like no other book-development technique for a glittering performance..

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