As you write articles, there’s just something about paper that helps you solidify concepts better than a computer monitor.
Paper and pencil are every writer’s first love. During editing, these common writing tools to help your mind process what you write.
I’ll show you exactly how to go “old school” in writing articles in just a minute…
I found a website that sings the praises of paper for retention and concentration, among other critical safety and security issues. I agree that printed words on real tangible paper are easier for me to grasp and absorb than on a brightly lit screen. As businesses, schools and publishing speed toward digital information, the importance of paper is not exactly a cause celebre; most people hardly notice or lament paper’s quiet demotion.
But a return to pen and paper can help you write and edit articles, books, reports. Seeing words on paper allows you to parse and absorb information in a more thoughtful, thorough and calm manner.
I’m in the midst of writing a short eBook that is significantly longer than a typical blog post or email. In order to hone to my concepts, expand and sharpen them, I’ve resorted to an article writing process I haven’t used in awhile.
Since the topic covers more ground than usual, I had to roll out a slightly different method for editing. It works for any article length, so I’m sharing it with you today.
Step #1 is writing without editing yourself. When thoughts are coming fast and furious, the “need for speed” requires typing. In spite of all the typos and sometimes-unintelligible stream of consciousness, the keyboard allows you to get it all down before you face the editing process.
Some writers teach how to write without those voices in your head shouting you down. I won’t go into it here, but I will give you two good resources if you are a new writer daunted by your task:
Daphne Gray Grant, the “Publication Coach,” is an excellent writer who uses mind mapping to create her “outline.” I’ve tried this; it works very well for organizing all your floating ideas and their tangents. She also shares startlingly practical tips for focusing and overcoming writer’s block.
Jeff Goins is another favorite because he gets to the nitty gritty of why you should write at all (“You are a Writer”) and boosts your fortitude to stick with it. Not specifically aimed at copywriters per se, these writers’ tips and blogs are worth your time to read…I do.
The “Cut, Scratch, Tape Method” of article writing
The best way to get started writing your article is to reduce the likelihood of distractions. Close all your other computer applications, set a timer for 10 or 20 minutes, then GO.
When you’ve poured out all your ideas, print it. You don’t even need to worry about grammar or spelling at this point because all you’re doing is laying out ideas. You’re building structure out of large written “chunks.” You’ll neaten it up later.
Here’s where paper serves a very satisfying and tactile purpose for article writing. When you can literally see your ideas in black and white it’s easier to group themes and ideas into a logical order. All you need is a bunch of different colored pencils or highlighters.
When you find a chunk of an idea that would make better sense in a different context, mark the spot. With a red pen, write “#1” in the margin just before the end of the paragraph the inserted section will follow. Then go to the paragraph(s) you want to insert and mark it “#1” in the same red pen toward the top of the paragraph in the margin. (I like to put boxes around sections, too.) Continue doing this, each time switching colors until you’ve parsed the entire article.
You’re going to be cutting the paper between sections, so make sure you don’t make notes in between possible cut lines (between paragraphs).
Next, go ahead and cut it up. Use your colored margin notes to remind you where each paragraph goes.
Then tape it together into one long manuscript.
Now go back to your word processor and make the edits to your document while scrolling through your rolled up article. There’s something very old school clerk-ish about this activity that is immensely satisfying to me. I suspect it’s the never-ending page that enchants. The entire flow of the article comes together right before my eyes. It starts to make sense. Ahh, clarity.
Of course now there’s a new round of editing to do. Double space this new version and print it out.
The reason for the double spacing is to allow for more edits. You may want to insert sentences here and there, delete or replace phrases or questions and comments you’ll address in the second draft. The double spaces make this easy to do. A single spaced document is difficult to edit because there’s no room for notes.
Rinse and repeat. You may have to do the written edits several times, but your layout should be about settled. You may find you need to cut and tape sequential drafts again, but probably not nearly as much as your first draft.
This article writing technique may even encourage you to come up with new articles and blog posts. Editing is a brutal process requiring you to butcher entire sections and pages that were in the original draft. The good news is you don’t have to discard your edits. You can rework them into new articles or create a series of articles that cover a broad topic. Coming up with new content for your email or blog is easy if you save and rewrite your written scraps.
Go ahead and justify your use of extra paper. It’s not a waste. You are a craftsperson and paper is simply one of your tools. Use it well.
Credit: The retro image of the kid reading the comic book was pulled from an interesting website called Paperbecause.com.
Sept 2013 update: The book I was working on as I wrote this post was published Nov. 2012. Pick up the eBook Find Your Ideal Clients: The Secret to Irresistible Free Opt In Offers over on Amazon.