Step 1: Create a Mega Outline
Step 2: Build an Archipelago of Ideas
Step 3: Outline
Step 4: Write a 2nd Rough Draft
Step 5: Re-Write Every Sentence
Step 6: 10-15 Sentence Article Summary
Step 7: Send to Friends and Ask for Feedback
Step 8: Write a 3rd Rough Draft
Step 9: Turn Outline into a Full Post
Step 10: Publish
Mega-Brainstorm: Before you begin, piece together ideas, facts and stories into a single document. Don’t bother organizing it. Put information in there whenever you read, hear, or experience something that’s relevant to the general idea of the essay. Doing this is trivial because your smartphone is always with you.
Collect, collect, and then select. Keep adding ideas to your mega-brainstorm until it becomes painful not to write the essay. Goodbye writer’s block!
Archipelago of Ideas: Organize ideas from the mega-brainstorm and build the archipelago of ideas. Think of the ideas in the mega-brainstorm as islands in the ocean. The archipelago of ideas is about building bridges between all the ideas. These bridges give the piece unity and cohesion.
Source: Tiago Forte
Outline: Make the outline as simple as possible. That way, you can focus more on ideas and less on structure. The outline is the most challenging part of writing an essay, and it’s not optional. The first draft is always terrible, but good writing has to start somewhere.
The outline of an essay is like the skeleton of a body. It provides its fundamental form and structure. If it helps, write a stock intro and a stock conclusion to stay focused.
Stock Intro: What is the purpose of this essay? How is it going to proceed?
Stock Conclusion: How did this essay proceed? What was its purpose?
Keep the post in outline form for as long as possible. Outlines force simplicity. They make it easier to see the ideas and move them around. The vast majority of people should write with shorter sentences; outlines make this easy.
The outline should be longer than the final version. Organize your outline with subdivisions, sections, and paragraphs. Each paragraph is a stepping stone to your final destination and every one should focus on a single idea. Write ten to fifteen sentences per outline heading to complete your paragraphs.
While working on the outline, keep moving, keep writing, and don’t get bogged down by the details.
The mega-brainstorm, archipelago of ideas, and the outline are elements of production. The purpose of production is to produce. The editing phase comes later. The function of editing is to reduce and rearrange. Produce, then edit. Don’t combine them. Never let production and editing interfere with each other.
Editing: Great writers are great editors. Most great writing starts out as bad writing. Edit by reading what you’ve written out loud. The cadence of breathing and speaking tends to mimic the frequency of the brain’s ability to process words and sentences.
The secret to editing your work is simple: you need to become its reader instead of its writer. If you’re struggling to do this, step away from the piece for a few days. Edit as if you have no sunk costs. Reject bad ideas, so good ones are all you have left. Delete the parts that readers will skip. Eliminate the extra detail, and concentrate on communicating what’s important.
Poor communicators ramble. Good communicators leave out unnecessary details. Great communicators treat words as the scarcest commodity.
Aim to pass the “Thanksgiving Test.” Ask yourself: Could you talk about this at the Thanksgiving table and your family would get what you’re talking about? Keep in mind that you want to write in the same voice you’d use if you and I were in a bar having a chat.
Rewriting Sentences and Organizing Paragraphs: If you aren’t rewriting, you aren’t developing as a writer. The most important part of learning and remembering is the re-creation of what you have written in your own words.
Read each sentence aloud, and listen to how it sounds. Put brackets around unnecessary words. Read the sentence without the bracketed material and see if it works. Write another version of each sentence, under the previous sentence. Each sentence should flow logically from the one before it and refer to the topic sentence of the paragraph.
Here’s an example:
Original Sentence: I think that writing is a very important tool that you can use to build your network, and improve the way that you think.
Edited Sentence: Writing helps you build your network and improve your thinking.
Try not to use transitions. They work every once in a while, but most people use too many of them. If you do use a transition, don’t use the same one too many times.
Seek flow and precision. Don’t try to impress people with vocabulary; it will backfire. Eliminate words that aren’t used in normal conversation.
Once you’ve rewritten each sentence, re-order the paragraphs so they are ordered appropriately.
Generate a New Outline: Re-read the essay out loud. Put brackets around unnecessary words. Read the sentence without the bracketed material and see if it works.
Write a new, 10-15 sentence outline. Don’t look back at your essay while you are doing this. The works because you’ll force yourself to reconstruct your argument from memory. This will distill the piece to its essence. By doing so, you will likely improve it. Most of the time, when you summarize something, you end up simplifying it, while retaining most of what is important. By summarizing your ideas, your memory becomes a filter. It helps you remove what is useless and preserve what is vital.
Once the new outline is complete, cut and paste material from the previous essay. Many things from the first draft won’t be necessary. Keep only what is necessary. Delete everything else.
Repeat this last step as necessary.
Note: An essay is not finished until you cannot edit so that your essay improves. You can tell if this has happened when you try to rewrite a sentence (or a paragraph) and you are not sure that the new version is an improvement over the original.
To take an essay to the next level, repeat the process of sentence re-writing and re-ordering, as well as paragraph re-ordering and re-outlining. Wait a few days to do this so you can look at the piece with fresh eyes. That way, you can see what you have written, instead of seeing what you think you wrote.