One of the reasons that I resist writing is the unspoken belief that I have to accomplish a lot in a single session. I easily forget that the behavior we so casually refer to as writing consists of many tasks. Each of those tasks imposes a unique cognitive challenge. I find that writing goes much better when I tackle only one of those challenges at a time.
The challenges I’m referring to include:
- Defining my purpose—the response that I want from readers
- Developing my purpose—listing the questions that I’ll answer and objections that I’ll overcome to win that reader response
- Outlining—listing those questions and objections, arranging them in a sequence that makes sense, and converting them into headings that will appear in my finished piece
- Researching to find facts, quotes, and anecdotes that support my main points
- Creating a rough draft by placing those notes under the appropriate heading
- Editing by reducing or deleting my notes
- Editing by rearranging notes
- Editing by rewording notes
When I try to do more than one of the above at a time, my brain starts to hurt.
I’ve been tearing out my hair on a project recently. The reason? I was cycling through all the above tasks in random order and feeling blocked.
The solution in this case was to outline the chapter down to the topic sentence level. This isolated my main points at a granular level and greatly clarified what I was trying to say. With that clarity, I’m able to edit in a meaningful way.
Have you ever used the “one task at a time” strategy? Did it work for you? Do you do something else when you feel blocked? Please let me know.