Clearing the way to start writing with clarity

Getting started is often the hardest part.

I know, I know that’s true of many new projects, ideas, activities but finding the right words to open a new piece of writing – a report, an article, a book, a blog post – well sometimes that part can be hard.

Sometimes we need to clear things out of the way before we can get started.

Of course, anyone prone to procrastination will know that you can take this to the nth degree in order to put off starting. But sometimes you do need to take your time, to prepare the ground, to get rid of the things that might be getting in your way.

I was thinking about this over the weekend as I soaked up the glorious autumn sunshine in Edinburgh, did a bit of late summer clearance in my postage stamp of a garden, and started to turn my attention to a new month of writing: on clarity.

I realised that some of the ground I needed to prepare was:

Letting go of the last month’s writing – which included a final piece on authenticity and blogging and a round up of what we’d covered, but more than that, letting go of the attachment I had to it. Because I realised that after a month’s writing I was feeling a lot more confident in writing about authenticity than I had been at the start – and I didn’t want to start back at the bottom of another learning curve. And yet, of course that’s precisely where I need to go next. It doesn’t mean the end of authenticity – of course it doesn’t, all of that learning will inform the writing here as we move forward, and I’ve lots of ideas about e-books and coaching materials that I can develop on the back of it. But it does mean being ready to shift my focus to something new.

Letting go of the fear – I thought I learned this lesson last month but the start of another focused topic throws up another small voice of anxiety – who are you to talk about this, you’re no expert, what will you write about, you’ll have nothing to say… and so on. Listening to, recognising these gremlin voices is the first step in letting them go (and kicking them into touch). I also like to replace mine with something altogether more positive – this one will serve well for now:

“Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.” (E.L.Doctorow)

Recognising blocks and barriers – there’s some bit of me protesting that it’s a shift too far to go from a focus on authenticity to a month long series on clarity. I don’t want to shift from encouraging people to sing from the rooftops to coaching them ‘how’ to write. But I don’t think that’s where I’ll be going with this. Of course we can learn how to cut, chop, nurture and prune our writing. Of course we can learn from the style guides how to let our message shine through. But there’s no tension, really, between clear writing and authentic writing because singing our own song will help us to be clear about the right words to use – and chopping out the excess words can help us get clear on what we really want to say.

Starting to shift my focus - by looking for words and pictures to inspire me, to give me the opening ‘hook’. I loved this photo because it matches the time of year (here) – and because there’s something about our ability to see things more clearly – to recognise them for what they are, to see their colour, grace, power, strength, sadness, detail, beauty, meaning – through reflection that I want to explore.

And there are always words, aren’t there, that can give you the key to unlocking the start. Alice is a favourite of mine when I’m looking for clear, plain language solutions however perplexing a situation we might find ourselves in.

“The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. ‘Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?’ he asked.
‘Begin at the beginning’, the King said, very gravely, ‘and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

Bravo. And that’s me clear what I need to do, and ready to begin.

This is the first in a series of posts on what it means to write with clarity. If you’d like to keep in touch with future updates why not subscribe to the Confident Writing feed? It’s free, easy to use and good for my writing motivation!

Joanna Young, The Confident Writing Coach
Because our words count

Photo credit to Wrex at Flickr

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9 Responses to “Clearing the way to start writing with clarity”

  1. On October 2, 2007 at 12:11 am Rosa Say responded with... #

    I am eager to take this month’s learning with you Joanna. When I think of clarity in writing I immediately think of a push and pull with comprehension, and the result on learning. There is the Hawaiian foreignness of much that I do in “different language” stretching existing paradigms, where the coach in me can sometimes be quite deliberate in wanting a reader to work a little harder, and engage in the mental gymnastics. Yet if I do not give them enough I will discourage them or tempt disinterest, and it is a balance I consider with nearly every post I write. Yet this is the tip of my own iceberg with clarity, and I suspect October may barely be big enough to contain all the discussions that you have such a talent for eliciting from us!

  2. On October 2, 2007 at 12:13 am Rosa Say responded with... #

    Oh my goodness, see what I mean? I am barely halfway through Monday and I have lost the first of the month with you! I will grab it back on the 31st :)

  3. On October 2, 2007 at 12:28 am Sylvia C. responded with... #

    Excellent post, Joanna!
    Your writing rang true with…authenticity!

    Now, clearly… ;)

    You are ready for October!
    Best to you!

    Sylvia C.

  4. On October 2, 2007 at 9:35 am Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Hi Sylvia, thanks so much for noticing!

    I felt so much better when I realised I could be authentic in writing about clarity!

    Hope you’re feeling better


  5. On October 2, 2007 at 9:45 am Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Hi Rosa

    It’s always good to hear from you, no matter when, and I’m starting to adjust to the online conversations that continue through day and night…

    I’m interested in the idea of the container that you suggest at the end of your comment - is the container big enough for the ideas and words that we want to pour into it - or are we going to cause it to overflow?

    I did feel some frustration at the end of September that I was turning my attention away from a topic before it was ‘done’ - that the container I’d artificially created wasn’t big enough - but what is ever ‘done’ really, especially on a topic like authenticity! It was done, enough, and reviewing it (and trying to compress it into a very different sort of container, an e-book) is challenging me to be clear about what we said and learned.

    So is being clear about the size, nature, format and purpose of the container part of what we have to do before we can get clear with our words…?

    This might also fit with your coaching approach - where are the people ‘at’ that you’re working with, and how much can you give them at any one time to achieve that push/pull effect.

    I’m off to think about this some more


  6. On October 2, 2007 at 8:51 pm Rosa Say responded with... #

    I know what you mean Joanna. In the month by month value coaching I have chosen as my own structure, I too will often feel the month’s end has come to soon. However I prefer to think of it as a self-regulating kind of thing, that what was meant to be happened, and anything else I didn’t get to will probably emerge when it is good and ready - and probably for the better. It kind of puts my own ego in check too, that I haven’t learned enough yet to be so bold as to present it to the rest of the world!

    Then too, the next focus in the next month is always so compelling that there is the “can hardly wait” factor that is now getting satisfied - it is time to let that happy beast out of its once-confining cage!

    An e-book is a wonderful idea for your authenticity discussion … girl, you are a much, much better finisher than I! I’m off to play with the beast :) [then again, some may say I am the beast...]

  7. On October 2, 2007 at 9:28 pm Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Hmmm… better finisher… I’ll let you say that again when I’ve finished the e-book - not when I’m still playing!


  8. On October 9, 2007 at 7:24 am Rosa @ writing4us responded with... #

    I had to change my name because I realized that someone else had the same name as me on here and I did not want to confuse anyone.

    I loved this post(article)I am still trying to wake up to the new month and learn something more that I can add to my building blocks.

  9. On October 9, 2007 at 10:10 am Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Hi Rosa, well you’re very welcome.

    I’ll do my best not to get confused with more than one Rosa :-)

    I’m glad you found the piece useful. I think there’s always new stuff that we can learn from each other - I know I always am - it’s one of the reasons I enjoy blogging world so much, there’s always new sites and new people and new ideas to explore.

    Best wishes



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