- On June 22, 2016
Why do people try so hard to have coffee with famous entrepreneurs when reading a book they’ve written is like getting many hours of their most crystallized thoughts? Drew Houston, the chief executive of Dropbox, posed that question when he was interviewed for “Corner Office,” one of my favorite columns in the Sunday New York Times.
Crystallized thoughts are the essence of good writing, yet getting those thoughts tight—and fully formed—can be a struggle.
In my workshops, people often tell me this is the most difficult step in writing. “I have trouble organizing my thoughts,” they say, or, “I’m not sure how to nail the direction,” or, “I have a hard time knowing what’s important.”
If any of this sounds familiar, here are some things you can do before you even get close to your keypad.
• Think. Good writing depends on clear, precise thinking, and we don’t spend nearly enough time doing that before we begin writing.
• Answer these three questions: 1) What must be communicated? Identify the single most important idea, followed by supporting points and secondary ideas. 2) Who are your readers? Consider how much—or little—they know. 3) What are they going to do with this information? As part of this, think about how—and where—they’re going to consume what you’re writing.
• Talk your answers aloud. I know this can be uncomfortable, but many good things will happen when you put your voice to it. You will quickly arrive at the most important points; you may uncover flaws in what you’re trying to communicate—and hear redundancies; you will identify a flow; and you will land on natural-sounding language.
In other words, you will achieve crystallized thoughts. And the next thing you know, people will be clamoring to have coffee with you or looking for your byline. Or both.