Confessions of a ‘Speed Writer’

1 March 2012

  Image by Tracy Brandon


An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes

that can be made in a very narrow field. 

–Neils Bohr


Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of committing 90% of your writing time to thinking. Then last week, I fell into a writing/thinking ‘speed trap’. (So much for being a writing expert!)


The story: Part 1

I’ve recently been training a writing course for a local company. To manage class size, we divided the participants into two groups that met on separate days.


A few weeks ago, I asked one of the participants if we could use a writing sample he had sent me before the course began for a class writing task. He kindly agreed, and I asked him a few details about the document.


I then prepared writing exercises, with the aim of having each class revise the document. I also drafted a revision of the document for my own reference.


When the first class met, we started going through the exercises. After much discussion, the group decided that about half the information in the original document wasn’t necessary. So they cut it out. Their revision was very different from the draft that I had prepared.


At that point, I woke up and realized that I hadn’t thought things through very well.


The story: Part 2

When the other class met two nights later, we went through the revision very differently. The man whose document we were working on was a member of this class, so he was able to talk us through a ROADmap. (This is from the THINK stage, where you plan for the reader’s needs, the objective of the document, the reader’s action and all the necessary details.)


What a difference!


It turned out that all of the details in the original document actually were necessary for the intended reader and purpose of the document.  To revise it, we just had to delete some repetitive parts and reorganise the structure a bit.


Lesson learned!

Before you start to write anything, don’t fall into the same ‘speed trap’ that I did. Make sure you know who’s going to be reading the document and what you want them to do. Then get the full story – all the details necessary to achieve the purpose of the document.


This requires that you ask a lot of questions.


You may or may not have anyone around to help you with this. But it’s your job as a writer to list the relevant questions the readers might ask about the situation and then find the answers.


Otherwise, you could end up like the first class and write only half of what the readers need.

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