8Organize. Relax, You've Got This

Good writing is like math: it has logic and structure. It feels solid to the reader: the writer is in control, having taken on the heavy burden of making a piece of writing clear and accessible. It might not follow a formula, exactly. But there's a kind of geometric architecture to it.

There's no single way to organize a piece of writing. What works for me (as I said previously) is a single line at the top of the page that sums up the main point I'm trying to make. Then I list some key points that relate to or support my bigger idea. Then I go back and expand on those ideas in another sentence or two, creating paragraphs. Then I move the paragraphs around, adding transitions between them to create a smooth flow.

In other words, I make a list, because it feels less intimating to make a list than it does to write. (Do you ever feel stumped about where to begin a shopping list? Me neither.)

Your process might be different. Rather than a list, you might use mind mapping, a flowchart, note cards, sticky notes, a pen and paper, a whiteboard and some fat markers, or whatever. J. K. Rowling sussed out the first Harry Potter novel using graphing paper and a ball-point pen.

Chicago-based marketer Andy Crestodina writes an outline of a piece and then makes the main points its headers. Then he fleshes out the outline in a kind of fill-in-the-blank exercise. For him, “great writing isn't written, as much as assembled,” Andy told me.

“I almost always write ...

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