How Can I Organize My Thoughts?

Q. I have great ideas for blog posts. But I have so many ideas that they are jumbled in my head. I’ve written them all down, tried to put them into logical groups, and then I start writing and my thoughts fly everywhere. How can I get organized enough to write something that sticks together and makes sense?

A. In some ways, this is a great problem to have: too many ideas. But your frustration in trying to organize your thoughts is common to a lot of writers. My third grade teacher would have said: “Make an outline!” However, I hated outlines then and I hate them now. Outlines are like chess plays; you have to think far ahead and before long you are trapped by your own strategy. Instead, I favor three more organic approaches to organize thoughts.

  1. The Rule of Three. Science has shown that most people remember no more than 7 new ideas at a time. I like to stay well under that number. In this approach to organization, you first explain that you will introduce three ideas about or arguments for/against a topic; then you spend at least one paragraph on each idea/argument; and finally you wrap up by quickly reviewing what you just said and why you said it. (See the end of this blog post for a sample conclusion.)
  2. The 10 Best. This approach is based on a single list–10 best lawn mowers or 8 worst excuses for not mowing the lawn or 5 ways to prevent lawn mower injuries. You start by explaining your criteria for the list, then devote no more than 2 sentences to each of the items. You may find that each item on your list later becomes a complete blog in its own right (“Why I Love My Rider Mower”), but right now you are simply listing. Your conclusion might briefly suggest how readers make their own decision or offer a statistic or conclusion of your own.
  3. How to. This approach to organization is chronological, first to last. You are explaining how to do something, so you need to present the steps in order. Begin with the most basic step: plug in the equipment, press the on button, gather your supplies–whatever genuinely comes first. Never assume. After you finish the how-to, use it yourself to perform each of the steps as written. If your hands start doing something that is not written down, you need to revise the how-to.

By choosing one of these three approaches, you can organize your random thoughts and make sure they stick close to a single topic. If you still feel that your writing is out of control, call in a professional. Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. We’ll be happy to help.

6 Biggest Writing Mistakes

1. Turning your writing into a vocabulary test. Most small words have more energy than big ones and communicate faster. While some multi-syllable words can’t be avoided (“multi-syllable” being a good example), many of them are simply barriers to clear, passionate writing–for example, utilize, capability, and actionable.

2. Forgetting your audience. You have a goal: to write about everything your company can do and has done, so that the world will be impressed enough to beat a path to your door. But your customers are not looking for a company that does everything for everyone; your customers are looking for a trustworthy solution to their specific problem. When you write, write to meet your customers’ goals.

3. Giving your audience too much credit. If your customers were as knowledgeable as you are, they wouldn’t need you. You have skills, experience, and tools that your customers lack. Slowly guide them to understanding what you offer, using words, pictures, examples, and comparisons they can easily grasp.

4. Failing to recognize the power of pictures. Use graphs, illustrations, videos, and photographs whenever you can to replace paragraphs and pages of description. A great layout can add just the right emphasis and eye-candy to attract customers; a professional graphic designer is well worth using.

5. Overlooking the need to organize. Websites are divided into pages; blogs into posts; white papers into sections; manuals into chapters. Each of those divisions should have a single subject. If, for example, I shifted gears mid-way through this blog post to explain how to write a press release, you would be justifiably confused. It’s okay if your first draft is a brain dump. But then you have to organize the material so that it flows–and delete what doesn’t belong.

6. Falling in love with your own words. Set aside anything you write for at least 24 hours, then proofread, proofread, proofread and edit, edit, edit. Until you examine what you wrote with a fresh eye, you have no way of knowing if you truly communicated.

Sharon Bailly is the founder of TWP Marketing & Technical Communications which helps companies reach their customers online and in print. Our words mean business.