What’s your writing personality? Introducing the 4 stages of writing

What’s your writing personality? Introducing the 4 stages of writing

I recently came to the end of parent-teacher interview week for another year. It was a great opportunity to gain insight into the daily lives and learning styles of my two children.

What struck me this time, however, was the stark contrast between the way each of my children approach tasks.

My daughter’s teacher says:

“She can do great work, but is too slow to get started. She needs to be 100% sure she is doing the right thing first. She double and triple checks – by which time, the rest of the class is almost done.”

My son’s teacher says:

“He can be too impulsive. He often starts a task when I’m only half way through giving instructions. He gets overexcited and often doesn’t consider or plan what needs to be done first.”

When it comes to writing at work, which one of my two children are you more like?

Do you worry too much about getting it perfect – sometimes to the point where you can’t get started? Or do you dive straight in and focus more on getting it done than getting it right?

And what’s the better approach anyway?

Well, as you may have guessed, for best results you need to incorporate both writing personalities into your writing process.

What process you may ask? It’s known as the Four Stages of Writing. And it goes like this.

Stage 1: Plan & Prepare

To plan and prepare well, you need to start on these key areas:

  • Your audience: The more you understand your audience from the outset, the more effective your final product will be.
  • Your purpose: You may want to provide information, make a recommendation, or persuade your reader to take a specific action. Clarifying your purpose will help you determine the structure of your writing from the start.
  •  Your desired outcome: What action do you want your reader to take after reading your piece? Work it out. Before you start writing.

Being thoughtful and considered now will save you time later. Planning also helps you tackle the next three phases with efficiency and confidence.

Stage 2: Dump & Draft

This is where you get all your thoughts down on paper (or screen).

Don’t worry about getting things exactly right. And don’t edit as you go – or you will inhibit your creativity.

In other words, be impulsive. Let your energy and passion take over. And just write.

Your first draft doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be written. Think of it like a lump of clay, from which you will ultimately sculpt the finished product.

Also remember, no one needs to see your first draft… except for you! So, put that anxiety, procrastination and perfectionism to the side. And go for it.

Stage 3: Edit & Improve

Now it’s time to read over your work. (Best if you can leave your draft for a while first. The longer the better.)

Be critical. Judgemental. And ruthless. As Ernest Hemingway famously said: ‘Write drunk, edit sober’.

Your aim at this stage is to improve and fine-tune all the way through. Ask yourself these important questions:

  • Have I started with the ‘must know’?
  • Are my key messages clear?
  • Can I cut back my sentences or turn some into bulleted lists?
  • What words, jargon or clichés can I remove to make my writing more concise?
  • Is my writing scannable – or do I need to add more white space?
  • Have I kept my audience involved and relevant?

Stage 4: Proof & Perfect

Proofing is about attention-to-detail. It’s where you check everything. Carefully.

Look for typos, irregular spacing, omissions and incorrect punctuation. Check names and details for accuracy.

Don’t simply rely on your spell-checker. And don’t rely on other people either. It’s your name and professional image at stake.

So how can you make your proofreading more reliable? Here are three quick tips:

  • Allow time to forget: Never proofread your work immediately after you have written it. The longer you can leave it, the better. It will help ensure you read what you have actually written – rather than what you think you have written.
  • Change the font type, size and colour: A different visual experience reduces your familiarity with your own writing, which increases your chances of spotting errors.
  • Read your work out aloud: Take yourself away and read your work out aloud elsewhere (or use Microsoft Word’s Read Aloud tool, which you can find under the Review tab). It will force you to pay attention to every word and punctuation mark. It works.

A balanced approach is best

It’s fine to approach a writing task with caution.

Like my daughter, do your research first and be sure you understand exactly what your audience wants.

But don’t plan so much that you can’t start writing. Recognise when it’s time to just write.

Like my son, be impulsive, get overexcited – and don’t worry about getting it exactly right. That comes later.