You get paid to think. But because thoughts are invisible, they’re hard to improve… until you write them down. Then you have a snapshot of your mind on the page before you, which you can alter it at will, like a metaphysical brain surgeon.
Writing gives you complete control over your thoughts. And anyone who can write can learn to think better -- no matter your IQ. But most entrepreneurs never do. They believe that intelligence is fixed by genetics, so they don’t put in the effort to think smarter. Not you.
With a pen and pad, the only limits to your mind are effort and consistency.
Writing is thinking refined.
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To become a better writer, you must become a sharper thinker. Each word must connect intelligently to the next, just like each sentence, and each paragraph. Otherwise you lose your reader. Your finished product, whether an article, a memo, a proposal or a novel, is nothing more than polished thoughts rearranged to make the most sense.
If your thinking is muddy, your sentences become muddy. Your subjects disconnect from their predicates and the action is swamped by excess adverbs. You lose a sense of direction. You lose competence to convey your meaning. You lose command of yourself, and everything connected to your thoughts -- like your business.
But, with a pen, paper and persistence, you will learn to refine your thoughts bit by bit.
After a week you’ll have more clarity. A month will sharpen your persuasiveness and give you greater control of your business decisions. A year will reveal the genius you never knew you had.
So clear space in your schedule for 30 minutes of writing -- of refined thinking -- each weekday. Then follow these seven directives to reach higher levels of thinking. It’ll make you rich.
1. Know what you want to say.
If you don’t have crystal clarity on what you want to say, your audience -- employees, investors, clients --will be left in the dark, possibly cussing under their breaths.
So take time to make the thing clear in your mind before writing. Do as much research as necessary, then do more. Define your purpose of writing. Then deliver your first line with the weight of your purpose behind it.
2. Let it flow.
Since most of writing is actually rewriting -- the first draft merely serving as a platform for refinement -- you don’t need to worry about perfection. Just let flow. You can make your writing more perfect with each rewrite.
“I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter.” James A. Michener, famed author of over 40 books.
Some people can enter the flow of writing easier than others, but anyone can improve by practicing non-judgment. It doesn’t matter how good or how bad it is. With sufficient rewrites, you will make it better.
If you can’t seem to peck a key, just start writing about anything -- even if it’s about how you can’t write. Simply typing will condition your brain to release your thoughts onto the paper or screen without judgment. Then you can rewrite and refine until you’ve crafted a powerful and compelling train of thought.
Once you’ve found your flow, it’s time to hone your focus.
3. Keep the focus.
You need flow, but you also need focus -- a level platform on which to build your thoughts. If your focus weaves this direction, then that, if it dips and rises and veers and disintegrates, you won’t have much to refine. So keep tabs on your focus while writing.
If you feel you’re losing track of the theme, stop yourself, then go back to the point where you left your focus. You’ll have to strike a balance of flowing and pulling back, flowing, and pulling back. But in time, you’ll intuitively stop yourself during a tangent to resume the construction of your theme. Even stopping will be part of the flow. But it takes time.
So practice shifting from focus to flow until they become one in the same. Check yourself mid-flow and ask if you’re contributing to your central point. If not, go back and refocus. This simple writing habit will revolutionize your thinking both on and off the page.
4. Keep track of your subject and predicate.
People are story oriented. We crave action and drama and impact and feeling, but all of that substance is lost when the subject strays from the verb. So keep your actors and action connected if you want to connect with your audience.
Take this sentence for example:
“I am writing this sentence.”
You know what I’m talking about, and you’re ready for the next bit. But watch what happens when I separate the subject from the predicate.
“I am writing, so beautifully, so thoughtfully, so intelligently and so eloquently, this sentence that so well instructs my audience on sentence design.”
The reader has no time to rest because he’s wandering through a maze of adverbs and phrases that keep the actor from the action. The main clause of “I am writing this sentence” is all lost. It is difficult to read.
The trick is to keep track of your main clause -- the subject and predicate -- keeping it connected so that readers needn’t do mental gymnastics to arrive at your point. Once you’ve connected your subject and predicate, then you can embellish on everything else that adds to your point.
Imagine the main clause as a locomotive engine. When placed at the beginning or end of the train, it thrusts your message forward.
5. Choose strong verbs.
Part of persuasiveness is making the reader feel your action. Strong nouns and verbs aid. Adverbs detract. Take these two examples:
The Dow tanked.
The Dow just dropped really quickly.
The first sentence uses three words to convey a rapid fall. The readers understand and they’re ready for resolution.
The second sentence uses six words to relate the same thing. The adverbs dilute the sentence, they tire the eye and they render the reader non-receptive to the next message. Just like a human life only has so many heartbeats, the attention span only has so many words. Choose those words with purpose.
Don’t just think deeply; contemplate. Don’t write quickly; scribble or jot. Using fewer words to describe the same thing amplifies clarity and pronounces power. It also forces you to think better.
6. Delete hackneyed phrases.
To think clearly, you can’t lean on the thoughts of dead writers. You must be original in every line. I recently wrote, “jumped to conclusions” and I realized that wasn’t my thought. I didn’t jump. I just stole a tired phrase that some dead guy devised a hundred years ago, which still happens to be popular. So I used my brain and refined my thoughts. Instead of jumping to a conclusion, I presumed. Much better.
During your rewrites, go through and delete every tired phrase that people say just because people say. Then think about what you really want to convey in your own words. Use that. Tease it if you want to make it interesting, or play it straight. But make it original.
When readers see your message littered with hackneys, they assume you don’t have your own brain, and that your message isn’t important enough for original thoughts and words.
7. Use parallel construction.
Parallel construction makes for effective communication. Take Abraham Lincoln, JFK and Martin Luther King for instance:
“…and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
"Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty."
“And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.”
Notice how these famous authors arranged similar ideas with similar words and structures. Feel the power as each sentence builds. Notice how you remember things like “of the people, by the people, for the people.
Parallel construction primes the reader to comprehend like ideas. It guides your audience to easy understanding. And it aids the memory.
If you operate a business, thinking is your bread and butter. So start thinking better today. Start a writing habit today.