Writing Advice?

The story starts out unusually. One of my friends is trying to write a very important letter to a family member. He doesn’t know how to write it. He has the outline, but is very worried about the implied psychological impact. They worry about the reader thinking too much; “was he trying to be so nice and just said all nice things”, or on the inverse “Wow, how hateful, full of hate he must have been”…We brainstorm the answer to the question which will seem obvious.

My advice: Just write. How are you feeling? He was feeling hatred at the time; for having to write the letter and towards the situation in general. That’s the advice I give….RANT, spell out everything bad about the situation, the aunt, and writing in general if you will. Then move on….

It’s a Computer Science idiom…Take the top and the bottom, then figure out what actually works. Write that rant full of hate. Then turn it on it’s head, write that letter full of apology, understand the other persons point of view, get on the same page. Then write your actual letter.

Once you get past the abstract idea of the top and bottom, into the physical representation, it is much easier to analyze. Once you know what you said in your utmost anger and your utter sympathy, you know that you can’t say that in actuality.

Once you know what not to say, you can narrow down what to say. Writing an emotionally charged letter like that isn’t about saying the right thing; it’s about NOT saying the wrong thing. Once emotions are involved, you have to direct them. If you can keep them from going down the rabbit hole of love or hate, you are in an infinitely safer territory. Emotions have to be kept within bounds, not exasperated and poked until a response. In situations like these, no response is a good response.

My friend was having trouble writing the letter, that’s where my advice came from. I told him that it would be easier to write a rant than to not write at all. He was flustered by being stuck at the same point, at an outline with no perfect paper written. I told him to avoid perfection, work outside in. Write the top and the bottom of the emotional plane, and then work your way inside. His default emotion was perturbed, so the end result will end up more angry than passive, but you can’t achieve perfection in a single keystroke. You have to have a start somewhere. The easiest way to get over writers block is to write what you feel, then don’t send it, and actually write what you really feel. This context is uber-important. You don’t send an e-mail when you’re angry, you just write the first draft.

Write to the top, write to the bottom, write to the middle. Figure out where your allegiance lies, and decide appropriately from there. It’s amazing how much easier it is to edit a paper when your reference is a very strongly worded statement, instead of an ideal idea. Making yourself sound more tempered from absolute crazy is trivial; making yourself sound level-headed for 2000 words on your first try is quite the accomplishment.

Hey there! I'm Eric and I work on communities in the world of software documentation. Feel free to email me if you have comments on this post!