Married To Your Words

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When clients are deciding what information to include in their presentation or speech, I always recommend a bullet-pointed/short-phrase “data dump”. I suggest putting each idea on a separate index card or sticky, which can later be organized into a cohesive narrative. Nevertheless, many clients instead start by writing out long narratives about their topic.

Now everyone has his or her own creative process, and I would never want to stifle that. But there’s a particular risk inherent in stream of consciousness writing, especially when you pour time/energy into fine-tuning the ideas and word choices. You can become married to your words.

As I’ve mentioned, I recommend a preliminary brain storming session where you simply jot down random relevant ideas, without fleshing them out fully at the beginning. Later, you can add structure by organizing them into an outline. That way you can ensure the concepts and points fit into the larger context of your presentation, that they flow one into the other and that you have examples or other supporting information to back them up. It makes sense to start your writing then (if you do choose to write it out; I usually suggest speaking more spontaneously to bullet points and short phrases) because your efforts will support an already-logical blueprint. Otherwise, you may spend a lot of energy and time working on material that, although compelling and well-crafted, is not really on target.

I see a lot of clients write out their ideas longhand. Then when we refine the structure of their presentation and organize their points as described above, their writing doesn’t really fit. We end up having to rewrite it to match the idea flow in the structure we’ve created.

Okay, so that’s not so bad if that preliminary writing helps you clarify your ideas. All you’ve done is invested time in the extra step. The problem comes when the writing is good, and you can’t bear to not include it. You are now married to your words. It feels like someone’s wrenching your teddy bear from you when they ask you to restructure it and rewrite accordingly.

I now think I ought to warn clients before they start to brainstorm, that if they want to write long narratives instead of notating short points and ideas, they may find themselves faced with a dilemma. If they want a cohesive, logical and integrated presentation, they might have to let go their grip on their words. Sadly, the marriage might have to end.

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