Improve your writing by starting in the middle

Many people regard having to write as sheer torture. Unfortunately, nearly every job or business endeavor demands a certain amount of that torture. The good news is that there’s a simple trick that can make your writing easier and more effective.

That trick is starting somewhere in the middle.

If that sounds odd, consider that one of the most common complaints about writing is “I just don’t know how to begin.” Other people say “I hate staring at that empty screen and that #%#^$% blinking cursor” or “I know exactly what I want to say, but I can’t get started.”

Because written materials typically have a beginning, middle, and an ending, most of us were taught to write in just that order. Remember learning about outlines and paragraph structure? Open your paragraph with a compelling sentence, use the next two or three sentences to provide support, and then conclude with some kind of summary?

While that kind of structure works well, there are no rules saying you have to write in that order. Instead, you should do it in the way that makes you most comfortable.

When I suggest starting in the middle, what I’m saying is the first thing you write should be the main point (or points) that you want to convey. You don’t have to make them fancy or even grammatical — all you need to do to get started is get them on screen or paper.

Suppose you’re writing a blog post about income taxes, and you want to convince your reader of the importance of planning, keeping good records, and filing tax forms in a timely fashion. So you open Microsoft Word or Google Docs and type these three sentences, with plenty of blank space between them: “Planning is a critical component of any tax strategy,” “Keeping and organizing the right records will save time and trouble,” and “Create a calendar that lists upcoming deadlines.”

Congratulations! You’ve started writing your post. Now go to each of those sentences and jot down rough statements that either add detail or explain why they’re important. Again, you don’t have to be fancy or grammatical, because you’re just trying to organize your thoughts. For the “records” sentence, you might include “Look at last year’s taxes to see which categories you’ll need,” “Set up a filing system to organize receipts and documents,” and “Check what you’ve gathered to identify any gaps.”

Next, you’re ready to combine those thoughts into full sentences and paragraphs. You’ll be surprised at how easy it becomes to do that, because you’ve freed yourself from writing in that linear fashion. You’re doing exactly what your brain does naturally: capturing and rearranging random bits of information so they make sense to you.

When the middle of your blog post is finished (or well on its way), you’ll find that it’s much easier to craft a compelling introduction and a logical conclusion. Once you’ve completed your first draft of all those pieces, read through them to smooth out any jagged edges or rough spots. Don’t be dismayed if your post doesn’t sound perfect. Most professional writers spend just as much time editing and rewriting their work as they put into developing a first draft.

This “start in the middle” technique works for all kinds of written communication, because it allows you to free your mind from limits so your rough thoughts can find their way to the screen or paper. Once you practice this technique, you’ll find that you’re a better writer than you realized. You may even stop thinking of writing as torture.