When you can’t start writing, try beginning in the middle

“I hate staring at that empty screen and that #%#^$% blinking cursor. I know exactly what I want to say, but I can’t get started.”

No matter who you work for and no matter what your role may be, your job probably involves some writing. If you’ve faced times when the right words wouldn’t come, you know how frustrating that can be.

So why not try a different approach? Instead of starting at the beginning of what you’re writing, start somewhere in the middle.

Whether you’re writing formal reports, emails, performance reviews, blog posts, or any of the other writing projects that have fallen into your lap, starting in the middle can help you get past that frustrating writer’s “block.”

It’s true that written materials are usually arranged in a linear fashion, with a beginning, middle, and an end. Most of us were taught to write in just that order. Remember those lessons about outlines and paragraph structure? Open your paragraph with a compelling sentence, support your position with the next two or three sentences, and then conclude with a summary. Done.

While that structure is an excellent objective, the only rules demanding you develop it in that order are the self-imposed rules in your head.

When I recommend you start writing in the middle, what I’m suggesting is to begin with the main point (or points) you want to convey. Don’t bother making them fancy or even grammatical — just get them on screen (or on paper).

Suppose you’re writing an article about income taxes, and you want to stress the importance of planning, keeping good records, and filing tax forms in a timely fashion. So you 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 listing upcoming deadlines.”

Congratulations — you’ve started writing your article! Now jot down rough statements that either add detail or explain why that point is important. Again, don’t worry about being fancy or grammatical. All you’re doing at this stage is organizing your thoughts. For the “records” sentence, you might type lines like “Look at last year’s taxes to see which categories you’ll need,” “Set up a basic filing system to organize receipts and documents,” and “Check what you’ve gathered to identify any gaps.”

Next, combine your thoughts into sentences and paragraphs. You’ll be surprised at how easily they’ll grow into cohesive paragraphs, and how the transitions and other surrounding words will begin to flow. It’s not magic; it’s just doing exactly what your brain does naturally: capturing and rearranging random bits of information.

When the middle of your article is finished (or well on its way), it’s easier to craft a compelling introduction and a logical conclusion. Then read through them to smooth out any jagged edges or rough spots.

This technique will work as well in a proposal, an email, a report, a blog post, or any kind of written communication. The key is letting your thoughts and knowledge find their way to the screen or paper before you start organizing and trying to make them sound fancy. Use this approach and you’ll probably discover you’re a better writer than you realized. You may even stop thinking of writing as torture.

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