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How to know what to say

You’ve been asked to write a blog, or a press release, or a report, or an introduction. You know your audience ‒ you’ve made sure of that ‒ but the next question makes your stomach muscles tighten.

But what? What will you say?

That blank page, real or virtual, can be intimidating. It has always been so.

Sometimes the best way to tackle this question is to break it down into tiny pieces.

Here are some simple tricks:

● Make a list of your thoughts. Jot down single words that describe your message. These can be as silly or irrelevant as you like. No one else needs to see them, and you can throw them away later.

● If you have the time, take it. Keep a notebook or notes on your phone. Keep adding ideas as you think of them ‒ while you’re walking the dog or emptying the dishwasher or preparing a meal.

● Have your notebook (phone) handy at all times. Sometimes you’ll find ideas come to you at random moments – for instance, in the middle of the night or in the waiting room at the dentist’s office. Keep adding to the list.

● Keep notes of things you might not relate to your topic just yet: a colour, a quality of light, a funny thing your cat did, a piece of wisdom from an old friend. They could come in handy in ways you haven’t yet anticipated.

● If you’re still stuck when it comes time to sit down and say what you’re going to say, have your list ready. Use it like crib notes, not gospel. Grab a word or a phrase here or there if you think it helps inspire you.

● And then, just write. Close your eyes if you can, and keep writing. Say anything in any way. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling or structure or style. Just say it, flat out, no looking back ‒ yet.

● When you have blasted out your paragraphs, that’s the time to take a look. They might be awful, but don’t worry about that. Now’s the time to go through your own editing process to soften, smooth, fine tune, proofread.

● Show it to someone else, ideally someone who knows nothing about your topic, but someone who is not judgmental. You don’t need criticism at this point. You just want to know if your words are understood as well as they can be. If so, that’s when you know you’ve reached your audience. You’ve done your job and your piece of writing is ready for your editor.

The tried-and-true process of brainstorming can be mightily effective. It’s fine to brainstorm in your own mind, but if you can brainstorm with others, so much the better. The “others” don’t even need to know the topic well. They just need to be good listeners and supportive of your mission.

All it takes is a little bit of confidence, real or imagined, and practice. You can do this.

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