Advancing communications measurement and evaluation

Canoe, Canoe, Canoe: 3 Rules to Write Better, Faster

I’m not quite sure why I love canoeing so much, but it’s my favourite sport. As a 16-year-old, I even did a really challenging trip – the Bowron Lakes, an 80-mile chain in Northern B.C. My teacher was a young woman named Joy Thorkelson and she was tough! There was no way she was going to let anyone under her watch develop sloppy canoeing techniques.

Although I haven’t seen her for more than 30 years, and haven’t canoed rigorously for the same, when I slide my canoe in the water, the old (good) habits return immediately:

  • I always keep my top canoeing arm straight, not bent.
  • I paddle in time with my husband (this allows the canoe to achieve the crucial glide phase).
  • And I feather my paddle, which means I turn it sideways as it’s traveling through the air. This allows me to preserve strength as I cut the wind rather than slam the fat part of my paddle against it.

Small rules, but important ones.

When you write—whether it’s a pitch, a press release or a report—you need rules as well. Here are the three I suggest you make second nature. They’ll help you write better, faster:

1) Don’t edit and write at the same time, ever

I’m producing this column on my Neo Alphasmart, which I can take to a coffee shop easily because it’s so tiny and light. But it has only a four-line display screen, so, believe me, it makes “not editing” very desirable. If you don’t have an Alphasmart (they’re now discontinued but you can find them on Ebay) and, worse, if you’re in love with editing while you write, then address this issue, immediately.

I highly recommend you write without looking! (Look, Ma, no eyes!) You can either turn off your monitor or hang a towel over it. Don’t ever mix writing with editing—they are two entirely different jobs, using different parts of the brain. Edit later.

2) Think before you write

Many people write too early. If you’re faced with a deadline it’s natural to feel nervous about the completely necessary “not writing” stage of writing. Well, I’m here to tell you to relax.

The idea for this column popped into my head during our first canoe trip of last year. Then, I allowed it to incubate. Weeks later, in the early morning I sat at the kitchen table in our rented condo (while everyone else slept) and I wrote easily and with no hesitation. Of course the idea had been simmering at the back of my brain for more than five weeks! Waiting till the back of your brain has done the hard work may be the single best thing you can do to make writing faster and easier.

3) Mindmap

Preparing a mindmap should be a key part of your pre-writing process. This activity will limber up your brain and get you using the correct part of it. Just as you don’t want to canoe with a bent top arm, you don’t want to write with the logical, linear part of your brain. Instead, you want the creative part to be in charge. Mindmapping will not only help reveal your thoughts (NB: I didn’t use the verb “organize” because mindmaps are not about organizing), it will also encourage you to use the part of your brain best suited to writing. See my brief, instructional video on mindmapping here (at no charge).

These days, when I climb into a canoe, it’s like the disembodied voice of Joy Thorkelson takes over my paddle. I think: “straight arm, canoe in time, remember to feather.”

My hope, for you, as a PR professional, is that when you write, you will hear my voice saying: “never edit while writing, allow yourself the time to think first, remember to mindmap.”

If you can develop these good habits so that they become second nature, then you will always be able to write quickly and easily.


Thanks to Unsplash on Pixabay for the image.

Daphne Gray-Grant

Daphne Gray-Grant

A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of 8 1⁄2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a weekly newsletter on her website Publication Coach. It's brief. It's smart. And it's free.
Daphne Gray-Grant
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