I’m not the type who mutters to herself. There is already so much conversation in my head that I have no need to actually verbalize any of it out loud. And yet, I do work out problems or challenges in my mind before I take action.
Do you mutter? Are you one of those people who read out loud to themselves, or move their lips to the sound of the words.
No judgment here. In fact, for you folks who do like to do this, the science supports you.
There is much evidence to show that talking to ourselves is a wonderful way to puzzle out ideas. Actually verbalizing and speaking in full sentences can help you bring structure to incomplete thoughts and place them in context. We’ve all had that experience of not knowing what we were going to say until we said it.
Talking and thinking out loud can help the brain slow down and focus. It’s a great way to find your story. If we’re trying to solve a problem or find where we put our keys, this “out loud” behavior can be quite helpful.
But you know what isn’t helpful? Making someone wade through a forest of incomplete first thoughts. Sure, thinking out loud is great for you, but it’s a lousy way to engage an audience.
Is the same true for writing? Do some of us “write out loud” when we’re gathering our thoughts?
Yes! Write Away
That’s the advice I always give to my students. Write everything and anything that comes into your mind, whether you say it out loud or not. You never know where that piece of gold will be shining, so you better get every thought down on the page.
Of course, when I say this, I am only talking about your first draft. A first draft is the equivalent of thinking out loud, working through the issue, trying to understand where you stand, what you think, what you know, and what you don’t know.
First Drafts are not for public consumption
There is no need to share all of your thoughts. They are like clay, a malleable tool to play with, to squeeze into different shapes or spread out before you. When you find the “right” shape, it’s time to put the clay away and make some decisions.
You may have heard me say, “Masterpieces are not written; they are re-written.” And I mean it. Thinking out loud may be part of your process but it shouldn’t be part of your final product.
Oh wait, you say, it’s really an interesting story of how I arrived at this life-changing insight. Um, maybe it is to you. I want to get to the heart of the matter. I want you to do the “pre-work” so that I get the information I need without having to wade through a lot of stuff I don’t need.
How do you do this?
- Respect your reader and their time by presenting a version of your message that is clean and focused, stripped of the unnecessary.
- Set a goal to cut your first draft in half. See if the outcome is a streamlined rendition of your message. If not, add in what is still needed.
- Experiment with lopping off the first paragraph of your early drafts. You’ll be amazed at how that helps us jump into the story right when the action begins.
- Experiment with lopping off the last paragraph of all your early drafts. Let your reader do some work and figure out the ending on their own.
- Trust your thoughts and opinions! Sometimes we spend time on that preamble because we are trying to convince ourselves that what we have to say matters. Trust the message and trust your ideas.
How do you know when you’ve said enough?
Get feedback from a trusted source. If you’ve worked with us, you know that we value the members of our Peer Editor Network (PEN) as much as our favorite pens. (Hah, see what I did there?) Have someone read the draft and tell you what sticks and where they want to know more. This will tell you if your message got through or if there is still some tinkering to be done.