Friday 31 October 2014

Learning to Write (ii)

I blogged recently about the positive effect that writing a glossary had had on my writing, and my understanding of the writing process.

This week's assignment, which I have just reviewed with my writing coach, Andrew Derrington,  was equally powerful. Andrew had introduced me to the art (or science?) of reverse outlining.

The technique is simple: take your text, number the paragraphs, and for each numbered paragraph answer a few key questions, including 'What is the topic of this paragraph?' and 'Is there a topic sentence?'

Answering those questions enables you to check that each paragraph has a purpose, and then assess how well it accomplishes that purpose. It also enables you to look at the flow of the whole body of text (in my case a chapter) and see how well that accomplishes its purpose.

It is also invaluable in writing (or in my case, re-writing) an introduction and a summary.

I found, for example, that some of my paragraphs had no real purpose; some had two topics (so needed to be split into two paragraphs); there were some gaps in the logical flow of the chapter (so new paragraphs are needed); and some were underdeveloped, and needed clarifying or expanding. I also learned (again) that although I believe I write well, there is a lot more to learn; which is both humbling and exciting.

Moreover, it prompted me to look at the overall structure of the book in the same way, with the result that I am making some significant changes to that: cutting quite a lot that is peripheral or tangential, and clarifying the flow of ideas throughout the whole text.

It is very laborious, but I think re-pays the time and effort. So I am committed to do three things before my next conversation with Andrew in a couple of weeks: re-write the chapter I have just analysed, in the light of my analysis; undertake the same process with another chapter already drafted; and revise the chapter list to get a final structure for the book.

So finalising the text is some way off, but I am increasingly confident that it will be a good text when I eventually get there.

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