Ask the Editor™
Volume 9, Issue 2

In this issue:

Make a New Plan, Stan

Recently a good client of mine suggested an excellent topic for this newsletter: writing a creative brief or blueprint. Taking the time to plan a project really saved his bacon on more than one occasion, he said.

If you read this newsletter regularly, you know I'm a big proponent of the process approach to writing because it breaks down writing into manageable steps: prewriting, drafting, revising, and final polishing.

My father, who was a contractor, once told me that painting a house is 80 percent preparation. Writing is the same way.

The prewriting stage is critical because it helps you clarify your purpose and goal, consider who your reader is in relation to your goal, and determine the context of your writing, including format and deadlines.

This issue discusses various techniques such as brainstorming and freewriting that you can use to help probe your ideas, focus your thinking, and get ready to draft.

It also provides a couple of tools to help you gather and organize information: a prewriting plan for general business writing projects and a creative blueprint for marketing and advertising projects.

So make a new plan, Stan. Hop on the bus, Gus. You don't need to be coy, Roy. There must be 50 ways to plan your project.

Okay, I just totally dated myself with a reference to a song from the 1970s... (Let's just say I was really, really young when the song came out.)

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“The pattern of the thing precedes the thing. I fill in the gaps of the crossword at any spot I happen to choose. These bits I write on index cards until the novel is done. ” Vladimir Nabokov

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50 Ways to Plan Your Project

Okay, not 50 ways. But in keeping with the theme, here are several techniques you can use to generate ideas and gather information for your writing project.


Brainstorming helps you probe a topic and generate ideas you can use to develop a rough outline. As you examine a subject, useful and interesting details begin to emerge. Open a word processing document and write a statement defining the writing project, for example, "Memo to boss on getting a big fat raise." Then brainstorm until you are out of ideas or after a preset time limit expires. The key is not to stifle yourself by censoring or judging your ideas.


Remember this exercise from freshman composition? Kind of touchy feely, no? Actually it’s an excellent tool for starting a draft, especially when you have writer’s block. Freewriting helps you get your ideas down on paper unencumbered by any rules. Because you are not worried by correctness, it produces honest writing that is free from phoniness or pretension. It often provides excellent nuggets of raw material you can mine for a first draft.

Free associate and put anything down that comes to mind. Write quickly without thinking how it sounds. Follow rather than direct your thoughts. If you get stuck, follow a different line of thinking. When you finish, underline key messages or ideas you want to use in your first draft.

Informal outline

Remember the formal outline complete with Roman and Arabic numerals your high school composition teacher had you do? Remember how you used create one right before you turned the assignment, but after you had written a draft?

Fact is, formal outlines are far too rigid. Instead of encouraging provisional planning, they are expected to be neat and final, which limits your options. Instead, experienced writers work from informal plans that provide a rough blueprint for the assignment.

Start by identifying the key ideas you want to use to support your main point. Using a word processor, post-it notes, or note cards, cluster the supporting details you have gathered around each of these ideas. Then arrange these ideas in the most effective order for your reader, for example, in order of importance, chronologically, cause/effect, compare/contrast, question/answer, or problem/solution.

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“The best time for planning a book is when you're doing the dishes.” Agatha Christie

Prewriting Plans

Hemingway once said that prose is architecture, not interior decoration. Build a solid foundation, and your writing will be understood. But if your writing is disorganized, your reader will probably give up. Here are a couple of plans to get you started.

Prewriting Plan

Why am I writing? What is my purpose?

Who are my readers? What is their background (age, social status, education level)?

What are their needs, biases, questions?

Why would my readers care?

What do I want my readers to do or think?

How can I get the desired result?

What do they need to know?

What would antagonize my readers?

What would persuade my readers?

What information do I need?

Where can I get this information?

What is the most effective way to organize this information?

What form of writing would be most effective (memo, email message, newsletter article, etc.)?


Creative Blueprint


Target Audience:

Current Belief:

New Belief:

The One Thing:

Reasons Why:

Executional Guidelines:

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“It's like making a movie. All sorts of accidental things will happen after you've set up the camera. So you get lucky. You come into it accidentally. You set the story in motion, and as you're watching this thing begin, all these opportunities show up.” Kurt Vonnegut

Ask the Editor™ Question

Please explain once and for all the difference between competitor, competition, and competitive. My writers confuse these terms all the time as they pertain to business. I myself have been guilty of this faux pas.

R. Nelson

A competitor is a person or business that competes in competition. In business, this refers to one buying or selling goods or services in the same market as another (e.g., what products are offered by the competitors?). Competition refers to the rivalry offered by a competitor (e.g., Dell is getting a lot of competition from Mac). Competitive is a human characteristic (e.g., most great athletes are very competitive). Competitive competitors compete in competition.

“The Editor”

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