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Trouble writing? You probably aren't scaffolding enough

Having trouble writing? It may be just that you are having trouble doing two things at the same time:

  1. decide what the prose should say (substance)
  2. write the prose (form)

They are intimately interconnected. If you don't REALLY know what you want to say, you are going to have a hell of a time saying it. And then instead of actually writing sentences, you play with grammer and use alot of syntatic sugar until your sentence seems to have filled a respectable space (form over substance) and you can move on to the next one.

The result? Low quality "filler" writing with a low signal to noise ratio.

If you try and do the form and substance steps together, it is likely your struggle with form will reduce the quality of your thinking on the substance.

Before you start writing prose you need to set clear your goals. You will never reach a destination if you don't know what direction to go in.

The scaffolding process

  1. brainstorm
  2. turn the brainstorm into form-free points structure
  3. play with the structure of the points
  4. decide what order you'll describe them
  5. background: get into your reader's head. Decide what background, context, stage you need to describe so the reader understands your points.

Writing prose

You try and write a sentence. You write a fragment. Then you're stuck figuring out how it should end. Your so focused on figuring out how to continue the fragment that you don't see the big picture. Should I have started with this fragment in the first place?

Here's a technique that works better:

  • Don't write a fragment and try to end it.

  • Write lots of fragments, that start from different places. Different perspectives. Different relations.

  • The fragments don't have to connect to each other. (at first)

  • You want to say 3 things. Instead of starting with one and trying to tack the two, write fragments for all 3.

  • Copy fragments and then try to change them, instead of changing an original you feel has value. This way you aren't afraid of making the fragment worse, and loosing the value.

  • It's much easier to string together a good sentence from all of these fragments then to come up with a good sentence from the first go.

  • Write tree sentences from variations of sentence components you describe. It's like brainstorming and writing combined:

    Instead of
        starting out
        trying to write
    with the
        perfect sentence
        one precise version
    of the description that you are
        write down
        illustrate with words
    you can use break a sentence into
        multiple fragments
        a tree of possibilities.

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