You’re writing. Everything’s moving along just fine, and then.
You hit a section that won’t flow. You write a line or two and it feels convoluted. Or you’re not sure how to best express the idea. Or something’s missing and you’re not sure what. Or you just stop, blocked.
On the page—or on the screen, depending on where you’re writing—actually write this phrase:
“What I’m trying to say is…”
Then finish that phrase. Write, without stopping.
Discover What You’re Trying to Say
Finishing the phrase often:
- clarifies the complexity
- supplies the best words
- fills in the gaps
- clears away blockage
Finish the phrase and ideas flow freely.
By writing and finishing that thought, you discover what you intend to say, the message you plan to share, the idea you want to develop.
If you’re plagued by a formal, stilted tone in your written communication, this phrase invites more natural expression—your writing voice emerges as you say what you’re trying to say in a straightforward, easy-to-understand way.
Usually it more closely mirrors your speaking voice and friends will say, “I feel like I can hear your voice when I read what you write.”
When You Really Don’t Know What You’re Trying to Say
Let’s say you’re stuck and try this technique, but absolutely no words flow. You type out (or write out by hand) “What I’m trying to say is…”
…and not a single thought comes to mind.
Well, it could be you don’t know what you’re trying to say. In other words, maybe the problem is not so much how to say something—maybe you still don’t know what to say. It’s not fully formulated. You need to give the idea more time to sort itself out and become clear in your head.
Step Away from the Work
If this is your situation, step away from the keyboard. Do something else for a while. Your idea could come into focus after a break.
- Walk the dog
- Read a book
- Run an errand
- Take a shower
Now and then, casually ask yourself, “What am I trying to say?”
At some point…
It may take a little more time than you expect to answer the question, but it will come to you.
When you think you’ve clarified your idea, return to the keyboard or notebook and try again.
“What I’m trying to say is…” Keep writing. If you experienced that a-ha moment, you’ll know what you want to say and it’ll show up on the page.
Some Ideas Need More Time
If your writing is more involved—if the idea requires more than a brisk walk to uncover and construct—paste your draft into a mobile device so you can add thoughts as they come.
Sometimes while reading an article in the waiting room of the doctor’s office or while simply driving down the road, our minds will experience breakthrough. It’s good to capture those words on the spot, before they drift away.
In the doctor’s office, you can add a few new thoughts to an Evernote draft. In the car, at a stoplight, you can record a note to self using Voxer or a voice recording app.
To develop an idea and build it out, take a minute to explore, in the middle of writing chapters and sections and stages: “What I’m trying to say is…”
Give those more complex ideas time to develop and you’ll find the concept taking shape.
Use It to Find Your Summary
This simple phrase can help when you’re condensing, as well.
Writers often have to summarize their projects in a hook, two-sentence summary, or elevator pitch. When you’re struggling to succinctly explain your book concept, you can use this same phrase to express it in the simplest form.
“What I’m trying to say is…” Finish that to get to the heart of what your project is all about.
I’ve used this phrase for years—decades, even. I tried to remember where I first encountered it, but can’t confirm the source—it might be Natalie Goldberg. Whoever it was, I’m grateful for how it leads to clearer thinking, clearer concepts, clearer prose.
What I’m trying to say is, this is a simple way to clarify your writing. Try it. You’ll see.
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This content can be enjoyed as an audio recording using the podcast player above, or as a video below.
- Ep 30: Action Creates Clarity
- Ep 69: Have You Ignored the First Absolute in Nonfiction Writing?
- Ep 54: It’s Good for a Writer to Ask Why
- All podcast episodes
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You can subscribe with iTunes, where I’d love to have you subscribe, rate, and leave a review.
The podcast is also available Stitcher, and you should be able to search for and find “Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach” in any podcast player.