Category Archives: 5 Things: Writing Tips from a Pro

5 Things is a monthly post by our CEO, Tim Ferguson. Posts will feature topics around meeting and event communication strategies. It is our hope that those who are involved in planning or presenting at meetings and events will find Tim’s tips helpful.

5 Writing Tools (1)

5 Writing Tools

Options fall into two broad categories: digital and non-digital. Each tool is ideal for a different type of writing. I find that when I am stuck, changing to the more appropriate tool can turn things around. Here are five tools with distinct advantages (interestingly, 4 of 5 are non-digital; before I switched to iPhone, my BlackBerry would have been on the list, since the keys allowed me to write in long form with ease, which is sadly not the case with the iPhone):

1.  Whiteboards

The ultimate right-brain brainstorming tool, perfect for mind mapping, theme generation, experimenting with key messages, sketching out an agenda and room set-up for a workshop, or anything where visualizing the solution is as important as the words themselves. While normally used with a group, this is an amazing tool for solo work as well.

2. Large Notebook

Ideal for longer pieces, where thinking through the writing is required, and where the writing will require multiple sittings over a period of weeks or months. Such notebooks tend to age like wine does: some reveal themselves years later to contain beautiful words of wisdom, though some turn to vinegar! Either way, they are the workhorse of creative writing.

3. Small Notebook

Pocket size, a limited number of pages, easy to toss in your bag for an inspired moment. These are perfect for lists, precise thoughts, topics, titles, catch phrases, and concepts.

4. Scrap Paper

One of the biggest barriers writers face is wanting the first draft to be perfect, be it for lack of time to fear of failure. The proverbial “back of the envelope” has a liberating quality, making it clear to the writer that this is just a super rough draft, not a polished piece of writing.

5. Laptop

I live on my laptop. It is my office, instrument, tool kit, dashboard, lifeline, and central organizing tool. It is my primary writing, design, research, social media, and entertainment device. I use it for PowerPoint, Word, and email—the holy trinity of creative writing tools in the digital era. It is a love-hate relationship, and life without it is impossible to imagine.

What are some of your favourite writing tools? Are they more old-school or new-age, or a combination of the two? I’d love to hear from you.

This post wraps up my 5 Things mini-series on writing. I hope you have enjoyed reading them. In case you missed my first two, you can read them here.

Happy writing!

Copy of 5 Writing Tools & 5 Great Places to Write (FB) (1)

5 Great Places to Write

My last blog post asked you five questions about your approach to writing. As important as what, why, how, and when you write, is where. My own experience suggests that for at least some of us, the best spaces are betwixt and between office and home. As I travel extensively for work, my places reflect that, but I am sure if I worked from home I would need to find their equivalents. Here are my favourite five, in no particular order:

  1. The Train

I have an advantage living in Switzerland, where the trains are clean, efficient and quiet, but I learned this back in Toronto taking the subway (which is anything but a Swiss train!). As long as I have a seat, I have the perfect environment for right-brain writing: journaling, sketching, listing out theme ideas or composing short, concise speech copy. I can move quickly through a long list of items in this environment.

  1. The Airport Limo

On the rare occasion, when I’m a passenger in the back of a luxury town car for 30-60 minutes, especially in the early morning when the traffic is light, and I have given myself plenty of extra time, the peace has an uncanny effect on my thinking. From the moment I tell the driver which airline I’m flying, it takes about two seconds to plunge deep into thought, almost like going into a waking dream. This is the kind of writing where you write one sentence after 10 minutes of just thinking. Invariably, we are “suddenly” at the airport, and I feel great in knowing that I have accomplished an important piece of the puzzle on which I am working.

  1. The Shower

Like most clichés, it’s true! My big “eureka” moments are more likely to come in the shower than anywhere else. Like the Greek scientist Archimedes, the alleged coiner of the term “Eureka!”, 72% of us are inspired while in the water, according to Dr. Kauffman, psychologist and co-author of Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind. But this is no accident. I load my brain before the shower, lining up the specific problem I am trying to solve. Then, I turn my brain off and go about the routine of getting ready for work. There is something about the unconscious but primed mind that, like the CERN particle accelerator, makes an “accidental collision” certain to happen, eventually. By trusting that the key is NOT THINKING about the problem, the solution reveals itself out of nowhere.

  1. The Hotel

The first hour of the day when staying in a hotel, particularly in a different time zone, is for the hard-core productive laptop-based writing: presentations, proposals, business plans, workshop agendas, creative themes, or campaigns. I get up at 5:00 AM, crank up the in-room coffee, no matter how good or bad (from Nespresso to god-awful instant), and work until 6:00 or 6:30 before anyone on the planet knows I am awake. A writing task that seemed impossible the night before is now easily dashed off. When I am done, and I have texted my wife or started working on my email, I feel I have already accomplished a day’s work.

  1. The Airport Lounge

If I am early, and it is on the way back, and I need some to get some tough thinking or writing done, nothing beats a decent airport lounge (around the world the variability of lounge quality is massive, so you can’t count on this one). For some reason, the pressure of the gate time, combined with the anonymity and timelessness that comes with the airport experience, makes coming to conclusions relatively easy. The free drinks might help too! In any case, if I need to “close” something, the lounge is the place to do it.

Oddly, the place that many people like writing that does not work for me at all is on the plane itself, even when flying business class.

Where are you inspired to write? Are you more of an Archimedes or a business- class writer? I would love to hear from you!

5 tips and tricks when writing.

5 Questions About Writing

What does it take to write a great novel, screenplay, song, or poem? Does it come easily to even the great writers, or is it always hard work? Ask any professional writer, and they will give you a similar list: time, focus, discipline, commitment, routine, persistence, courage.

Now, that PowerPoint presentation you are planning to write on the plane? It is no different. It takes time to move human thoughts onto paper. Each writer needs to find their own way to be a creative, thoughtful, and productive writer.

Here are five questions to ask yourself about your approach to writing. The sharper your answers, the more writing success you will have:

1. How much time have I scheduled for writing?

Here is a good rule of thumb for a short talk: one hour for strategic thinking, one hour for “right brain” creative writing, and one hour for “left brain” editing (followed by and an hour to rehearse). It’s advisable to take a break between the writing and editing; stepping away and coming back to your writing at a later time will give you a fresh perspective.

 2. What is the time and place?

Early morning or late at night? Listening to music or enjoying pure quiet? Café, quiet corner, or on the train? Door open or closed? Series of intense short sessions or long marathons? There is no one right answer; sometimes a writer has to try different times/places before figuring out what works best.

 3. What are the right tools?

Pen and paper, tablet, or laptop? Index cards, blank sheets of computer paper, whiteboard or flipchart? Notebook, legal-sized yellow notepads, fancy paper, the back of an envelope? The tools a writer uses depend on the situation, availability and sheer preference; again, there is no one right answer.

 4. How many drafts?

The Canadian novelist Timothy Findley told me, “first write, then get it right.” He meant that the first drafts are just getting the ideas out, that you don’t know what to say until you have tried saying it. In the busy corporate world, it is natural to want to the first draft to be the final draft. Go for at least two, three, four or more.

 5. Who is my editor?

Behind every great writer is a great editor. We need someone with a reader’s perspective to see the areas that make sense, those that don’t, those sentences that can be cut, and the parts that need to be expanded. Find someone you trust and make a habit of getting their feedback. And remember, for many writers the part they personally love the most is the part that needs to go.

Happy writing!