A few years ago I was one of 20 winners in a worldwide screen writing competition. Pretty cool eh?
The prize was 18 months of tuition and script development with an established screen writing tutor, which has paid no end of dividends. One of the many lessons that really stuck with me was about the writer's role within the film making team. He explained that a movie is the vision of literally hundreds of people -- not just the writer. He brought this up early as he's well aware that writers often feel that the movie is their vision alone.
But he did qualify this by saying that of those hundreds of visionary people, the writer is the only one who starts with nothing. Everyone else has your script to work from, and none of them ever have stare into the daunting abyss of a blank page.
Anyway, I was looking through our current Design Challenges, as I do most days, and I was put in mind of this valuable life lesson, as I know that many of you are currently facing the horror of a blank page, and might be wondering how to approach the not-insignificant number of blog posts that your Design Challenge requires. Fortunately, there are some excellent ways of approaching your writing requirements that will turn it into a task that's as enjoyable as building the project itself.
The Snowflake Method
Writing 15 blog posts is a daunting task. Where do you even begin? Getting started is hellishly difficult, and although it might sound contrary to good reason, having lots to say doesn't actually help with putting your first words down on paper (or on a screen, anyway). You'll invariably find that you feel like you're starting from the middle of the story.
Fortunately, the long-respected snowflake method is here to save the day. Don't start with a "Once upon a time..." and try to write your blog posts word by word. That's like trying to build a house by putting down bricks before you've drawn the blueprints.
- Start with an outline that consists of nothing more than the title of each of your 15 Design Challenge blog posts. Once that list of titles is in front of you, you can rearrange and adjust them as needed very easily, and what you'll suddenly see is a bullet point list of your project. Spend a day on this, and let it settle overnight, at least. Congratulations! You now no longer have to worry about the blank page!
- Expand each title into a short paragraph (absolutely no more than three sentences) that explains what will be in that specific blog post. As you work through all 15 titles, building them into very short paragraphs, you might want to go back and forth to adjust previous blog posts. What you'll find is that you're repeating steps within the blog posts, which is unnecessary work. Remove any repetitions, leaving that piece of information only in the most relevant blog post. Give it another 24 hours to settle, and then re-read it, and edit where needed.
- Split each paragraph into its three sentences, and expand each sentence into its own paragraph. What you now have is the backbone of each of your 15 blog posts. Out of interest, you might be pleased to know that at this point you've now written more than half of your entire Design Challenge. How easy was that?
- BEGINNING: What you have here are three sentences, representing the beginning, middle and end of the blog post. The beginning should introduce this specific blog post, and should be very short.
- MIDDLE: The middle will be longer than both the beginning and end. Fill it with the work you actually did on this stage of the project and this stage alone! Don't be tempted to allude to what's coming in the next blog post, or to revisit what's already been covered in the previous one.
- END: The end recaps exactly what stage the project is now at, and should be written as if the reader is following your instructions to make their own version of your project. When they read your short, closing paragraph, they should recognise their current project in your description. Again, don't be tempted to lead people into the next post! It's unnecessary, because the intro of your next blog post will do that.
- Go back and re-read your blog posts, editing them as you go. Elaborate where necessary, and remove any and all repetitions, even if you don't want to -- just trust me on this one, and remove them. It might be hard, but do it.
And that's all there is to it. By building up your blog posts in this way, you'll never struggle about what to write, and the work load will feel massively lighter. In fact, you'll likely find yourself enjoying it a lot more than expected!
Building as You Write
Employing the snowflake method in your Design Challenge requires a slight adjustment on how a writer would use it. You see, you're building the project as you go, and there's no need to have all 15 blog posts written before you post the first one.
But you can use the snowflake as a valuable part of your project planning, too. Go back to your snowflake outline (the 15 blog post titles) and add a short parenthesis that covers the project build at each stage. This is only for you to read, so don't spend too long editing or rewriting. You should find that the build instructions mesh beautifully with your blog post titles. If they don't, rewrite the titles and adjust your project plan here and there until they do.
One will feed into the other, and the snowflake will suddenly help you massively when it comes to putting your parts together. It'll even give you a timeline of how long things are going to take.
Now go back to the snowflake, and expand the titles into paragraphs before starting work on building your project.
What you now have are the train tracks of your Design Challenge. One track is the blog posts, and the other is the project. They're running perfectly parallel to each other, and as you finish a milestone in your build (and you'll instinctively know where those milestones are, thanks to the outline) you can take a break by expanding the three sentences into the full post. When you've done enough writing (which will now be a much quicker job than you ever expected) you can break off, go back to building, do a bit of testing, or take some photos.
Say it With a Picture
As you know from seeing other people's posts, photos and videos are a superb way to get your message across. A single photo can remove a wall of text, and a video can replace a mosaic of photos.
You can't include too many, so go nuts with these. Just follow the same rules as when writing: No repetition, and don't feel the need to over explain what's in your photos and videos within your blog post. People have eyes, and can see what's in them -- you don't need to go into lots of depth about an upcoming photo. Give your readers enough credit to understand them.
Follow this method in your Design Challenge, and you'll be amazed at how quickly your tasks get done. And when they don't even feel like work, all that's left is a sense of enjoyment around every aspect. You'll have found as much pleasure in writing up your project as you did in building it, and that'll only make you more enthusiastic about getting straight into your next build!
So good luck to our current Design Challengers, and please join me in a round of applause as we eagerly await their epic blog posts!