One of the ways to get structured written content assembled quickly is to write it in layers.
It’s a bit like painting. Most artists don’t start off with a blank canvas; it’s prepared with a broad sketch, then washes. Only then does the artist start filling in the detail, often by layers.
My brother in law is a professional artist – one of New Zealand’s leading maritime artists, in fact, and the RNZN’s official artist – and I’ve watched him work. His approach is very different from amateur paint-by-numbers, where every detail is filled in piece by piece.
The thing is, I often find writers approaching what they’re doing as if it were paint-by-numbers – writing every sentence until perfect, then moving on to the next. The problem is that it loses perspective.
So if you’re daunted by the complexity of what you have to write – be it non-fiction or the complexities of a novel with its character arcs, plot, dialogue, need for pacing and so forth, try this.
I’ll often start with the skeleton of a chapter or sequence – the main thrust of what I want to say.
Then I’ll go back and add a layer – add nuances to the argument, build points or add detail. It might be a particular type of detail, for instance.
Then I’ll go back again – and add another layer, like ‘colour’.
About this time I’ll often re-style it around the more complex nature of the content.
It’s the inverse of the method by which you totally finish one part before moving on to the other. The advantage is that it gives you that structural overview from the outset.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015