If you’ve been in your industry for a long time, you’ve developed a wealth of thoughts, opinions, insights, and predictions about your field. Your opinion leadership is a resource that can drive leads, open networking opportunities, and build a trove of industry betterment. Many professionals have yet to tap into this resource, tragically, because they fear the writing process.
Any teacher can attest that a fear of writing sometimes stems early. For many students, the task is overwhelming and daunting and the mindset may persist into adulthood. Writing does not have to be difficult, and if you find yourself facing paralysis, it’s more likely that you are progressing through the writing process incorrectly — not that you are a bad writer. For those wanting to get started, the best thought leadership comes from a thorough writing process.
The Prewriting Phase
- Think: The writing process begins before you put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. The process begins with deep consideration for the topic. Decide your most productive environment: quietly in the morning with a cup of coffee, while driving to work, or during a hot shower. Do you think verbally? While typing? Think unrestrained thought. Some questions to ask yourself are: what would I like to write about? What would I not like to write about? What questions do I have? What am I curious about? Are there any topics or personal anecdotes that are relevant, even tangentially? Is there any news or in current society topics that I think are relevant, even philosophically?
- Capture: Now that you’ve thought deeply, capture these thoughts in your most productive way. Type your thoughts or write them on a physical sheet of paper. If you do not wish to write at this stage, you don’t have to. Record your voice, film a video, draw a picture, make a mood board, or do whatever helps capture your unrestricted thoughts.
- Listen: If you showed up late to a party, you would never state your opinion in a conversation that’s already happening without first listening to the conversation at hand. In thought leadership, your topic is a conversation that is already happening — this should be your mindset when researching. Listen to what is already being said about your topic before you share your insights. Catalog everything you find interesting.
The Drafting Phase
- Outline: The outline is the most crucial step, and yet it is the most often skipped or rushed through. If you haven’t done any writing up until this point, it’s time to get started. During the prewriting stage, you may have started to notice patterns of thoughts and gotten an idea of what is and isn’t within scope. The outline stage is where you develop and organize your thoughts, while deleting any irrelevant ideas. If you wrote your thoughts on paper or on sticky notes, you might physically pile the information into groups. Pair any research with relevant ideas. It’s okay if your outline is the five-paragraph model; it’s also okay if your outline changes multiple times during the drafting process. Ideally, this step — not the drafting step — should take the longest. The longer you spend on your outline — knowing precisely how you will present the information — the less time you will spend drafting.
- Draft: If you struggle with the drafting stage, you may not have spent enough time in previous stages. The drafting phase should be a space to create your style and voice. Experiment with language and storytelling in this stage.
The Revisal Phase
- Self-Editing: Walk away from your first draft for an hour, a day, or as long as you can. You’ll do your best self-editing after you’ve gained some distance. If you have no time at all, try reading it aloud or using an online reader. You’ll catch most of your own mistakes.
- Active Feedback: Seek multiple sources of feedback if you can. It may help to have both a subject matter expert and a non-expert read it, depending on your industry and audience. If you struggle with receiving feedback, remember to ask questions and avoid giving justifications.
- Editing vs. Proofreading: If you are creating longer thought leadership pieces and seek to hire a second eye, it will help to know the difference between an editor and a proofreader. An editor will make suggestions or changes based on voice, organization, or style. A proofreader will only look at grammar and basic style rules. An editor will be more expensive than a proofreader.
- But How Will I Know When It’s Finished? Short answer? It will never be finished. Long answer? Writing, like many things, is a continuous process. There will always be something that can be changed, but if you never publish, you’ll never get used to publishing. Use your best instincts. You have amazing thoughts to share; put them out there!
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