According to Neil Patel, the New York Times bestselling author of Hustle: The Power to Charge Your Life with Money, Meaning, and Momentum, “Clarity goes beyond a few writing tweaks… It’s a whole new way of thinking. And it forces you to think about what you’re writing before you start spilling words onto the page.”
Neil knows the secret to clear writing. Clients and students ask me how they can add clarity to their own writing. But they sound frustrated when I tell them they need to first know what they want to say. “Didn’t you teach that writing helps you learn what you think?” they’ll point out.
I have said that, many times. It’s incredibly useful to write about a topic until the words start to make some sense. But there’s an important difference between this journaling or free writing and writing with intention.
When you free write or journal, you’re writing for yourself. Sometimes the purpose is to discover what you think. Other times, it may be to express yourself, or to rev up your writing engine, or to build a habit of writing. But when you write for others, you must write with intention.
Neil puts it like this — “Before you write a word, you should know the following: Your subject… Your point… Your outline.” When you already know what you want to say, Neil’s advice is a useful, straightforward approach to beginning a new piece of writing.
When you don’t yet have the clarity to state your subject and point before you begin, by all means, journal, free write, or compose a shitty first draft. Then be willing to throw most of it away. Extract from it the essence of your meaning and any gems of language you molded in the process. That’s what belongs in your final piece.
You can’t add clarity to writing that has no clear point just by changing the language.