A Simple Tool for Writing More Clearly

I heard the following from a writer recently:

"Being clear is really a problem for me when I write. My sentences seem to get really muddy until I'm not sure what my point was."

This happens to so many writers! Sometimes the more we write, the less we know what we're saying.

I've got good news. There's a really simple tool for taking writing from muddy and confusing to clear and compelling.

It's fairly simple to use, but it can be absolutely game-changing for writers who get lost in their own prose.

Check it out!

Want it in writing? You can learn about how to escape muddy writing below!

Sometimes, the more you write, the less you know what you’re saying.

Here’s how to take your writing from muddy and confusing to crystal clear and easy to understand!

First question: do you have an outline? If not, you need to make one! If you do have an outline and you're getting stuck in muddy thinking, your outline probably doesn't have enough detail. The question to ask is, “Does my outline give me the key steps along my writing journey?”

Imagine you were crossing a stream by stepping on rocks. It would be much easier to get across the stream if there were many rocks than if there were just a few. The stream is your idea, the rocks are your outline, and you walking is you drafting.

Can you see that with only a few rocks in the stream to use, you’ll have to take big leaps? On the other hand, with enough small rocks, you’ll be able to walk across the stream easily.

If your writing is getting muddy, it’s very likely because your outline is only providing you with a few rocks to cross the stream of your idea. It’s time to fill in some more stepping stones so you can get across more easily (and without falling in and getting swamped!).

Here’s how to do it: create an Idea Chain.

An Idea Chain is a way of looking at where you start and where you want to end up, and creating a clear path between the two.

My favorite way to make an idea chain is to use a table and fill in more columns as I need them. (That’s because I’m very visual.) I use the computer because it makes it easy to add in or take out columns as I discover how many steps I need.

You might prefer bullet points or simply handwriting your ideas with an arrow going to each next idea.

This is an Idea Chain from a literature analysis essay. The writer wanted to prove that a character was loyal. He started with his claim -- that she’s loyal -- and tried to work his way back to that claim by adding details from the book and layers of analysis. (If you watched the Quote Sandwich Write Bite, this is a variation where you use a summary of details from the book instead of a direct quote.)

Idea Chain.JPG

How did this writer make the chain?

First, he filled in the character's action. This is the detail that gets the ball rolling. Next, he listed the consequences of this character’s action. This took two columns. Then, he provided the background info that would make those consequences significant.

Throughout this process, I was asking him, "What happened next? What was the consequence? So what? Why is that important? How does that relate to loyalty?" Those are the types of questions you'll need to ask yourself when you make an Idea Chain.

Finally, he thought about what loyalty really means. He realized that being loyal means sticking with a person even when there’s a negative consequence for us!

His final step was summarizing the negative consequences and reiterating that the character chose to help someone despite the risk it would pose to her. Bingo! Now he can prove that this character isn’t just helping when it’s easy or fun; she’s risking her own well-being in order to help, which is the very definition of being loyal.