This principle is mildly complicated. As far as I know, it’s probably the only original thing that I’ve stumbled on in my learning of writing over the years, except maybe my tip about spelling. This tip is a little unique; I know because in other books I’ve written I’ve had editors take the time to write me a letter and say this principle changed their life.

Writing Tip 8 is the words create the thought. Now that doesn’t sound like much, but it’s kind of important. It’s actually putting the words down that then creates the thought. If you’re writing and you accidentally write, “I hat you,” okay, so that was a mistake. You meant to say “I hate you. You might mean to write, “I love you,” and make a spelling error by writing, “I loathe you,” which is the opposite of love. If someone reads “I loathe you,” their inclination is going to be able to understand it, because those words in combination create a thought in their minds that you loathe them. They may guess, given our autocorrect world, exactly what you’re getting at, but they simply may not. Writing is when you have a thought that you want to put out there, and then you just play around with the words and see if they create the thought, or create something even better.

That’s why it’s so amazing; you can be sitting there writing and suddenly write something even better than you were thinking, because the words you just wrote generated a thought. It is incredibly exciting to experience that. So if you understand this, then you won’t get stuck thinking that you have to know exactly what you’re going to write before you write it. I was doing a class one time and one of the students was looking up and thinking, and I asked, “What are you doing?” He said, “I’m thinking about what to write.” I said, “Oh, well, this isn’t Thinking Class. This is Writing Class.”

You want to get in motion, so you have an intention for your writing. Your intention might be, I want the raccoon to run away from the dogs. That’s just the intention, but you have to put words on the page to communicate that: “Scamper thought for a moment about taking on one or two of the dogs, because he had won before, but this time there were too many. He was in a good old-fashioned fight. In a good old-fashioned fight when the odds are against you, it’s better to turn today and run away to live to fight some other day.”

Okay, so I could write all that down, right? I was just making that up. Word after word after word after word. If I don’t like some of the words, I can scratch them out. If I like them, I can keep them. If I want to redo it, I can redo.

Get this writing tip in your mind: the words create the thought. You’re not trying to know exactly what you’re going to say before you start putting words down. Get your intention clear, but just play with the words and watch what happens.

-Dr. Fred Ray Lybrand
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