Writing by Peter Hilton

Test writing ideas in conversation

How to discover what you really think 2022-08-23 #writing

Lala Azizli

  1. Get yourself a notebook
  2. Collect writing ideas
  3. Test ideas in conversation ←
  4. Reserve weekly time for writing
  5. Write to a shorter word limit

Practicing informal conversations about a topic helps you write about it. By exploring the topic while talking to people, you can quickly test arguments and get feedback on what works, before spending more time on a written version.

If you want to blog regularly, you’ll have to continuously develop rough ideas into writing. Refine your content pipeline by talking to people and testing ideas before you write them down.

Minimum viable pitch

Explain your idea in one sentence, and see what initial reaction you get. You don’t always need a surprising or controversial idea to engage with people, but finding one gives you an early clue that you might want start digging into a topic. And if you find a catchy hook, you might be able to use it to start a piece of writing with an attention-grabbing first sentence.

You don’t need to start testing ideas by seeking a minimum viable pitch, but each new conversation gives you an opportunity to check whether you have found one yet. You’ll know you’ve found one when your conversation partner insists on finding out more.

Discover what you believe

Approaching a topic with an open mind means gathering information and arguments, before you can discover what you think about it. Try out various arguments, during the conversation, and keep the ones you like.

You might want to avoid over-thinking this step, lest you get sucked into the philosophy of knowledge. Besides, you might also prefer to publish your writing before you’ve figured it out, and challenge your readers as well as yourself.

Identify key questions

Recognise and make a note of which questions people ask, when you pitch your idea. Experiment with pre-empting these questions in your pitch.

Write the questions down as well. A set of related questions sometimes works as an article’s outline as well, although beware of Betteridge’s Law of Headlines.

Discover common objections and disagreements

Delve into why your pitch doesn’t persuade people. As with questions, learn their objections. As with questions, write down common objections.

You might do worse than writing a listicle to address them directly. However, mixing objections with explanations and arguments likely results in better writing.

Find out which arguments work

Experiment with different explanations and arguments, and discover which ones resolve people’s misunderstandings and objections. Find out which ones create understanding or persuade, while staying open to changing your position.

When you summarise the winning arguments as a list of statements you can defend, you might end up with the outline for an article. The statements may even work as headings.

Recognise your standard speech

When you’ve discussed a topic in many separate conversations, you might find yourself settling on a standard speech. Write that down!

Ideally, you’ll be able to do this, publish the blog post, and move on, before your friends and family get annoyed with the topic. Or before you get bored with it.

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