Drawing out your ideas
As a business author, you’re dealing in ideas. You’re trying to communicate how you see the world, and get your readers not only to understand your view but to change their own in some way, ideally resulting in action of some kind.
And the first step is to understand your own ideas fully – which is often harder than it sounds.
Writing is a great way to help you think through issues (see my earlier blog post, Putting Words to the Music), but another great tool to help you get clear on what it is you’re actually saying is drawing. My last boss, one of the most intelligent men I have ever met, once told me, ‘I got to the age of 50 before I realised that if I drew a problem I could solve it in half the time.’
Visualising your ideas has a double benefit: for you as author, to help you get clear on what it is you’re saying, how your ideas fit together and flow, but also for the reader. Heather McGowan, academic entrepreneur and futurist and this week’s guest in The Extraordinary Business Book Club, uses this cognitive trick extensively, beginning with the initial idea:
‘I don’t usually start writing anything. I start drawing a lot of things. My starting process is: how would I put this on a single page so that people can understand it with very few words using shapes and different types of frameworks? I usually start with a series of frameworks that tell the story to me in my head and then after that I write.’
Drawing out your book
I’m writing a book on writing a book at the moment (which is just as agonizing as it sounds) and I started by drawing out the framework a few dozen times until I’d worked out the various bits I wanted to cover and how they all fit together. Then I put together a structure and working table of contents based out this book before I began writing it, and I based the structure and progression on that early scruffy drawing:
That’s how I start every bit of thinking these days, with the biggest piece of blank paper I can lay my hands on. And believe me, I am no Picasso. Luckily you don’t need to be either. But Heather goes further: she smartens up her visual thinking and presents her thinking to her readers graphically alongside the text. If you can pull this trick off, you win in the battle for attention and understanding.
‘When you look at text, you turn those texts into symbols that you store in your mind visually. When you look at a picture, you can be something like 30,000 times faster reading all the same information… if [blogs or books] have visuals in them, they are much more often read and understood than if they’re just plain text because it breaks it up, it allows you to process things differently.’
And it IS a battle, given the astonishing quantity of information that comes at us on a daily basis, demanding our attention – the equivalent of over 280 newspapers a day. So this shortcut to communicating complex ideas is a powerful competitive advantage for writers who want to be heard.
Over to you
How could you use drawing to refine your ideas and present them more effectively to the world?