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The thread

I never write anything without the thread in mind.

What is the thread?

It is the throughline of any blog post, essay, or book chapter.

Start with the end in mind. What is the point? Write the title and the lede based on that.

Then, the setup. What is the problem? What is have I noticed?

Then, reasoning. Examples. Stories. Structures and frameworks. Subsidiary points.

Then some additional richness. How can you take the idea further? What are the unsuspected consequences?

And finally, the point again — but now with more knowledge and perspective, stated in a way that makes it stick.

Threadless writing is impossible to follow

You could try and write without a thread in mind.

You could just put down words and ideas in the order that occurs to you.

And I see people do that all the time.

If you’re just musing, that’s fine. Perhaps rambling on aimlessly will enable you to identify the thread.

But that’s just a means to an end. Delete the rambling and rewrite with the thread in mind.

Because without a thread, people will quickly get bored.

You need to give them a reason to read the next sentence, the next paragraph. The thread pulls them along. No thread, no motivation, no impact.

The fat outline is the thread externalized

I’m a big fan of the fat outline method. Write a skeletonized “version zero” of what you’re writing — bits and pieces of content, organized roughly the way your piece will be organized.

Writing a fat outline enforces the discipline of the thread. The fat outline is, basically, the thread written down where you can see it.

If you can keep the thread in your head, you may not need the outline. But it’s still a good habit to get into. And the longer the piece, the more essential the fat outline is in organizing it.

The thread will evolve

Once you have the thread in mind — or written out in a fat outline — you can write. You can do more research to flesh it out. You can draft pieces and see what sings.

You may find that things are in the wrong order. Or that a key element is missing. Or even that the point is different from what you thought it was. These discoveries will require you to rethink your whole piece.

The thread you end up with may be very different from the thread you started with.

But it’s a lot easier to modify a thread than to write without it.

Once you learn the discipline of the thread, you are a writer. The more you do it, the better you will get at it. This is where you can work on style, storytelling, research skills, brevity, and everything else that makes writing sing.

It all begins with the thread.

Every successful writer knows this, whether they can articulate it or not. Embrace the thread, and you’ll be on your way to a writing pieces that will resonate powerfully with readers.

And that’s why write, isn’t it?

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  1. Reading something that doesn’t have a thread is so taxing. I’m supposed to read it AND figure out the point? 😀 And then if my colleague reads it and finds a different thread, well now the point isn’t even universal! Having a thread is a must.

  2. Totally agree. I’ve interviewed almost 300 artists for our local arts paper, and until I discover the theme/thread, I’m stymied. Then weaving the fragments into an artistic and comprehensible pattern becomes a creative journey I actually enjoy.