Intros, Transitions, and Nonlinear Writing

Not a bad intro from Dickens

Alyssa Fox, from the blog “Leadership with Style,” recently tweeted about how hard it is to write intros compared to the body of a document.

I completely agree, and I feel similarly about transitions from one section to another. This is true when writing anything from fiction to a printed guide to a long email.

But they’re not as hard as they used to be, thanks to the magic of nonlinear writing!

Why are transitions hard?

Eh, they’re not that hard.

Transitions just take a little time to get right, which sometimes feels like a distraction from the writing I want to do.

And then, there’s always that little doubt in my mind: Have I structured the doc properly?

For example, I write a gorgeous transition from the section about honey bears to the section about bees.

Then, after finishing all the writing, I realize that the section on Winnie the Pooh should go right in between the Honey Bears and the Bees. So I have to kill my lovingly crafted transition and cry about the wasted effort.

Why are intros hard?

I think that intros used to trip me up because I’m not sure exactly what the piece is going to be like when I start writing.

Even if I’ve created a good outline, I may feel a little shaky on which points are most important to call out right away. The best angle to take. Plus, I may have remaining questions about tone and the right expectations to set.

I know that I’m prepared to write the body. I’ve been thinking about it and planning it. The body has been taking up a lot of my brain, so when I sit down to write, that’s the easy part.

The intro faces me for the first time when I see the blank page.

So I don’t write the intro or transitions. Yet.

I skip that stuff. Whether it’s fiction or tech writing, I just jump in to the stuff I WANT to write.

I can work really quickly that way, writing only what I’m ready for. It doesn’t matter at all that I’m not going in the same order that the reader will.

Like a film director shooting the last scene first because the light is right, I just go with what works best as it comes to me. I skip sections I don’t feel like writing about, and I skip sections that seem tricky.

Then, once the main stuff is written (including the tricky sections), I do a sort of structural edit, making sure everything’s in the right place, and flows logically.

Then I write the transitions, knowing that there’s little chance they’ll be wasted. And THEN I write the intro.

Now I’m introducing a piece that I know inside and out. I know the tone (which I may have changed since I began writing). I know the dips and valleys and treacherous bits that the reader will need help with.

And then… it’s still pretty hard. But not AS hard.


Alyssa Fox’s Blog: Leadership with Style

Tech Writers Only: Transitional text in DITA may not work

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