Start Strong: 7 Must Follow Steps For Clear, Stress-Free Writing

Dickie Bush & Nicolas Cole

Ultimate Guide Table of Contents

Ahoy and happy Monday!

Welcome to another week of Start Writing Online—where every week we dive into 1 of the 10 biggest problems all writers face:

  • Distractions
  • Over-editing
  • Perfectionism
  • Procrastination
  • Self-confidence
  • Generating ideas
  • Impostor syndrome
  • Writing consistently
  • Finding time to write
  • Loose feedback loops

(And, of course, if you want to crush all 10 of these AND master the fundamentals of Digital Writing in just 30 days, we'd love to have you in the next cohort of Ship 30 for 30!)

This week, we want to help you walk into your next writing session with absolute clarity.

Imagine assembling an IKEA BILLY bookcase—without the manual.

Insurmountable, right?

The same is true when you try to, "Just sit down and write what you know."

So, to help you avoid the anxiety inducing "I hope it turns out OK" strategy, we put together a simple 7 step framework for achieving 100% clarity in your writing, so you’re never left holding the blank page again.

Let’s dive in.

Step 1: What type of content is this?

Walk into any library in the world.

Everything written is 1 of these 3.

  • Original: Like an autobiography, stemming from personal experiences.
  • Curated: Think of anthologies, gathering the best from various authors.
  • Researched: There are walls of academic journals filled with pages of research.

Half the battle is knowing which of these 3 roads you're going to travel down.

So, before you sit down to write, ask yourself: Is this your own idea? Someone else's idea? Or lots of ideas grouped together?

Decision number 1, check.

Let’s move to step 2.

Step 2: How are you saying something "different?"

A cover band never outshines the original artist.

Why? Because they don’t bring anything new to the table.

To truly differentiate yourself you can do 1 of 2 things:

  • Modify an existing category. “It’s not a car. It’s an ELECTRIC car.”
  • Frame, Name, and Claim a new problem. “It’s thinking fast AND SLOW.”

You, as the writer, have the opportunity to educate your readers on something new and different by helping the reader see what they really need instead of what they think they need.

For a deeper dive on these ideas, check out Category Pirates.

Let’s keep moving.

Step 3: What tone do you want to use?

Ever watched a movie that made you laugh and cry?

That's the power of dual tones. Instead of a monotonous "this is motivating" or “this is happy,” aim for a layered "this is motivating yet brutally honest." It's like adding spices to a dish: the contrast enhances the flavor.

Clarity plus tension creates tone.

Run this ChatGPT prompt to try on different tones and decide which one will best resonate with your audience.

You are my personal "writing remixer."

I am going to give you a sentence. Then you are going to rewrite it in 5 different "tones."

- Inquisitive But Skeptical
- Motivating But Brutally Honest
- Respectful But Critical
- Empathetic But Objective
- Hopeful But Realistic

Here are the steps:

1. You will ask me for the sentence.
2. Then you will rewrite the sentence in each tone.
3. And finally you will store the output in a table.

Here is the table output:

- Column headers: tone, rewritten sentence
- Rows: each of the tones I listed
- The first row should be the original sentence.
- The “tone” for that one should be “Original sentence”

Are you ready for the sentence?

Step 4: Create a "different" voice by twisting these 5 knobs.

Consider the difference between Morgan Freeman and Samuel L. Jackson.

Both are iconic, but very different.

  • Word choice: "Indeed" vs. "Damn!"
  • Perspective: 3rd person narrator vs. 1st person in your face.
  • Rate of Revelation (Pace): Measured vs. punchy
  • Spelling/Grammar: Eloquent vs. slang
  • Rhythm & Flow: Smooth vs. emphatic

The more consciously you twist these knobs, in the context of the broader category, the more "different" your voice sounds.

Step 5: How can you use Languaging to create "your own language?"

J.K. Rowling didn't just write a story.

She crafted a world with its own lexicon.

  • "Muggle"
  • "Quidditch"
  • "Horcrux"

Her writing is an experience in language.

The more you can play with certain words and meanings in intentional ways, the more you end up shaping a different world around your voice/content.

The strategic use of language changes thinking.

Step 6: What conceptual format are you using?

There are 2 ways to use formatting to achieve differentiation in your writing.

  • Conceptual
  • Literal

Conceptual adds a new layer of dimension to your work.

Remember 'Choose Your Own Adventure' books? Their format was their USP. Similarly, how you structure your content can be a game-changer. Conceptual formatting is like choosing between a documentary and a docudrama.

Presentation makes all the difference.

Step 7: What literal formats are you using?

The second use of formatting is how are you organizing the information on the page.

Not conceptually, but literally.

  • Subheads: To guide readers like chapter names in a novel.
  • Font Play: Bold for emphasis, italics for nuance.
  • Highlighted Quotes: Like spotlighting the soloist in a choir.

That's literal formatting at work.


You're not just sitting down to write. You're an architect—assembling all the pieces. And if you go through these 7 steps BEFORE you write, you will walk into the writing with total clarity as to what you are setting out to create.

That's it for today!

Hit reply and let us know how we did. Good? Bad? Helpful? Have ideas you'd like us to dig into or questions you want answered?

Chat next week!

–Dickie Bush & Nicolas Cole

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