Writing a training course is not much different than writing a blog post, an article, or a book. At some point, you will need to sit down and just plain start writing. Anyone who creates any type of content has had to face the dreaded writer's block. Even learning designers get to a point in which they are sitting at the computer staring at a blank screen, and asking themselves, “OK, what do I write now?”
We have all been there.
Much has been written about how to overcome writer's block, but last week, I read one of the best lists for how to overcome it, and I wanted to share it with you. In 10 Rules for Writing First Drafts, Demian Farnworth presents a list for how to write first drafts. I found it so useful, I printed it and taped it up on my computer monitor rack for inspiration.
I know you are not a writer. You design training courses, among other things. But this list is about writing first drafts of anything and many of us experience our worst writer's block while beginning first drafts, so this list is worth reading, and I recommend posting it in a place where you can view it often.
Here are three points from that list that I think are particularly important to anyone who writes training courses.
Write Yourself Silly
You have done your needs analysis, met with stakeholders, read functional requirements documents, and have pages and pages of content. Now you are staring at a blank screen and don't have a clue where to start. The tip here is to just start writing. Don't worry about whether it is perfect, in the right order, or even the right content. Just start typing. If you must, just start free typing your notes. At least that will get you started. Remember that you can always edit later. But the best way to get over the hump is to just start typing content onto your document.
Break Every Rule Known to Man
Instructional designers are sticklers about the instructional design process. It is important to following a rigorous process, but following a process too strictly can halt progress. During the first draft, forget about process and just go for it. For example, if you have an idea for a bunch of assessment questions write them, even before you finish writing your learning objectives. If you know you will include a content section before you finish your training needs analysis, write the first draft of the content section. Don't let process hold you back. After all, you can edit later. There are no rules in a first draft. Wait, there is one rule. Write.
Steal Stylistically from Other Writers, As All Great Writers Do
I like this one because by looking at other content for stylistic ideas, you learn new ideas of your own. It is also a great way to get stuff down on your document to get you started on your first draft. Stealing stylistically is not about plagiarism. It is about stealing style. For example, an old boss of mine loved the icons and content call outs in Dummies books. You know, the icons (Tip, Warning!, Remember, Technical Stuff) that make special points on content worth noting? Based on that I wrote a training course using this technique, I called them something different and used them in a way that suited the training class I wrote, but the idea came from the Dummies books.
As I am learning, writer's block is not something that is magically overcome. However difficult it is to overcome, it is a simple matter of understanding that your first draft can and should be a mess. With this understanding, you are free to get started without the blocking mindset that the first draft is the final draft. When in doubt, just start writing.
Bill Cushard, author, blogger, and learning experience (LX) designer, is a human performance technologist (HPT) with extensive, in-the-trenches experience building learning organizations in start-up and hyper-growth organizations like E*TRADE, the Knowland Group, and Accenture. You can follow him on Twitter or on Google+.