Make a fast mess, then make choices to move forward

Make a fast mess, then make choices to move forward
March 20, 2014 Beth Nyland

Every day I advise business writers to make a mess.

Brainstorm. Mind-dump. “Vomit” ideas onto the page.

Storms? Dumps? Puke? All messy. But these are first-draft techniques, not end products.

In writing, messes can be the source of breakthrough innovation. Liberated from perfectionist expectations, we let loose unique turns of phrase, authentic emotion, not-so-obvious truths, and impulsive ideas. We invent.

And because we can make messes at startling speeds, mess-making can accelerate results.

In my own writing, I am slower to produce (and quicker to find distraction) when I obsess over writing only the “right” words in a first draft. I con myself into believing I have time for only one draft, so it has to be good.

Baloney. I have time for a writing process that works.

I finish writing projects much faster—and generate more inventive messages—when I first make a mess. With just five minutes on the timer, I can type an entire page of sentences. Or at least fragments. And some of them are good. 

To write your next proposal or report or request or post or manifesto, imagine using this one-hour process, which begins with mess and ends with order:

  • 5 minutes of brainstorming – sketching ideas (whether words or pictures or diagrams) on a board or page
  • 10 minutes of free writing – expanding those ideas through written words (whether in paragraphs or lists or stream-of-consciousness prose)
  • 30 minutes of editing – choosing the ideas, phrases, and words that will express your intended message and resonate with your reader
  • 5 minutes of rest – stepping away to breathe some fresh air or ingest some caffeine
  • 10 minutes of proofreading & revising – catching mistakes and eliminating non-essentials

One-quarter of the way into this process, you will shift your creative energy from churning to choosing. For three-quarters of the time, you will be making decisions and taking action. Isn’t that what business communication is all about? 

If you doubt that choosing is worth your time, compare business writing with other real-life, creative actions that deliver tangible results:

  • Standing before an open refrigerator jumbled with fresh and leftover foods, a home cook chooses the most appealing and complementary items. Combining and seasoning those bits, this creative person produces a delicious meal.
  • After a natural disaster, homeowners pick through debris, choosing the most essential and salvageable pieces. Assembling and building on those bits, these creative people rebuild their home.
  • Staring at a white board littered with words and circles and arrows, two business colleagues choose the most interesting and convincing concepts. Ordering and integrating those bits, the creative communicators develop a message.

The process works. Try it.

Make a fast mess. Then invest your creativity in making choices that move your business forward.



Comments (2)


  1. […] My siblings and I, creative, entrepreneurial beings, have discussed this. Paul is making things in multiples. I have been repurposing design components to new projects. Beth, owner of Spencer Grace—a creative communications agency, offers this terrific technique on her blog: make a fast mess. Please read her complete perspective at […]

  2. […] 1. Allow imperfections. Seeking perfection from a first draft is a great way to freeze your fingers and crush your confidence. Again and again, give yourself permission to write poorly. American poet William Stafford said, “There is no such thing as writer’s block for writers whose standards are low enough.” Lower your expectations. Remind yourself that first drafts are not permanent. Get some words on the page, even if they suck. […]

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