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Never Start With an Outline or a Title

This applies to all writing: letter, memo, whitepaper, special report, blog, business plan or full-length book

March 25, 2014 By Denny Hatch
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For the first 25 years of my career I was a writer—publicity releases, sales letters, memos, business plans, budgets and advertising copy.

Becoming Entrepreneurs
In 1984 my wife Peggy and I gambled $10,000 to create a dry test mailing—an offer to the direct mail community for a non-existent monthly newsletter. The title: WHO'S MAILING WHAT! The test was successful and the roll-out brought in enough money to get up and running.

Within a couple of years, I was the country's foremost authority on junk mail. I wasn't a wizard or particularly smart. I happened to be the only guy collecting, analyzing, archiving and writing about the stuff.

Our system was a revolutionary method analyzing for discovering which direct mail was successful. For the first time, marketers could get their hands on the great controls, study the competition and "steal smart."

The Who's Mailing What! Archive and measuring system are very much in business today—30 years later.

A Career Change
For the first time in my life, I was a regular writer of articles.

Contrary to what many English teachers, copy chiefs and writing coaches suggest, I never, ever start with an outline.

In fact, any time I tried to make an outline of what I was going to write, I was hit with a serious case of writer's gastric block—an intellectual and emotional backup from my brain to my innards.

Quite simply, if a writer hasn't researched a thing it's impossible to create an outline of what's going to be said and in what order.

Becoming a Magazine Editor
In 1992, Peggy and I sold our little business to North American Publishing Company. Suddenly I was not only writing articles, but also I was running Target Marketing magazine with editors and writers reporting to me. I had just three pieces of advice for them:

1. Don't fake anything. Target Marketing magazine and WHO'S MAILING WHAT! are trade publications, I told them. You are experts writing for experts. It doesn't matter how complicated the story may be—the business model, the execution or the marketing techniques. You must grasp it so well you can explain it to your grandmother. If you run into something you don't understand, keep asking questions until everything falls into place. Never fake it.

 
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