How to get ideas out of your head and on to the page

Do you ever feel like your ideas get lost in translation?

I’ve been reading through the comments in the new member survey for the Edge for Scholars Online Grant Writing Workshop to see where their biggest grant writing challenges are. I asked new registrants in the workshop to tell me what they're struggling with when it comes to grant writing, and this comment caught my eye:

"I can link ideas in my head, then when I try to write them down it's impossibly hard."

I hear some variation of this ALL THE TIME. Usually it's about feeling stuck: thinking about starting to write and just...not being able to. There are some typical culprits for this: not making the time, feeling overwhelmed, and needing your writing to be perfect right out of the gate.

This comment is interesting because this person is clearly not stuck at the same point. They started. They're doing the work. They're wrestling with translating the ideas in their head to the page. And it just isn't working.

So what do you do when it makes complete sense in your brain, but then when you try to write it down it looks like hot garbage?


Here's what I do:

1. Let it be hot garbage

Seriously. Just give yourself permission to write a sh*tty zero draft. If you've been around for a while, you know that I call this taking a dump.

Get whatever's swimming around in your brain on to the page in whatever form it comes. Don't worry about writing in full sentences. Just get those words out of your brain. The more you struggle to get it into its final form on the first try, the worse it's going to look (and feel). Just get it out of your system first, and let it be bad.

Here are a couple of ways to make that less painful:

a) Say, out loud, "I give myself permission for this to be sh*tty."

b) TRY to make it bad: hot garbage is your *goal* for this draft. Nothing else will do.


2. Take a break

You need to give yourself time away from what you wrote to be able to come back to it with fresh eyes. Sometimes it's not as bad as you thought, and sometimes you have the perspective to notice right away what needs fixing.


3. Use pen and paper to write it out step-by-step

Sometimes when I'm trying to build an argument I find it helps to write it out, step-by-step, on paper. There's something about physically writing out the words that helps me make sense of my ideas.


4. Use a framework

Even though there are loads of different ways to effectively express your ideas, sometimes it helps to use a formula. I predict that the person struggling with translating their ideas to the page is going to LOVE the Problem-Gap-Hook-Solution framework I teach inside the grant writing workshop. It's like Science Mad Libs. It makes communicating your ideas so much easier because it gives you a structure to follow.

Want to join the grant writing party this summer? We start on July 8, but you can sign up now and start doing your prep work right away.  Register here (it's free!)

Hey! Writing a research grant doesn't have to feel like such a slog.

I made you a 90-Day Grant Writing Blueprint to take some of the stress out of grant writing. Sign up to see exactly what to do to write an outstanding research proposal—and when to do it.