Make the Last Thing First

Photo by Christoph Wesi on Unsplash

Visionary Writing Techniques #012

by John Onorato

At this point, I’ve read a lot of your essays. Maybe not every single one, but close 😉

Pretty frequently, I’ve observed that the beginnings of essays tend to feel clunky and unrefined. But about halfway through, everything starts coming together.

It often feels like the writer took a little while to “get up to speed.”

Ultimately, though, they “hit their stride”, and they lead us across the finish line with them.

Sure, sometimes that introductory material is valuable. Sometimes it provides context and/or data needed to fully understand the material in the second half of the essay. Sometimes it serves as a prologue, or a ramp-up to the final paragraph or two.

And other times the last few paragraphs of an essay function very very well — as the first few paragraphs of a different essay.

Dump Your Brain Out

So I invite you to freewrite. Do a brain dump. Get all your thoughts out on paper (or on a screen, as the case may be). When you’re done, walk away. Don’t think about your essay for at least a few hours. Give your brain a chance to rest.

After a while, come back to your piece. Re-read it. And no matter what it’s like, love what you’ve written. It’s perfect just like it is. You know how I know? Because that’s what happened.

It can still be better, though. It can still be improved. That first draft?
That’s your block of marble right there. Then act like you’re Michelangelo carving David out of that massive block. Cut away anything that doesn’t serve your stated purpose or intention for the piece.

You might well find that the first few paragraphs don’t serve you any more. You might well find the last couple of paragraphs work much better.

So cut away the first paragraphs. Get rid of them. Start your (new) essay with the last couple of paragraphs you wrote for the (old) essay.

Why? Because they work better. And because you wrote them when you were on fire for the assignment.

In the first few paragraphs, you’re just getting that fire started. You’re fumbling around with kindling and matches, setting up the logs for optimum burning, making sure there’s airflow, and so on.

It’s in the latter stages of an essay that we’re actually on fire for what we’re writing. It’s only in the latter stages when everything starts coming together. That’s when the fire starts burning merrily. We no longer have to blow on it to make sure it catches. It’s caught, it’s burning, and now we’re all looking around for the S’Mores.

That’s when it all starts working together right.

In other words, once you have everything out on paper, take what’s last, and make it first.

Sure, this might change the reasoning and tone of your essay. It might make a completely different essay. But here in the Visionary Program, we’re used to change. After all, change is the only constant.

Bringing It Home

This is a technique I use myself. As I start my day as a freelance writer, I will frequently “warm up” by working on writing tasks that are relatively unimportant. I might work on emails or other correspondence, or I might write a journal entry. Just to get the creative juices flowing. Just to get in Flow.

I start on the important stuff only after I’ve lit my fire.

I do this because I’m a professional. So I know that in any given day, the first few words out my my fingers are going to not be worth much of anything. I don’t work on client projects first thing. Because client projects are important to me; they’re how I make my living, so I have to make a good showing.

Granted, you might not make your living with your words. But you’re in the Visionary program for a reason. Why not make the best showing you can?

And this is one way you can make that good showing: By putting your last words first.

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Test Post

This is a Test Post.

I’m adding content slowly.  This is a test post created with the editor that Bento wants you to use.

I can’t remember the name of it, though.

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Welcome to the Gutenberg Editor

Of Mountains & Printing Presses

The goal of this new editor is to make adding rich content to WordPress simple and enjoyable. This whole post is composed of pieces of content—somewhat similar to LEGO bricks—that you can move around and interact with. Move your cursor around and you’ll notice the different blocks light up with outlines and arrows. Press the arrows to reposition blocks quickly, without fearing about losing things in the process of copying and pasting.

What you are reading now is a text block the most basic block of all. The text block has its own controls to be moved freely around the post…

… like this one, which is right aligned.

Headings are separate blocks as well, which helps with the outline and organization of your content.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Handling images and media with the utmost care is a primary focus of the new editor. Hopefully, you’ll find aspects of adding captions or going full-width with your pictures much easier and robust than before.

Beautiful landscape
If your theme supports it, you’ll see the “wide” button on the image toolbar. Give it a try.

Try selecting and removing or editing the caption, now you don’t have to be careful about selecting the image or other text by mistake and ruining the presentation.

The Inserter Tool

Imagine everything that WordPress can do is available to you quickly and in the same place on the interface. No need to figure out HTML tags, classes, or remember complicated shortcode syntax. That’s the spirit behind the inserter—the (+) button you’ll see around the editor—which allows you to browse all available content blocks and add them into your post. Plugins and themes are able to register their own, opening up all sort of possibilities for rich editing and publishing.

Go give it a try, you may discover things WordPress can already add into your posts that you didn’t know about. Here’s a short list of what you can currently find there:

  • Text & Headings
  • Images & Videos
  • Galleries
  • Embeds, like YouTube, Tweets, or other WordPress posts.
  • Layout blocks, like Buttons, Hero Images, Separators, etc.
  • And Lists like this one of course 🙂

Visual Editing

A huge benefit of blocks is that you can edit them in place and manipulate your content directly. Instead of having fields for editing things like the source of a quote, or the text of a button, you can directly change the content. Try editing the following quote:

The editor will endeavor to create a new page and post building experience that makes writing rich posts effortless, and has “blocks” to make it easy what today might take shortcodes, custom HTML, or “mystery meat” embed discovery.

Matt Mullenweg, 2017

The information corresponding to the source of the quote is a separate text field, similar to captions under images, so the structure of the quote is protected even if you select, modify, or remove the source. It’s always easy to add it back.

Blocks can be anything you need. For instance, you may want to add a subdued quote as part of the composition of your text, or you may prefer to display a giant stylized one. All of these options are available in the inserter.

You can change the amount of columns in your galleries by dragging a slider in the block inspector in the sidebar.

Media Rich

If you combine the new wide and full-wide alignments with galleries, you can create a very media rich layout, very quickly:

Accessibility is important — don’t forget image alt attribute

Sure, the full-wide image can be pretty big. But sometimes the image is worth it.

The above is a gallery with just two images. It’s an easier way to create visually appealing layouts, without having to deal with floats. You can also easily convert the gallery back to individual images again, by using the block switcher.

Any block can opt into these alignments. The embed block has them also, and is responsive out of the box:

You can build any block you like, static or dynamic, decorative or plain. Here’s a pullquote block:

Code is Poetry

The WordPress community

If you want to learn more about how to build additional blocks, or if you are interested in helping with the project, head over to the GitHub repository.

Thanks for testing Gutenberg!


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Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start writing!
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