The madman, architect, carpenter, judge method of writing

March 17, 2013 | Writing

One the great difficulties of writing is that the human mind automatically edits while it writes. It’s like driving a vehicle with one foot on the accelerator and the other foot on the brake at the same time. Yes, progress is made, but it’s frustratingly slow. It also causes one to realize they are never performing at the level they’re truly capable of. Yet, most people don’t know what is really holding them back.

Good writing coaches understand this dynamic intimately. And some writing coaches, such as Betty Sue Flowers, a professor of English at the University of Texas, have developed a remedy. Flowers’ solution is a writing method she calls Madman, Architect, Carpenter, Judge.

It’s a brilliant method because it demonstrates a clear understanding of the problem, and it’s simple to use.

The four-stage process starts with the madman. During this initial step, brainstorm by writing quickly. Jot down all phrases and ideas you want to include in your document. Do this for five or 10 minutes.

“The madman is full of ideas, writes crazily and perhaps rather sloppily, gets carried away by enthusiasm or anger,” Flowers says, “and if really let loose, could turn out 10 pages an hour.

When you’ve completed the madman phase, take a break for a few minutes.

Step two, the architect, involves putting the madman’s ideas into a sensible order. That might be as simple as writing down three or five main points. Then figure out the best order and, in effect, you have created a simple outline.

Flowers says the architect might pick only one-tenth of the madman’s jottings as relevant or interesting enough to include.

“The thinking here is large, organizational, paragraph-level thinking,” Flowers explains. “The architect doesn’t worry about sentence structure.”

Take another break.

Step three is the carpenter, whose job is to focus on writing out paragraphs that explain each point. The carpenter puts flesh on the bones and – like the madman and architect – doesn’t concern itself with editing what is being written.

“The carpenter nails these ideas together in a logical sequence, making sure each sentence is clearly written, contributes to the argument of the paragraph, and leads logically and gracefully to the next sentence,” Flowers says. “When the carpenter finishes, the essay should be smooth and watertight.”

Take another break.

For the fourth and final step, the judge dons his (or her) robe and begin adjudicating the copy. This is where you look very critically how you expressed yourself and ask yourself how you can improve it.

Bryan Garner, editor of Black’s Law Directory and a big proponent of Flowers’ writing method, says during the judge phase it’s important that writers ask themselves how a person not friendly to them would regard what they’re saying.

“Is it self-serving?” Garner asks. “Is it undiplomatic? Really think about the way you would be coming across to somebody who isn’t favorably inclined toward you.”

Flowers adds: “The judge comes around to inspect punctuation, spelling, grammar, tone – all the details which result in a polished essay become important only in this last stage. These details are not the concern of the madman who’s come up with them, or the architect who’s organized them, or the carpenter who’s nailed the ideas together, sentence by sentence. Save details for the judge.”

Go mad. Then build a sturdy structure. Then nail down your reasoning. Just make sure you keep the judge relegated to his or her chambers until it’s time for your writing to go to trial.

Mike Consol teaches public speaking, PowerPoint presentation skills and business writing to companies and business professionals in the Oakland-San Francisco-San Jose Bay Area. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 925-449-1040.