If you’re a writer, or a marketer, or a blogger, or a student, or really anyone who uses words for a living, you’ve probably heard the expression “word vomit.” Lindsay Lohan’s character Cady Heron used the term in the 2004 comedy “Mean Girls,” and it took off from there.
It’s an apt description for “the words that come out of your mouth without any thought, often when you are drunk, embarrassed, angry, or given criticism in a social environment” (according to the Urban Dictionary).
Hopefully you’re not drunk or angry when writing your blog or term paper (or maybe you are? If so, please get help). But if you shorten the definition to “the words that come out of your mouth without any thought” and stop there, now that is a concept any writer can use.
Why should I word vomit?
Most people naturally edit themselves when they write. We all do. We try to make our writing as perfect as possible as we go, but instead we end up forgetting half of what we meant to say in the first place.
Our ideas are like sparkly little butterflies whirling around in our heads. If we don’t catch them right away, then by the time we’re ready to write them down, they’ve already flown off. Even when writing something as basic as an email to a colleague, we get so wrapped up in getting the first sentence or two just right that we end up forgetting to include the most important point.
Yeah, we see you nodding your head. It happens to the best of us.
How do I word vomit?
Start by “vomiting” (figuratively, not literally) your ideas onto paper or in a doc without editing yourself. Let it all out. Write without thinking. Get those thoughts out of your head without constraining yourself with things like proper grammar or that annoying voice that asks “does this even make sense?” or “why would anyone care?” or the myriad other unhelpful things we say to ourselves when writing.
Do not worry about formatting. Do not worry about structure or following an outline. Or do use an outline if you’d like. Make a bulleted list if it helps. Or stream of consciousness…whatever works, do it.
Don’t even call it a “first draft.” Call it a “planning document” if that allows you to free your mind. Give yourself permission to just write and write badly.
In other words, brainstorm. Same basic concept.
Why word vomiting works
When we write, we use three things:
- our brain (think of it as a schoolteacher with a red pen)
- our heart (a Shakespearean actor)
- our gut (a new-age yoga teacher)
Too often the brain gets in the way of the heart and the gut by overthinking things. However, when you word vomit, you’re allowing all three to work in tandem—to collaborate equally in a massive, messy data dump without the brain taking over and ruining things with her red pen.
Since we’ve adopted the word vomit technique, we’ve found writing to be a whole lot more enjoyable. Gone is the pressure to make everything perfect in the first draft. Gone is the fear of forgetting all the important things you wanted to say. When you word vomit, you lose the anxiety that prevents you from doing your best work. And it’s an excellent way to break through writer’s block.
Now we feel confident that our best ideas will come through, and we’ll clean up the mess later. So stop staring at that blank page and start your data dump!
I’ve word vomited. Now what?
Here’s the secret: You are going to edit. And if you want to write well, you’re going to edit A LOT, over and over, again and again. But that comes later, after you’ve gotten all your best ideas out of your head and into your doc.
Think of word vomit as an unpolished gemstone, rough, uncut, and not at all shiny. Then comes the fun part. You get to polish and grind and polish some more until it’s a beautiful work of art.
“Word vomit, then edit” is a concept we’ve grown to love. Even as we’re writing this blog, we’re resisting the urge to edit ourselves and instead focusing on getting the words in Word. After we finish our messy first draft, we will edit and edit and edit until it’s pretty darn good (because true perfection is unattainable).
Why it matters
Clients are sometimes hesitant to send imperfect content for fear that it’s not good enough. We promise, we do not require perfection. We LOVE editing copy. Please send us whatever you have—a rough draft, bullet points, incomplete sentences, notes you took on a napkin (jk about the napkin).
Having first-hand information about your business, products, and services in your own words gives us insight into your voice and culture. Getting it direct from the source gives us a more complete picture of your thoughts, ideas, and needs and how we can help.
Once we have your content, we’ll polish it up and tailor it for whatever format you need—whether that’s website copy, a print brochure, email, or social media.
Need help with your writing? Our content team can’t wait to get started. Get in touch with us today!