Ever have writer’s block?  Try using this simple process to breakdown your writing into the right process steps. It’s called madman, architect, carpenter, and judge.

Madman Architect Carpenter Judge

The idea is simple, but instructive. There are 4 different writing personas tugging at you when you write.  The madman is coming up with great ideas all the time which might not be related to anything. The architect is providing structure to the writing; moving paragraphs around and looking at the story-line.  The carpenter is crafting the sentences, phrases, and word choice.  The judge is deleting unnecessary parts.

Know where you are.  Each action is valid and valuable, but it’s important to know where in the writing process you are at the moment.  If you have 3 days to put together a client proposal, you want to make sure you meet your deadlines.  Get through the madman brainstorming. Agree on the architecture of the proposal including scope, structure, format, and tone. After all, you don’t want to get 3/4 the way through the writing and have people bring in new (last minute, unrelated) ideas.

Proposal in 3 days

By getting those 2 stages out of the way, you give yourself more time to do the carpentry of writing.  Putting together succinct, impactful, and clear thinking on paper. Naturally, you also want to leave enough time for judging by other partners, subject-matter experts and other in the approval chain (e.g., legal, finance).

HBR podcast with Bryan Garner here, author of HBR’s Guide to Better Business Writing and he describes these writing steps.  Start audio at the 5 min 30 seconds remaining, if you don’t want to listen to the whole thing.

You can apply this to your PowerPoint:


  • What is your point of view?  Are you just going to bore the client with the same recycled marketing brochure-ware? How will you “wow” the client?
  • How can you incorporate your previous work, graphics, and insights?


  • Bucket your thoughts into logical groupings; don’t jump around from topic to topic
  • Ask yourself, could someone understand each slide without a voiceover?
  • Use impactful titles. It’s the most valuable part of the page
  • Each page should make 1 point (no more than 2 points)


  • Put your most important point first
  • Use parallel structure (e.g., all bullets start with verbs)
  • Graphics and words should support each other
  • Use graphics when possible, not text
  • Use parallel structure between slides to keep the flow of the powerpoint
  • Do not use clip art or photos.  Seriously, don’t.


  • Repetitive words should be eliminated
  • If it’s not obvious what the point of the graph is, call it out with a text box
  • Leave whitespace on the page; don’t feel compelled to clutter the page
  • If you can combine pages, do it.

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