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How a Suitcase Can Help Your Writing

I just returned from a perfect vacation in Florida, and now I am looking forward to a business trip to Hawaii in April. Instead of putting away my suitcase until my Hawaii trip is imminent, I have left it out on a table in our basement. Whenever I think of something I want to have with me in Hawaii, I can get the item and drop it into the suitcase. I already have water shoes, sunscreen, my sunhat, a guidebook on Maui, and a few other items in the suitcase. (No, the trip is not all business.)

Tossing things into the suitcase as I think of them means that on the day of my departure I will not be racing around the house trying to think of what I will need on Maui and searching my brain for those items that had occurred to me a month earlier. I will not forget the things that will make my trip a success. I will feel confident about my packing and relaxed about my trip. 

The "open suitcase" method works well for business writing too.

When you have an upcoming report, proposal, newsletter article, or another important piece of writing, toss your ideas into a "suitcase" as you think of them. Your suitcase might be a digital recorder, a smartphone, an electronic or a paper folder, an electronic notebook (for example, a Microsoft OneNote notebook) or a paper one, a writing pad on your desk, or a white board or bulletin board in your cubicle.

As you get brilliant ideas for your written piece, immediately put them in your suitcase. That way, they will not flit away before you have captured them. Then when you are ready to write a draft, all the pieces you have "packed" will be there for you. You will feel confident and relaxed about meeting your writing deadline because you will have many good ideas for content.

When you look through your suitcase, you may be happily surprised that the ideas you have captured are so rich and interesting. Fresh, powerful ideas can spring up when you are not under pressure to produce them by a deadline. By contrast, when you are racing to finish a proposal by 5 o'clock, brilliant ideas may elude you.

Do you use the open suitcase method to gather ideas for your business writing projects? Which other methods are successful for you? Please share.

Syntax Training

Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

9 comments on “How a Suitcase Can Help Your Writing”

  • I use this method myself. I have a notepad where I write down any ideas for the newsletter as I think of them. It has always worked well for me!

  • Lynn,
    I love your suitcase analogy to describe this process. It’s the method I use to come up with topics for 20 real estate blog posts I have to write every month.

    Because I’m in front of my computer the majority of the time, I simply use MS Word to save all my ideas. I copy and paste tidbits I run across online into a Word doc, call it something generic that reminds me what the general topic is, and continue to add to that topic with additional tidbits I find or think of until I feel inspired to write the blog post.

    Using this method, I continuously have about 50 ideas in my unfinished real estate blog post file.

    Kathy Goughenour

  • I use the suitcase method in writing, but not in real life. But I think I’ll start doing that–I’m horrible about packing at the last minute and then forgetting half of what I need!

    With writing, I always start with a rough outline and save my ideas there. I’m also do a lot of “webbing”–putting ideas in circles, and then connecting the ideas with lines. It’s a technique I taught in freshman comp, and I’ve found it very helpful in technical writing.

  • Lynn –

    I love reading your page, I’m so glad I stumbled upon it a few months ago. I always learn so much!

    Thank you,

    Chelsea in Vancouver

  • Reneé, I am glad the notebook at your side works for you and your newsletter.

    Kathy, completing 20 blog posts each month is an achievement. I admire your ability to have 50 ideas percolating in your blog post file.

    Nina, your method sounds efficient and creative. I hope you are successful with the open-suitcase method for your trips.

    Chelsea, thank you for your thoughtful comment. I am glad you are learning things here!


  • Hi Lynn,

    An easy access whiteboard use to be the way but it has now been replaced by an always-open ‘notepad’ text document. Whenever an idea strikes, I type it up. Quick to view + cut and paste functionality = too easy.


  • When preparing for a presentation or a large document, I jot down ideas on sticky notes and put them in a folder (my suitcase). That way, when it comes time to organize the presentation/document, I can move the sticky notes with ideas around until the order is satisfactory.

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