Why I Don’t Use Templates for Writing

One of the common requests I get from people looking to start writing social posts, blogs, newsletters, and articles is for a template “that works.” I love helping people articulate their thoughts and ideas in writing, but I refuse whenever I am asked to share a template. I don’t use templates for writing content; I believe you shouldn’t either. Whether you are already writing fluently or just taking your first steps, templates may seem practical, but I think they create more harm than good. They might make it easier for you to write, but easier is not always better. 

One of the most intimidating things for a novice writer is a blank page. Even if you have a good idea for your post or article, this vast white space on your monitor is threatening. “Where to start?” is the most common question I am asked, followed by numerous other questions that are not trivial to answer: How much should I write about myself? Is one example enough? Should I add images and diagrams to the text? Should I start with the bottom line, or is it better to wait to present the conclusion after setting the stage for it?

All these questions and many more are why people are drawn to templates. A template provides a set of answers; you, as a writer, are no longer required to give these questions much thought. A template defines a structure for the text before it is written. It guides you in organizing your ideas and what parts should come before others; often, it instructs you how much to write in each part. When people start with a template, they might feel more confident; the page in front of them is no longer blank; all they have to do is fill the predefined boxes with their words and sentences. 

When you genuinely don’t know how to express your idea, a template can often help you jumpstart. If the first part in a template guides you to “Write the bottom line using a single sentence,” you suddenly know what you are expected to do. The task might still be challenging, but at least it is concrete. It’s much more concrete than “start filling this blank page…”

People love templates not just because they make them feel more confident. In terms of time and effort, templates are a great shortcut. But not every shortcut is worth taking, and confidence in this context might just be overrated. 

Templates Numb Your Audience

We write for others. We write to communicate our ideas, hoping they will reach and impact other people — our audience. We wish to influence and help others. We believe what we have to say is worth reading. But for our audience to understand our ideas, contemplate them, and maybe even act upon them, they must first be interested in them. From a reader’s perspective, templates are boring. 

Every now and then, a LinkedIn trend emerges that makes too many posts in my feed look too similar. Often, this is apparent without even reading a single word: their physical structure on the screen seems all too familiar as if it was cloned dozens and hundreds of times. If I do start to read some of these posts, their flow soon becomes familiar to the level I can practically guess what is coming next. No matter how appealing this structure was the first time I came across it, when I stumble upon the third post that follows it in the same day, I just scroll on. It’s just too predictable. It’s boring.

Developing your own style as a writer holds great value. Having a voice people associate with you is an asset. When you use generic templates used by hundreds and thousands of other people (often publishing on the same platform or for the same audience), you lose your unique style and tone. However, even if you develop a template of your own — a structure that has worked for you in the past — using it extensively will soon numb your audience. Developing a style and a unique voice is not the same as creating and using a template. You should aim to develop your style without falling into the trap of being predictable. Your audience should know what to expect, but at the same time, you must keep surprising them. Much of it relies on your ideas, but if you use the same structure repeatedly, many readers will lose interest before reading your next idea, no matter how original. 

The fact that structural repetition numbs the audience is bad enough. Unfortunately, it might also numb us, the writers. 

Templates Numb You, the Writer 

There’s more to writing than coming up with ideas and crafting sentences to express them. Not every sequence of sentences and not every logical flow have the same impact on the reader. That is why structuring your text — organizing the different bits of ideas, data, and stories — is essential to the writing process. 

The impact structure has on the reader should not come as a surprise. One of the reasons people are looking for templates to begin with is the realization that structure matters. The design of your text can affect the engagement of your audience. Structure can help the reader understand an idea; alternatively, it can confuse the reader and make your ideas inaccessible. Some flows might even change the understanding of your ideas completely. When you ignore structure and focus just on the words, the sentences, and the paragraphs of your text, your writing process is incomplete. 

The problem with templates is that they impose structure without considering alternatives or your objectives. Because structure significantly impacts the reader, we’d better harness it and use it to achieve our goals — the desired effects we want it to have on our audience. We can’t just use an off-the-shelf template and hope it fits our needs. Structure is context-sensitive and often has to be fine-tuned. Templates are generic by definition. They are a shortcut that invites us to skip the important phase of designing our text. 

I design the structure of any text I write before I start writing the first draft. Yes, it takes time. Often, I have an idea, and I just want to start writing to share it with the world. But I don’t. No matter how long it takes me to design the structure of the text, it is time well spent. Whatever I write will be unrecognizably better when it follows a structure I’ve crafted thoughtfully. The design I come up with is not always perfect, but it is always better than any off-the-shelf template, if only because it serves my ideas and my text, and not the other way around. My design is the outcome of my thinking process, not the well-intentioned ideas of someone who doesn’t know me and what I wish to say. 

Crafting the structure of the text is an essential part of my writing process, and the last thing I would do is delegate it to someone who has never talked to me about my ideas and what I would like to achieve. Using a predefined template that was crafted without any context reduces the writing process to structuring sentences. It’s like reducing the art of designing a building to picking colors and pieces of furniture. These are no simple decisions, and they affect the outcome, but the architecture of the building should come first, and it better not be just copied from a template used by thousands of other architects, especially not if you want it to address your needs. 

Templates remove designing the text from the thinking process, and by doing so, they make our writing shallower and less authentic. For my content to be my own, it must include my words, sentences, and ideas. How to arrange all these pieces is also an act of expression. Waiving your right to shape this aspect of your content by using a predefined template might help you produce your content faster. It will not make your content better.

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