Triple X Writing: How One Author Fills in the Blanks

Working Desk

by Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

As a former reporter for daily newspapers, I know what it’s like to write on deadline. I’ve read about the topic, researched it, and completed interviews. I know the story I want to tell, I’m on a roll and the words are pouring out. The last thing I want is to stop that creative process because I can’t think of a word, quote, or detail.

Writers Block KeyboardI confess I’m not a horticulturist. I just play one in print. When I’m writing my weekly garden column, a magazine feature, answering readers’ questions, or building a PowerPoint presentation, I frequently have to look up the scientific name of a plant. I always include the scientific names because I think it helps readers locate just what they are looking for. 

Take Phlox, for instance. Is it garden phlox (P. paniculata), or creeping phlox (P. xxx), or woodland phlox (P. xxx )? As you can see, I know garden phlox is Phlox paniculata, but am unsure about the species for creeping or woodland phlox. By using the “xxx” as a placeholder I can keep writing without taking time to look up the specific epithet.

I’ve used this triple-x method for years with many kinds of stories, from business pieces to people profiles to gardening articles. For me, it saves time and allows me to tell the story and get it written without a lot of interruptions, which can be distracting.

When the piece is mostly complete and I’m in editing mode, I go back through the article and fill in the xxx’s with what’s missing. In the case of Phlox, I’ll make creeping phlox (P. subulata) and woodland phlox (P. divaricata). Using the “xxx” placeholder makes it easy to search for so I don’t miss any. And, it keeps me out of rabbit holes when I’m on deadline.

So what do you do to keep the words flowing?

Meet the Author

Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp.jpgJo Ellen Meyers Sharp is treasurer of GWA. In her mosaic existence, she is a freelance writer, editor, and photographer; a garden coach; owner of a four-season container planting business; and a seasonal employee at a large, independent garden center. She blogs at

Author: GardenComm

GardenComm, formerly known as GWA: the Association for Garden Communicators, provides leadership and opportunities for education, recognition, career development and a forum for diverse interactions for professionals in the field of gardening communication. GardenComm members includes book authors, bloggers, staff editors, syndicated columnists, free-lance writers, photographers, speakers, landscape designers, television and radio personalities, consultants, publishers, extension service agents and more. No other organization in the industry has as much contact with the buying public as GardenComm members.

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