Mastering the Short and Simple: Three Ways to Get to the Point in Your Writing
One of my writing goals for 2018 is to produce content on a more consistent basis. In addition to this editing blog, I have my own podcast and blog as an author, not to mention a book to launch in January, which will require writing numerous guest posts and other promotional materials. I’ve been struggling with keeping it all going for a while, and have decided that 2018 is the year I prioritize consistency over length. I want to learn to gain more mastery over the short, simple, and regular–not just because I want to be more “productive,” but because I think concision, consistent, pointed content usually leads to better writing all around.
One of my big hangups is that I frequently try to do too much in my writing. This creates a pattern of overextension–my blog posts and podcast episodes become too multifaceted and tangential that to move toward a conclusion feels overwhelming.
- Summarize your current writing project in one, tweet-sized chunk (140 characters). I originally got this idea from an exercise Doris & Bertie proposed on their business writing blog that I now recommend to my clients regularly. If we can’t capture my shorter writings–like blog posts and podcasts–in one tweet, then we’re either trying to string together too many ideas or we haven’t thought enough about what we’re trying to write. If I’m stuck in the former, I subdivide my ideas into separate chunks that can eventually become their own posts. If the latter, I either pause to think things through or put the idea on the back burner to simmer and dust off a different idea that’s already come to a boil 😃 (Too many soup analogies in one sentence? I’ll let you be the judge. 😃) If your current writing project is a book or other long-form medium, you can use this strategy to summarize one chapter or section. A book may be too long or complex to summarize in a sentence or two, but the arguments of single chapters should not be. Even if this tweet never makes it into the final draft (mine rarely do), it is a vital mental exercise.
- Write with the end in mind. Deciding where you want your writing project to end up helps keep your writing focused and efficient. My best–and least windy, tangential–writing tends to happen when, after writing a few sentences of introduction, I immediately write a conclusion. For a blog post, this may be a few sentences; for a book chapter, it may be a few paragraphs or an entire section. Writing the ending first helps keep tangents to a minimum and clues you into what the middle of your blog post/ chapter/ essay needs to consist of.
- Come to terms with short writing. The final aspect of finishing content is to KISS (Keep it Short, Silly!). That’s my attempt at a joke; in truth, I find brevity almost excruciating to muster in my writing. I’m always trying to save the world–to conquer too much in one piece, thereby postponing that fateful day when it must go out into the world. Some folks find it helpful to set word count limits for certain projects, others set a time limit (e.g. “I will only spend X days writing this article.”) I need a combination of both, but more than that, I need to consciously face (and keep facing) reality: my writing is not going to save the world. It’s not going to do much of anything if it never gets out there or is too unwieldy and full of tangents to be meaningful for readers. I’ve never regretted a piece of writing being too short before because I can always keep the conversation going via blog posts and other follow-ups. By contrast, there have been many times I’ve regretted publishing/ posting something that was too long, clunky, or simply trying too hard to be something it wasn’t.