Can we be too generous?
It sounds counterintuitive but there is such a thing as being too generous in writing.
Sometimes we try to include so much that it ends up cluttered and confusing for us as well as our audience.
It’s easily done.
We start out wanting to share so much, to help people with everything we know. So we keep adding. More and more until we’ve drifted way off course.
How do we find our way back? Better still, how do we prevent getting lost in the first place?
Asking one question helps every time: What’s your point?
It might be rude (but tempting) to say when someone else is long-winded and boring, but it’s the right tactic to turn on ourselves.
Asking What’s your point? helped last week when I was working on a speech that had to be seven minutes max.
The first read through was eleven minutes.
I tried reading faster, taking fewer pauses, trimming words. But it wasn’t enough.
When I listened to the speech as if it was for the first time, I could hear that the backstory had to go.
Losing it was hard because there were some lines that I really liked. But keeping it would have been for me, not my audience. The backstory detracted from my key point: That starting a creative endeavour is made so much harder when we compare our work to others.
With the backstory gone, the speech was just under seven minutes and the night was a success.
So – What’s my point now?
That we overwhelm when we share everything we know about a topic. Overwhelm, confuse and even bore.
Despite our intentions, it’s the opposite of generous. It’s self-centred because it’s more about what we want people to know, than what is best for them.
We help our audience and ourselves when we can clearly explain, What’s my point?‘ even before we start writing.
Then when we keep asking as we’re writing and again when we’re editing: What’s my point?
Then in ruthlessly eliminating anything that doesn’t support it.
Beside the point
It’s funny how ideas work. I got this one from a podcast interview with Sarah Downey, a venture capitalist from Boston with a love for Star Trek: The Next Generation.
She was on a podcast from Unthinkable Media (Make it so) speaking about her mission to write a blog post with lessons for start-ups based on every episode of Star Trek: TNG.
One episode was proving uninspiring until the Captain of the Enterprise reprimanded a crew member for taking too long to make his point.
That inspired her blog post, ‘Make your point up front; don’t babble’ and gave me a great question to focus my writing.
From little things, big things come.