Are you asking the right questions?
The top 7 questions writers should ask as they write.
“What’s your name?”
“What’s your purpose in life?”
“Um, well—wow, let me think about that a minute.”
Questions can be incredibly simple. Or they can turn you inside out as you struggle to find the answer.
Asking the right questions can also dramatically improve your writing.
So here are the top seven questions you should ask yourself whenever you sit down to write:
What’s the real problem I’m trying to solve?
It’s easy to jump right into an article or ad copy without thinking about what you are trying to achieve.
The result? You usually end up with meandering mush.
So take a breath and ask yourself, “What am I really trying to do here?”
Am I trying to convince people that the internet is destroying civilization as we know it?
Do I want to inspire someone to adopt a stray dog?
Do I want to simply explain relativity? To make someone laugh? To make someone’s day a little better?
Begin with the end in mind. And you will dramatically improve your odds of actually getting there.
How can I fascinate people?
This question is critical to ask with regard to your headline—and to your first few paragraphs.
“How are you going to draw people in?”
Often, the best way to ask the question is, “What drew me in to this topic?”
For example, if you are writing someone’s personal story, think about the part that really surprised you. Then start with that. Don’t save it for the end. Use it to fascinate people up front.
It’s a lot like movie trailers: They show the funniest lines, the biggest explosions and the scariest moments to draw you in.
Sure, unlike movie trailers, you want to save some great stuff for later, too.
But remember—if you don’t fascinate your reader at the start, they won’t get any further than that.
How can I make things more clear?
It is astonishing to me how much people appreciate clarity.
Explain something better, and they’ll love you for it.
I once read a book that explained what e=mc2 really meant and how Einstein came up with his famous equation.
This book certainly wasn’t highbrow—it was illustrated with cartoons and the text was in word bubbles. But I actually got it.
In contrast, I read another book about string theory. I felt like the author was basically saying, “Look, I understand this stuff—because I’m brilliant. But I don’t expect that you will ever get it.”
I appreciated the first author—for his knowledge, his caring and his humility. And I swore I’d never read another book by the second author.
So be clear. And you’ll be appreciated.
What are my top three arguments?
Maybe you have 20 great arguments to support your point of view.
Or maybe you only have one.
What you need is three.
There’s just something magic about the number three.
And having three strong arguments, for whatever reason, is just right for making whatever point it is you’re trying to make:
- It doesn’t overwhelm people with too many facts.
- It doesn’t make them feel like your point is hanging by a single thread.
- And three things are easy to remember—so they can apply your ideas to their own lives, or tell someone else about them.
See? Three arguments. So what are yours?
What’s the biggest thing I could accomplish?
You’re writing a blog post. But could it change someone’s life?
You’re writing an ad. But could it revolutionize the way you do business?
You’re writing a headline. But could it be remembered forever?
Accomplishing little things is important. But don’t let that blind you to the opportunity to do something really great.
Keep in mind what human beings are about: Helping others. Improving the world. Overcoming obstacles. Discovering truth. Changing lives. Making a difference.
Then see if whatever you’re writing can do some of that.
How can I move someone?
You type something out on your computer. Post it to your blog. Send out a Tweet about it.
Then someone reads it, gets up, and does something.
That is the power you have in your hands every time you write.
So consider carefully how you might make that happen.
Will you tell a story that moves someone to tears?
Will you help someone to fall in love with an idea?
Will you provide the information that helps someone understand?
People become motivated to act through a balance of information and emotion. So figure out what you want people to do. Then give them the knowledge and inspiration they need to do it.
Did I do what I set out to do?
It must be nice to be an architect. Or a software developer. Or a cell phone designer.
Because when they get done with their work, it’s easy to know if they did what they set out to do. You have a house that keeps out rain, software that works, or a phone that can place and receive calls.
It’s not so easy when you write. You can have lots of words on the page, but they may not do what you set out to do.
How do you fix that?
- Set your writing aside for a day. Then read it through critically with fresh eyes.
- Give it to someone else to read—someone you can trust to give you her honest opinion.
- Or just put it out there, carefully track your results—and learn from them for next time.
So what other questions should you ask yourself when you sit down to write? Leave me a comment below.