The top 8 ways writing goes horribly astray.
It’s a danger you face any time you sit down to draft a blog post, email or web page.
It’s a danger I’m facing this very moment:
That your writing will go horribly astray.
When writing goes astray, it fails to make something happen. And that’s a sorry fate for your hard-wrought words.
So how do you keep your writing on course and achieving its intended purposes?
By watching out for these eight pitfalls.
Pitfall 1:Your topic is dull.
“Why air is important.”
“How to replace your toner cartridge.”
“Things to know about prostate checks.”
Maybe you had a dull topic foisted on you. Or maybe you did this to yourself.
Know this: when your topic is dull, your writing is bound to be dull, too.
So what do you do? If it’s up to you, simply abandon any topic that doesn’t make you light up with ideas.
But if it’s not up to you, recast your topic to make it more interesting:
“How the air you breathe can make you stronger, healthier and sexier.”
Yeah, that’s better.
Pitfall 2: You don’t have a point.
You’re not just drafting an article. You’re drafting an argument.
In other words, when you write, you should create a powerful case for your point of view.
What’s the point of this article?
“Writing often goes astray. And there are sure-fire ways to avoid that.”
In college, they tell you that you need a thesis statement. That’s a fancy way of saying, “Have a point.” And what are the signs of a strong thesis statement?
- It’s clear.
- It’s definitive.
- It’s stated early in your essay.
- It’s the focus of everything you say.
So read over what you’re written and make sure your thesis statement—your point—is loud and clear. And if it’s somewhat controversial, all the better.
Pitfall 3: You’re not organized.
Writing that isn’t organized leads to readers who are confused. And confused readers will abandon your article in the blink of an eye.
So there are two ways to be organized in your writing:
- Either organize up front.
- Or organized at the end.
I recommend you start with some kind of an outline. It actually helps the writing process. Think of it as a list of things you want to cover—much like this article, which was organized into eight different pitfalls.
Some people, though, prefer to just start pouring their thoughts out onto the page. That’s fine, too. Just take some time when you are done to organize it all into a coherent package.
The best approach is to organize both at the beginning and at the end. That ensures that you have a tight, easy-to-comprehend package.
Pitfall 4: It’s too long.
Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m flirting with this pitfall right now.
It’s easy to get into the flow of things and just keep thinking of things you want to say.
Go ahead and do that. But in the end, read through and frankly ask yourself: Is this too long for my readers to read?
There are several solutions:
- You can split your article into a couple articles. Or make it a series.
- You can cut out the parts that aren’t really strong.
- You can shorten each part up a bit, making each piece of your article more taut.
Realize that making an article shorter almost always makes it better.
It’s hard to cut stuff that you wrote. But do it any way. It will almost always be an improvement.
Pitfall 5: It’s too dense.
You’ve probably had this experience:
You start reading an article on a topic that’s interesting to you. It’s off to a good start.
But then you get buried in a section that seems to delve deeper and deeper into an esoteric aspect of the discussion.
So you abandon ship.
What happened? The article got too dense—it provided too much detail on something that didn’t matter too much.
How do you watch out for this pitfall? The easiest way is to watch for paragraphs that are much longer than usual.
When you find one, slash away. Either take out most of the paragraph, or cut the whole thing.
Pitfall 6: It has an uptight tone.
Some people are afraid of looking dumb when they write.
So they adopt an uptight, academic tone. They start using big words, strung together in really long sentences.
It’s a sickness. And it results in some really smart people writing abysmally. (See? I didn’t want to look dumb right there, so I said “abysmally” instead of “badly”.)
If you do this, you may find it almost impossible to stop. But this technique can help:
Try talking instead of writing.
Most people talk more naturally than they write. So you can either talk into a digital recorder—then transcribe it. Or just try explaining your topic to someone while that person types.
Either way, you will get a much more normal, friendly, conversational tone.
Once you do this a few times, you’ll get more comfortable simply being yourself when you write.
Pitfall 7: Your writing meanders.
This one’s tough. But your writing needs to have a straight line of logic.
In other words, it should start by introducing your point (your thesis) and then proceed systematically toward proving that point beyond a shadow of a doubt.
The opposite of that is writing that meanders. It wanders here and there, like a dog in a wide open field. Exploring this, running after that. But never really getting anywhere.
So know where you want to go. Then go there.
Take one step, then the next step, then the next. Until your reader is forced to say, “Yes, I absolutely agree!”
Pitfall 8: You didn’t edit rigorously.
In truth, all of these pitfalls could have been boiled down to just one:
Editing is critical, because it’s simply too blasted hard to write well on your first pass. So you have to make it great with editing.
As you re-read what you wrote, look for each of the pitfalls we talked about.
And above all, use the best editing technique ever:
Read what you wrote out loud.
When something doesn’t sound right, work on it until it sounds better. In many cases you will need to do one of the following:
- Use shorter, simpler words.
- Split a sentence into two shorter sentences.
- Or just delete the trouble spot.
Is good writing worth all this trouble?
It’s darn near impossible to write without falling into one of these eight pitfalls. And I may have been guilty of writing too long, and meandering, and not editing rigorously enough myself.
But avoiding these pitfalls is definitely worth the trouble.
Because when you avoid them, your writing stands out like a clear and beautiful gem.
Which writing pitfall is the hardest for you to avoid? Leave me a comment below.