Focus: The Secret Behind Strong Writing

 

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In an age of constant distraction, you can capture and keep your reader’s attention by organizing your text around one central idea.Think of it as your focus statement. Next time, you write, ask yourself these questions:

1. What is this piece really about? Decide the one piece of information you want your readers to remember when they finish your piece. Try stating it as an opinion so that you can tell stories, use statistics and present facts to illustrate your point.

2. What’s the most interesting part? If it’s interesting to you, it will interest your reader. After you decide, ask yourself what makes that part so interesting to you. If you are writing a topic or an experience you can relate to, allow your perspective to influence your text. None of us are truly objective. Maybe God picked you to write the piece because your experiences allow you to better understand the events and principles you are writing about.

3. What’s fresh about this topic? While there is nothing new under the sun, you can add fresh perspective to stories and topics that have already been covered. Most faith-based stories tell the same series of events over and over again. An unbeliever refuses to believe, has an experience and crosses the bridge to belief. What’s new and different about that? Personality. Family background. The events leading up to crossing the bridge to belief.

4. Can you be more specific? As you answer these questions, pick one main idea to center your piece around. State it as a sentence. Be as specific as possible.

Your focus statement is like the string that holds a strand of pearls together. Each pearl fits on the string because it is the same size, shape and color as the other pearls. In the same way, when you write, pick one main point and then choose details that reinforce that idea.

Warning: This is harder than you think it is.  Choosing one main idea means saying no to a dozen other ideas. It also means saying no to good information so that you can pick the best information. Great writing begins by making hard choices. You can’t tell the whole story. So, which part will you tell?

In the movie City Slickers, Curly, the cowboy, tells Mitch, the 9-5er, the secret to life is one thing. When Mitch asks what that one thing is, Curly tells him he has to figure it out for himself. In the same way, only you can figure out for yourself what your main point ought to be for each piece you write.

At a time when your readers are constantly distracted, you can make your work easier to read by organizing your ideas around one central thought. Pick one point, prove that point to your readers, and you will give them the gift of being able to remember what you have written.

 

Writing for Digital Platforms

platform-archesAre You Asking the Right Questions?

What’s a digital platform? It’s anyplace online where you might publish your content. Because each platform is different, the guidelines to write for each platform are different. However, there are three questions you can ask, regardless of the platform?

1. What is the most interesting part of this content?

Start with the startling statement, the quick story, or a question that will grab your reader’s attention. Use concrete nouns and verbs. Summarize your main point.

Internet readers make split-second decisions about whether or not they will stay on your page to read the piece you wrote. Make your headline and your first sentence count.

2. What content will your readers find on your website that they won’t find anywhere else on the web? 

No need to repeat content that can be found other places. If you are writing for Cru platforms, include stories about people whose lives are changing because of the work your team is doing. Add content that demonstrates your particular ministry’s most important values.

3. What are you giving them that adds value to their lives?

Plan times of the year where your audience can join you for an event you are hosting in their community. Invite them to take mission trips with your disciples.

Add some Cru basics like articles about how to experience God’s love and forgiveness and how to be filled with the Holy Spirit. You can find content at Cru.org under the training tab. Update the content by rewriting it in your own words and adding your own examples.

So, how are you doing? 

Check the last piece of content you posted. What’s the most interesting part? Did you lead with it? How does that content uniquely express your ministry’s faith and values?

“But I’m Not a Writer…,” she said.

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Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

 

I hear this refrain frequently. And my reply is the same every time.

If you understand and practice the process, you can become a better writer.

Most of us think we bring a big idea with us, sit down at a computer, and bang out something brilliant in 30 minutes or less. When that doesn’t happen, we immediately conclude we can’t write, at least not very well.

Think about applying that method to building a house, or baking a cake, or playing a sport. None of  us would attempt to do those things without first planning and practicing.

Writing is a five-step process. If you work the steps, your writing will improve. I can guarantee it because I’ve watched it happen for other people.

The Writing Process:

1. Gather: Collect all of the information you will need to write your piece from start to finish.

2. Sort: Look through all of your information and ask yourself, “What is this really about?” Write down (or type) your answer in a sentence or two. Can you be more specific. This is the hardest part of the writing process. Get this right, and the rest won’t seem so difficult. Out of all the information you gathered, choose the pieces that best illustrate what you are writing about.

3. Organize: Order the pieces you have chosen into a format that makes sense to your reader. You will always understand your own writing because you wrote it. The true test of clarity comes when your writing makes sense to your audience. By ordering your thoughts in a logical progression, you  aid your readers as they seek to understand our message.

4. Write: Now that you’ve done the hard work of gathering, sorting and organizing, it’s time to write. Start at the beginning, end at the end. Read it out loud when you’re done. Ask someone else to read it.

5. Rewrite: Learn how skillfully using just five parts of speech can energize your writing. Explore six different ways to start a sentence that doesn’t begin with your subject. Consider integrating a bevy of tips and tricks into your writing repertoire.

But what about creativity? Isn’t all that structure stuff too confining? Can’t I just express myself? Let’s explore those thoughts together in the coming days and see what we can learn from each other.