Know What You're Trying to Say
When you’re writing, or at least by the start of rewriting, do you know what you’re really trying to say? By which I mean, have you clearly identified the point of that piece of writing? You must have a point.
Writing is about communication, and effective communication appropriately delivers the intended message. This is true across forms — it just looks a little different between fiction, screenwriting, essay writing, and so on.
If you can’t clearly state for yourself what you’re trying to do in about one sentence, then you may not totally know. And if you don’t know what you’re trying to say, well, then how in the world are you going to communicate it to someone else?
Now, let me be clear, when I begin writing something, I don’t always know exactly what I’m trying to say. In fact, I usually don’t.
For much of my life, writing has been a way of finding clarity. It’s a way to get to, “ah, this is what I’m really upset about,” or, “yes, this is what I have to do next.”
Writing, for me, is an exploratory and problem-solving process.
This means that I very frequently begin with a larger idea or feeling, and as I work through that first rough draft, I discover what is at the heart of it.
This is where rewriting comes in because surely, there will be a lot on the page in that first draft that does not serve what I’ve discovered to be my primary message. Anything that doesn’t will need to be cut or adjusted. Now, this is my process, and it certainly doesn’t have to be yours, but at some point, you will need to know what you’re trying to say.
On Medium, a place where I write frequently, one of the main problems I see when an article isn’t working is that it doesn’t deliver a cohesive message.
Sometimes, the first couple of paragraphs suggest the article is going in one direction, but then what follows comes out of left field and feels only tangential.
Other articles end suddenly without reaching any sort of takeaway.
And yet others, spend many paragraphs on a given sub-point, saying essentially the same thing many times, muddying the intent of the section and taking away from its ability to serve the article as a whole.
Again, I won’t say that I’m always immune to these issues in my own writing. I’m certainly not. This is one of the reasons it can be so valuable to have a good editor or trusted writing peer look over your work.
My co-editor of the publication Introspection, Exposition Shain Slepian is frequently able to point out for me when my piece lacks clarity, seems to contradict itself, or is leaving something important unexplored. (These are skills that make Shain such a good script consultant.)
In my opinion, life as a writer is about continued learning, and Medium is a great place to speed up that process and get feedback so that we can continue to get better.
Because explicit feedback on Medium tends toward the positive, often the very important negative feedback will come implicitly in the form of lack of reads, claps, or engagement.
So if you’re getting that implicit negative feedback, regardless of what platform you're on, go back and see if any of the issues I mentioned above are present in your work. Do it with articles you’ve published that haven’t done well, and do it with ones you’re getting ready to publish.
Ask yourself: 1) Why am I writing this article or story? 2) What do I want my audience to walk away with? (“I want them to understand X,” “I want them to take X action,” “I want them to feel X.”) 3) Does every part of the story or article support my intended takeaway? 4) Are there actually multiple things I’m trying to do here? Could I instead write several articles or stories to address these different but related takeaways? 5) What could I add, subtract, or modify in order to provide a more cohesive article and better reading experience? 6) Is the takeaway clear?
(Obviously, issues with what they’re “trying to say” aren’t the only reasons writers don’t do as well on Medium and similar platforms as they might hope. Still, it’s worth examining whether or not it’s a factor for you.)
While this article looks mainly at “knowing what you’re trying to say” in regards to articles, and more specifically, articles on Medium, I intend to do further blog posts that tackle what this may look like in fiction and screenwriting.
If you’d like your story, scene, or some part of your work analyzed and given feedback in one of these upcoming pieces (either anonymously or with your name on it), please feel free to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
So, do you know what you’re trying to say?