Excellent writing: Clear objectives and one big idea

Excellent writing begins before the draft

Great writing is rooted in clear thinking. By setting clear objectives before the draft, writing will be easier, more effective and faster. A compelling article, engaging book or riveting speech brings one main point clearly into focus and, with supporting content, evokes a response. Excellent writing begins with clarity. Before the first draft take time up-front to set clear objectives. 

“Whom am I trying to connect with?”

“What do I want them to do?”

These two questions are foundational for getting clear. Effective communication is like a rapier piercing the heart and bringing change. It takes work to focus, but remember you will always have another piece, another book, another opportunity. The following questions are here to help you clarify your thoughts and be ready to write with focus and speed.

Whom am I trying to connect with?

Your choice of words, style, format and medium will all be directed by your target audience. Consider their demographic and literacy level, and their existing knowledge of and attitude toward your subject. How receptive are they to your message? Do you need to reach out to them in allegory to bait the hook? How much evidence do you need to back up your claims?

What medium do they turn to for input? Where do they hang out? How do you reach them? Is there a gatekeeper, such as a parent, you need to entice?

What do I want them to do?

Laugh? Cry? Understand? Fix something? Be refreshed? Take an action? Change an attitude? Be inspired?

I often see too many ideas presented in a piece, confusing and diluting the message. Each book should have one big idea. Each chapter supports and builds that foundational idea. Similarly, the big idea ties a blog or compilation together.

What is the one big idea? What supporting ideas and facts are required to be just right? It is easy to forget what we know and miss background detail that gives context. Too much detail will bore. Knowing your audience, and getting feedback, will help strike a balance.

Why is this important?

What makes your book or article unique? What value are you adding that they cannot get anywhere else? Is there a different slant? Is there new information? How will it affect change? What is the result they are desiring? Are additional steps necessary to achieve that result that they may be resisting? How do you add the additional information they need?

Once you are clear on the audience and core message, consider the style and content. As a viability check is part of the process you may want to run several iterations.

How is the idea dressed?

What is the tone – the feel of the work? Is it casual or formal? How does that relate to the context they are consuming it in? Are they skimming or in serious study? Are they seeking what you are offering, or are you interrupting? How can it be more welcoming? What will add impact and bring the desired result?

What content will be included?

What is the minimum content needed to carry the message? What additional supporting material do most readers need? Are there steps, or does the whole package need to be delivered at once? How many words? Are illustrations or photos part of the package? What is the budget?

How will it be organized?

Now that you have a clear picture of the audience and message, it is time to outline. This doesn't have to be a linear exercise. You want to allow lateral thinking while creating the structure.

  • Create settings, dossiers and plots for works of fiction.

  • For biographies, create a physical or computer folder for each period to gather and organize material. As you sort out events, photos, stories, etc., place them into each of the folders.

  • For how-to articles or books, create an outline or flowchart. I like mind-maps.

  • For poetry and photo books, consider organizing around themes rather than chronologically.

What is needed to be successful?

This question is more relevant for a book or publication that is for sale. If your article is part of a larger collection the editor and publisher will be looking at your work in relation to these questions and how the piece adds to the readers experience.

Why should the reader/purchaser consider your work? Research existing work – your competition, why is yours better? Are there enough potential purchasers? Is the group small enough to economically (in both time and money) reach them with the message your work is available? What avenues are available to reach them? Do you have an existing relationship with part of your market?

For books; are similar books selling? At what price? How many titles are available?

How will you sell your book? In stores? Online? Gift shops? Sponsorship? Direct sales? As part of a course? Why should a bookstore or distributor carry it?

Can you produce your envisioned product at a price where the market will respond? Should it be slimmer or thicker? Can you add more value at low cost? How will you communicate its value?

What factors can you add to provide the foundation for viral success?

Have you identified influencers? How can you reach them? When will you develop a schedule and material for promotion? Is there news value? What would make it more attractive to retailers?

What will you include that encourages readers to pass it on? Is your idea memorable enough that people will take action?

Are market trends in favour of your scheduled release? Is the market growing?

Can you provide your content in more ways to increase revenue and reach? A course, paperback book, audio book, e-book, podcast, blog excerpts ...

Putting it together

Now that you have a mind-map, set of index cards, or an outline you are ready. To guard your tempo create a time-line and budget for your project. Projects of value experience resistance.

“The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we feel toward pursuing it.” War of Art Steven Pressfield

Build in pre-decisions to help keep on course and deal with setbacks. A pre-decision is an if-then statement you create with a cool head. When ___ I will ___. If ___ I ___.

Excellent writing: clear objectives

You have a heading and purpose – there will be adjustments along the way. But, these preliminary decisions will help you write with clarity and purpose knowing the end result you desire. Flesh out the outline and you are ready to begin that draft.