Writers have a habit of getting in their own way. Faced with a writing assignment — a white paper, a press release, a blog post, ad copy — we tie ourselves in knots wondering how to begin. Too often, we tangle the opening paragraphs in clauses and context and never really get to the point until later in the piece. Maybe our readers will trail along after us that far, but probably not.
I was taught a good way to avoid this when I was a reporter for a daily newspaper. Though it originated in journalism, I’ve found it works for marketing as well. Whenever reporters would get together at lunch or Happy Hour, we’d talk about our latest stories. It was understood that no one wanted to hear a lengthy recap so the response inevitably was a quick summation delivered between swallows of beer or bites of a sandwich.
“The mayor and City Council are fighting over block grant funding.”
“Warehouse fire on the East Side. Nobody hurt, but hazardous waste was hidden inside so they had to call the EPA.”
“Acme Corp. is expanding its anvil factory. Adding a new production line and 200 jobs.”
Because we didn’t have the time or feel the need to formulate elaborate explanations, we summarized quickly and accurately, delivering the news and skipping all the extras. That summary is never the entire story, but it is the kernel, the most important part of the message.
Next time you find yourself paralyzed at how to begin a writing assignment, imagine you’ve been asked about it by someone who doesn’t care to hear too long or too detailed of an explanation. What you come up with might not be the lead of the piece, but it will be the essence of what you’re trying to say and that’s always a good thing to remember when you’re sitting at the keyboard.