Have you ever read a piece – fact, fiction or opinion – where the writer sets off heading north, switches to the west for a bit, then suddenly south, and back north before deciding that east is the way to go?
If it was possible to smack the writer upside the head I would. Instead I just switch to another piece whose the writer knows where they’re going. Life’s too short. If they can’t make their mind up they shouldn’t expect me to do it for them.
Writing is like building a house. You have a plan. You don’t suddenly decide to throw in an extra staircase, or a door from the outside straight into the bathroom or a lovely archway carved out of a bearing wall. It doesn’t work that way.
As a writer the results of bad planning are not quite as obvious. You don’t end up with a heap of debris instead of a house, you just end up with a story or article that is unsold. Again.
How do I find a publisher? the complaint goes. Submitting worthwhile material is a good start. So many people can write quite well but paragraph one doesn’t link to paragraph two and so on. The writer went off on a tangent.
If he or she ever gets back to the main thread of the piece you can bet they’ll spot a red herring soon and chase after that.
“But it’s all valuable material!” they cry. Maybe so, but it’s like putting an elephant, an anaconda and an albatross in the same cage at the zoo. They’re all valuable creatures but the end result will not be a happy one.
If ideas come at you in handfuls or dozens take the time to sort through them. Take time to list them, to decide what fits with what. Which are main, strong ideas, and which are supporting ideas (and what do they best support).
Be selective. Choose the best ideas and the best sequence to make a strong, important overall point. The reader will not take away and remember several points, however valid they are and however important it was, you thought, to include them. If the reader takes away and remembers one point you will have succeeded.
Throwing in extra points weakens the one strong point unless they are part of the supporting structure. If you set off to advocate eating organic foods, mention a few good reasons why. Throw in some good illustrations, vivid word pictures, metaphors, similes to brighten the readers path.
Resist mentioning the delicious tomatoes you grow in your own garden The cucumbers are juicy too. And you make pickles from them that taste so good. But really, your mother made the best pickles ever, God rest her soul.