Today, I’m continuing the post I started a few days ago about the seven qualities that define strong writing.
So to review, those qualities were: ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, conventions, and presentation.
For this post, I’ll give you what I’ve got on ideas:
The ideas are the heart of the message, the content of the piece, the main theme, together with all the details that enrich and develop that theme. The ideas are strong when the message is clear…. The writer chooses details that are interesting, important, and informative—often the kinds of details the reader would not normally anticipate or predict. Successful writers do not tell readers things they already know [emphasis is mine]….They notice what others overlook, seek out the extraordinary, the unusual, the bits and pieces of life that others might not see.
—Source: random piece of paper @ 2004 from a graduate course that I recently retrieved from the floor of my home-office
I often review writing where the author has not been able to narrow the scope of what he/she wants to talk about. Everything is important. I have nick-named it Kitchen Sink Syndrome. One tell-tale sign of Kitchen Sink Syndrome is the use of a series for the subject and a series for the predicate. I also find series of verbs.
The cats, dogs, and fish made their way to the national park by running, hitching a ride, and swimming along the narrow inlet where golden-headed otters looked for mates that were sleek, beautiful, and well-informed.
What does my writer want me to care about? Help me! Don’t make me choose.
It’s important to figure out the most important thing, or three—but, but please, no more than three. And one important thing with several supporting points is ideal. Remember, you want to lead your reader. Don’t make him do the work. Control his thoughts. Focus his attention. Show him exactly what you want him to see.
So where do you get ideas?
I get ideas from reading, from the Internet, from the news, and from talking to some really smart people. It’s helpful for me to jot down my ideas right when I have them; otherwise, I may forget them forever. Once when I was taking a poetry class, I would get the best ideas right as I was drifting off to sleep. It was very painful to drag myself out of bed and write them down. I definitely felt like I was a slave to my muse. This is the primary reason why I don’t write poetry anymore. When I write poetry these days, it’s because some invisible force has made me sit down and write.
As a general practice, the more you know and the more you learn about the world and your topic, the more ideas will naturally come to you. Having ideas is not writing. Everyone can have ideas, and everyone can have good ideas. The more you know, the more likely it is that your ideas will be splendid. So keep learning; keep researching. I find that one idea will lead to another and another.
- Is your main point clear and concise? (What exactly are we talking about?)
- Do your details support the point you’re trying to make? Have you done a good job integrating these details into your piece?
- Are your details engaging? Are you bringing up points no one has thought about before? Have you added anything that might surprise your reader?
So good luck! And keep that notepad handy.