What’s your big idea?

Reading time: Just over 2 minutes 

Blog posts can start with nothing more than an interesting story but, eventually, they need to evolve into a big idea. Here’s why you need to accomplish that…. 

When I met with bloggers Mitchell and Jordan (not their real names), they looked nervous.  They were sitting in a meeting room, at the other side of the continent, connected to me by Skype. Also, their boss was in the room with them.

But it’s not that they were in trouble. Far from it. Their boss simply wanted me to help improve their blogging skills. To accomplish this, the team had sent me four posts c/o Goggle Docs. My job? To give them some tips for future writing.

We introduced ourselves to each other and — knowing they’d be nervous — I tried hard to be as friendly as possible, even cracking a few (quite lame) jokes. Then I started reading the first story. In fairly short order, I discerned a problem. 

The issue wasn’t grammar. Or sentence construction. Or choice of words. The problem was more global than that. The piece suffered from what I sometimes call “the lack of a big idea.”

If you’re a corporate or not-for-profit writer who needs to blog, you might want to examine your own writing and see how it stacks up in relation to this terribly important issue.

Journalists often call a big idea an angle. Academics, describe it as a thesis statement or argument. Salespeople might call it an elevator pitch. Businesspeople might call it a point. In short, it’s a succinct  — usually no more than a single sentence — summary of the main idea that you want your readers to walk away with. If you can’t put down your own text and describe your point in one sentence, you shouldn’t be writing. Or at least you shouldn’t be writing until you can figure it out. Really! (Try mindmapping if you’re having a problem with this.)

I asked Mitchell to tell me his point, verbally. At first he hesitated but then he articulated it, quite thoughtfully. And it was even there, in his post. It was just in the wrong place (hidden at the end). And he hadn’t devoted nearly enough space to it.

In a 500-word blog article, your big idea needs to be introduced somewhere in the first third of the post. You can’t count on readers waiting to read it until the end. (What if they’ve given up, before they get there?) Furthermore, at least 30 to 40% of the post needs to dwell on the big idea. It can’t be relegated to the (approximately) 10% that Mitchell had given it.

Note that when I say this, I don’t mean to suggest that Mitchell was a bad writer. He and his colleague were both decent writers who had some clear talent. They had done a good job of incorporating their lived experiences into their pieces. Their writing was engaging and in a couple of spots, funny enough to make me laugh out loud. They even had some hints of some good anecdotes and examples.

But their failure to identify their big ideas quickly enough not only made their posts seem unfocused, it also contributed to problems with the pacing. Think about it: If you don’t know your goal (i.e.: your big idea) how will you know when you achieve it? You won’t. So you’ll be inclined to waste words on description that’s irrelevant or unimportant. That’s going to make the reader feel frustrated, puzzled and perhaps bored.

Never assume that people have so much time on their hands that they have nothing better to do than read your writing. Instead, always remember the vast number of other things your readers could be doing: Socializing. Watching TV. Checking email. Spending time on Facebook. Working out. Reading something else.

They weren’t put on this earth for the pleasure of reading your work. In fact, they’re doing you a favour by reading it. So, respect them and their time by being very clear about the big idea you’re trying to convey.

The big idea of this post? Every piece of writing needs a big idea.

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My video podcast last week aimed to help a writer who was struggling with a profound lack of confidence. See it here and consider subscribing. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.

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Does all your writing have a big idea? How do you find it? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post  (or any others) by Feb. 28/17, will be put in a draw for a copy of Around the Writer’s Block, by Rosanne Bane. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.