Listen on Spotify.
The other day I read something about how writing was a good job to have when you’re working from home. I was like Wiley Coyote with a lightbulb over his head. I thought, yay! I can make a couple of posts about writing and becoming a more productive writer. Let’s get into it.
Writing that’s crisp and precise is often powerful writing. It gets readers interested. But sometimes there’s a place for adding a bit more detail that can provide deeper understanding to the reader or make something easier to visualise. That being said, if you add too much, you can end up boggling readers’ minds and the extra info won’t be remembered.
So, how do you know which route to take? Finding the right balance is as vital as nailing the tone.
Usually, you can get a good idea of how much detail you should add by considering what sort of piece you need to write, whether it be an email, a letter or a book. The real trick is figuring out how to add the detail without the meaning getting lost. If you can crack this — something I’m always trying to do myself — you might just become a more productive writer along the way.
Let’s look at a few types of writing you might need to do, through talking about some of the most common types. Later, I’ll highlight the pros and cons of working with word constraints and how they can help us. First, we’ll explore what some of the different limits of each writing format are and how you may make each work for your individual needs. Perhaps, you’ll be able to start becoming a more productive writer.
Considering format can help you write more efficiently
Some of the most common writing formats in today’s world are emails, speeches, letters, video scripts and books. Within each of these formats there’re usually some conventions which give you some guidance as to the degree of detail needed.
Let’s take a closer look at each of them.
Emails are such a convenient way of communicating and so easy to use that our inboxes are flooded each day. That very fact gives us chance to discover which emails stand out to us. How do you feel when you receive a short email verses a long one? If it’s a long one, do you read the whole thing or pick out the salient points? Which emails are you most likely to remember, and which were worded in a way you’ll soon forget?
Now think about the emails you send.
How long is a typical email you write? How is it structured?
Answering these questions will help you decide how to structure your email. Usually, short emails serve well to get information across in a quick, clear way. There will still be times when a longer email will be called for, such as if you need to describe an event that took place.
Nevertheless, a good rule of thumb with emails is that your reader shouldn’t need to scroll down. If you find you need to, you might want to think about tightening up the language a bit. Adding links to the text where people can find more information is also a good trick.
In a world choc-full of marketing videos, training videos, and creatives making magic happen on YouTube, there’s ever-increasing demand for fantastic video scripts.
Making videos is often a collaborative task, so it’s imperative that you come up with a brief before you write a script. That way, if you’re three quarters of the way through the process and your boss comes and asks for a complete do-over, you can refer back to what you all agreed upon in the brief and move on. In the brief, you should outline a few things.
- The goals of the video
- Who your audience is
- Your specific topic
- The key takeaways
- Your call-to-action
Once you’ve got all that roughed out, you can start writing the script itself. As with emails, the tone and length of a script will vary according to your audience and the type of video you’re making. But a good script makes it easy for people to get messages across on camera while acting and sounding natural. So don’t forget to say hi!
It’s a good idea to write in a conversational tone, using short sentences wherever you can. Remember to tailor your writing to your audience and platform. This will help you nail the tone and inject the right amount of humour into it. With a script, you can use inflection to help you do this.
As you write, don’t forget to add stage actions and other instructions where needed so that multiple shots flow, things can be shown and referred to at the right times, and it’s clear who you need in a shot at any given time. Try to write it so that you could pass it to someone who’s not involved, and they’d still be able to understand it.
To keep yourself and your team on track, make sure you script every word. Doing that will keep things going later on and is way more efficient than not doing so.
Now to length. For marketing, short videos are the way to go. No need to take my word for it, 69% of people said they would rather learn about new products and services by watching a short video. So, ideally, don’t go over 2 pages. If you can keep it to 1 page, so much the better. Then just tighten up your writing with a few edits and you’ll be well on your way to having a script that’s ready for a table read, to see what works in practice and what doesn’t. Reading the script aloud is a great way to really make your script sing.
Letters, Speeches and Essays
Letters are the 21st-century comeback kid. For ages, letters were the only way people could communicate with each other over any distance. Now they’re sent to commend or congratulate, to thank or express concern, among much else. If letters are formal, they’re often descriptive and brief.
Speeches are presented to an audience. The length is dictated by the speed of the person speaking and the time allotted for them to speak. Persuasive writing or a more narrative style might be needed depending on whether the aim is to tell a story or get the audience to do something. Speeches tend to have more impact on an audience if you infuse a bit of humour or make it anecdotal so that audiences have something to directly relate to. It’s a good idea to make sure that the humour you use is appropriate for the subject being talked about.
Essays are usually analytical, or an interpretation of a given subject. They are pieces of writing that require you to provide an answer to a question or sound reasoning for an argument. They are typically shorter, more concentrated pieces as a result.
As a general rule, none of these three types of writing would call for more than a few pages each.
This is the format that gives you the most freedom to decide what to include and what you can cut out. You’ve got room to play and be really creative with different techniques. What will work for you will depend on your background, the topic, whether its fiction or non-fiction, the genre, and much else.
The key consideration here then is whether the chapter or passage you’ve written is successful at creating the impression or image you want to give to readers. Do you give detail to some areas of the story and not others? Did you intend to be ambiguous? Remember that when someone is absorbed in a good book, you’re taking them on a journey and the goal is to hold their attention. After all, that’s what makes a book ‘unputdownable’.
Soon, we’ll touch upon the role of feedback and refinement. For now, let’s shine the spotlight on word limits.
Word constraints are in vogue. They’re used in everything from applications, pop culture, and competitions. Word or character limits can tell you a lot about how exact you need to be. Let’s look at their benefits and drawbacks.
- They allow you to think of the most concise way to get your point across
- They give you boundaries and a framework to help shape your piece
- They help you be selective about what you want to include and how you use the words or characters at your disposal
- Answering a question might require a fuller explanation than the limit allows for
- You might feel that a topic hasn’t been explored enough, because word constraints make it difficult for you to offer a full picture of a broader or more complex subject
Remember, while word constraints can pose a real challenge, figuring out how to rewrite a phrase in fewer words is a true art. What’s more, learning how to do so consistently can help you become a more productive — perhaps even a better — writer over time.
How to stay on message if it’s personal
Whenever something strikes a personal note with us, it’s common to wish to encompass every aspect of it. This can often mean you overwrite. One of the best ways to overcome this challenge is just to write everything out, then leave it for a while before coming back to it. That way you’ll gain perspective which can help you decide what’s important and what’s not.
Feedback and refinement
It’s worth taking the time to ask someone else to read what you’ve written and make comments. Then you can ask questions and go back and do any edits and revisions you need to. After all is said and done, a writer’s goal is to create something readers will actually read. If you haven’t managed to write something that people will read, understand and relate to, you can’t really be said to have been productive. Feedback is also a great way to stay motivated and, as I’ve discussed before, being highly motivated increases your productivity.
Now you’re aware of the different levels of detail and precision different writing formats and styles allow for, you’re well on your way to becoming a more productive writer. You can start by picking your favourite format from the list and writing something for fun. Soon enough, you’ll be spending less time deciding whether to be concise or wordy and more time writing.