A few months ago, one of my friends (don’t worry, Sarah, I won’t mention your name) asked this question on social media:
Writer friends: Do you ever write something, think it’s nearly finished, and fail to be able to define the “take-away?”
So, “writer friends,” I’m about to do you a favor. I will suggest an approach that will save a lot of time, stress, regret, and other bad things. Ready?
Define the takeaway first.
Simple, I know. But you’d be surprised how many quality writers (like Sarah) neglect this plain wisdom. Oh, sure, if you’re writing a little ditty (about Jack and Diane, perhaps) for your own amusement, a letter to Granny, or random ruminations in your journal, you don’t need to define the takeaway.
But for anything intended for publication—an article, devotion, or book—starting the process without having defined the takeaway—that is, the value the reader will “take away” from your piece—is an almost guaranteed path to perdition (or, at least, confusion). It’s like starting a trip with no clear destination; it’s so much easier to get lost that way.
So, the next time you get inspired to write something for other people to read, take a few minutes to ask (and answer), “What’s the takeaway?” That is, precisely how will the reader benefit from your piece? Write it down. Brood over it. Revise it. And then set about outlining and writing. Otherwise, you’re likely to make things harder on yourself—and on your reader, if it ever comes to that.