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.
Can you define the takeaway?
Is it curry, or Chinese?
What will honourable customer say?
Did it satisfy and please?
Was the seasoning done correctly,
rightly flavored, calm but bold?
And warmer light: used perfectly
that it didn’t travel dry nor cold?
Was the packaging appealing,
something to anticipate,
not too hidden nor revealing
too much of what was on the plate?
If you can make these queries real,
you’ll have made a memorable meal.
Thank you Bob. This helps. 😍
Great advice! Thank you.
Perfect. Love this.
Fantastic counsel, as always.
Thank you, Bob!
If I may be suffered a second comment, I have never found an author’s postface of intended takeaways to be even distantly congruent with my own; indeed, they were more hindrance than help.
I thought about this for a bit. I think to define the “take-away” applies to many areas of life.
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D.
What a great idea, Bob. A colleague of mine and I just got an article published on the British royal family’s use of Instagram and Goffman’s Presentation of Self. We studied two years worth of postings and, out of 615 photos, only 2 of them were of Harry and Meghan. It was easy to see who was popular with the Queen (may she rest in peace), and who wasn’t. Our take-away was that folks tell more about themselves with the pictures they post on social media than they sometimes realize, with a little bit of “publish or perish” thrown in for good measure.
For all of you at Steve Laube Agency: Why is the word “soon” being used repetitively by good writers?
E,i, “Soon they reached their destination.” “Soon she drove up to her house.” Etc. It’s so easy to edit around it–just remove it. Can you put something in a blog about this?
Also, the word “teenager” is being used in 17th and 18th century historical fiction. The word didn’t come into being until after 1920. Grrrr. And there are other wrong century or decade words being used.
Sorry if I’m cranky, but it’s so easy to look things up these days, I just can’t excuse such errors.