Short and Sweet Advice For Writers – Have a Point (plus WIIFM)

hand drawn mind mapIf you want your writing to be effective, you need to have a point: a purpose, something specific you’re trying to say, a “Why” behind the writing. This rule applies no matter what you’re crafting – novel, short story, poem, personal essay, op-ed, sales page, website, flash fiction, screenplay. Having a point is what stokes your creative fire, and it’s what gives you the ability to write something that will make people care.

I have written in the past about the magic of clarity:

Clarity brings focus and purpose to your writing. It illuminates the ultimate reason you’re driven to write a thing and it helps you make critical decisions about what to include and what to leave out. Clarity is like a pair of enchanted glasses that filters out everything extraneous so you can hone in on exactly the things you need to tell your story. When you have clarity about your writing, you know what you want to say and you know how you want to say it. Writer’s Block becomes a thing of the past.

Of course, this isn’t always easy.

When I’m writing a short-form piece, I usually start with a handwritten mind map. This helps me to collect and organize my thoughts. I can start to see the pieces, patterns, and possible narrative threads. During this process, I let my mind wander. There are no “wrong” ideas. It all goes into the map. BUT, at the bottom, I write a one-line note that’s labeled So what?

That one line acts as a kind of touchstone. It helps me remember why I started writing a particular piece in the first place, and it helps me stay on course. If I’m feeling like I need an extra boot in the arse, I’ll think of it as my “So what – who cares?” line. Either way, as I’m writing, I refer back to that one line to make sure that what I’m writing ties back to that point.

Closely related to the So what? of a piece is understanding the WIIFM. WIIFM stands for “What’s in it for me?” It’s a phrase we often use in the marketing world to make sure that our content is delivering value to the reader. If the So what? is the reason your write a piece, the WIIFM is the reason your readers read it.

So, no matter what you’re writing today. Ask yourself those two questions: So what? and What’s in it for [my readers]?

Do you have your own tricks for staying on-topic and on-theme in your writing? If so, let’s hear ’em! 
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Join me each Saturday for the Weekend Edition (a fun post and great community of commenters on the writing life, random musings, writing tips, and good reads), or introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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53 thoughts on “Short and Sweet Advice For Writers – Have a Point (plus WIIFM)

  1. When I am trying to craft something for customers, I focus on WAM (What About Me) what is in the work for the customer specifically? Free product, education, or a price discounts are things they tend to want for themselves. If you can give it to them, you have found the needed hook!
    Jeanette Hall

  2. How true! Professors will always demand who answer the “So what–who cares?” in an essay, but I feel as if not enough authors truly ask themselves why this story must be told. Thanks for the post!

    • Exactly. We know to apply this rule to persuasive writing and essays, but sometimes we forget for other forms of writing. 🙂

      Thanks for coming by!

  3. This is a fantastic post! Thank you for reminding me to stay on track and to ask myself “So what-who cares” as I write…In order to stay on topic, when writing a short story or narrative, I tend to work backwards…I think of the ending or the moral of the story and then build the story backwards from the end point. It’s helpful to keep me on topic and not stray too far from the meaning or reason behind what I’m writing.
    Thanks always for your amazing advice…I read your posts with such delight!
    *Lia

    • Hello, Lia! 🙂

      That’s a great approach – understanding up front what your ending or purpose is so that you can reverse engineer the story. Nice!

      Thanks for being here.

    • Exactly. It’s something we forget sometimes for other kinds of writing, but no matter what we’re writing, we need to have a point. 😉

      Glad you liked the post. TKS!

  4. I really needed to hear this. For a long time i wrote in a sort of ‘gonzo style journalism’. Having clarity and purpose are so important for writing and any aspect of life, although, it definitely demands discipline. Discipline is a virtue I am still aspire to cultivate but my writing definitely improves when i practice it. I have also noticed that when i do not continue to practice clarity and purpose i tend to backslide back into my old habits and lose that clarity i was striving for.
    Thanks again I am going to reblog this!

    • “Gonzo style journalism” <—– Love this. 🙂

      Clarity does require discipline. It involves asking the right (hard) questions over and over, and taking the time to dig in and answer them as best you can. The upside is that all your hard work on the think-think-think (as Pooh would say) end, results in more effective and moving work.

      Thanks for the comment and the reblog!

  5. Nice and very helpful message. This is similar to what my mentor mentioned about fishing. When you fish think like a fish. I also appreciate your post about mind mapping in coming up with an article.

    • Ahhh … the think like a fish thing is very Zen. Like it! 🙂

      And, so glad you enjoyed the post on ming mapping. It’s one of my secret weapons.

      Thanks for being here & taking the time to comment!

  6. This puts into words part of my process! I wasn’t consciously thinking “so what?” But I do find myself deleting paragraphs that don’t have a purpose. For my reviews at least, it’s not enough to say I like this aspect, I have to be able to say why I like it. It helps the reader figure out if they want to buy the book. Thanks for writing this, I’ll def start scribbling ‘so what’ in the margins of my brainstorming notes. 🙂

    • Exactly. I have a tough time writing book reviews for just that reason. I need to really dig into not only whether or not I enjoyed a particular book, but WHY. It’s a level of analytical thinking that taxes my brain a bit, but it’s also a great exercise for sharpening communication skills.

      Happy to know you’ll be scribbling “so what?” in the margins. 🙂

      TKS!

    • Oh! Mind mapping is my can’t-write-without-it tool, to be sure. I discovered it almost ten years ago now, and I use it for absolutely everything, not just writing. Though words are my favorite tool of choice when it comes to self expression, I am also a very visual person, so the visual nature of a mind map is super helpful.

      Hope you have fun with it!

  7. The ol’ saying, “Less is More” really applies to writing. Sometimes we want to bring as much detail or information we can to our stories/work that we overwhelm our readers and they stop reading long before we have made our point, got our plot moving or even piqued their interest. Yann Martel once told me to say it in less. And that’s a hard thing for a writer who has a lot to say, but a valuable skill to excercise!

    • Ok, first of all, did Martel say that to you personally? Because, if he did, I might swoon a little. 😉

      Secondly – yes – Less IS more. Almost always. I am sometimes horrified to look back at my posts here because I do tend to ramble a bit, but that’s the nature of the on-the-fly process I’ve developed for these weekend editions. I hope to one day go back and edit all of this into a much more succinct version. In my “free” time. Ha!

      Thanks much!

      • Yes- Yann really did tell me this and I heat his voice, in my ear, as I write my present novel. It is so easy to add too much detail when less is more effective. Keep writing! Keep learning! And thanks for stopping by.

  8. I love the so what! It’s such great advice I’m going to use it now as I continue my editing process THANKS so much! This will definitely help push through my editing creative blocks where I know something’s missing. I can’t tell you how great this advice is…right time! And as always the WIIFM … Laughter…chuckle…I’ve been there I feel you on this one 🙂 but the so what! Duuuuuude. Thank you for posting!!!

    • Perfect timing – I love when that happens. Yay! 🙂

      And glad to make you chuckle. WIIFM is a pretty “real-world” rule, especially for marketing copy since people only read that to get something out of it, not for pleasure. BUT … I do think it applies to fiction writing as well, just in a less obvious way.

      Thanks so much for coming by, and for your enthusiasm. Love that!

    • So wonderful that you’re starting out on your journey. I’m afraid that I’m up to my eyeballs in work and life at the moment, so I don’t want to promise that I’ll be able to look at your writing, but I do hope you enjoy the adventure and the challenge. It’s a wonderful way to figure life out. 🙂

  9. I usually write an outline of my story. I try and write it what I want Roche characters to go through/complete in the chapter. This allows me to look back, see what I’ve missed and here I need to go as I’m writing the chapter out. While I’m writing I’m always thinking, is this something my writers would like, is this scene playing out in there eyes or mine? This alway helps to keep me on task and focused on them

    • Excellent exercise to read your writing thinking about what your readers would like. Important to balance that with your own vision for the story, but it’s never a bad idea to also look at things from the perspective of the reader.

      Nice add. Thanks!

  10. Pingback: Weekend Edition – What Readers Really Want Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips | Live to Write – Write to Live

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