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One Key to Successful Writing

As you write, ask yourself this question

Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, there are a number of questions you need to ask yourself. For example, “How does this scene advance the plot?” or “What details do my readers care about most?” For me, there is one singular question you should ask yourself as you write.

This critical piece of information came from my university journalism professor who also gave me the greatest writing advice I’ve ever received. You can read about that in the link here.

My writing improved dramatically the day I truly understood the following lesson. It’s so simple, you’ll likely want to dismiss it; I did at first.

Ask yourself, “So what?”

I remember sitting there, holding my second, third and fourth drafts. Each of them bleeding with angry red ink. My professor read my lede paragraph and asked me that question. “So what?”

“Well,” I said. “The University’s Title IX Coordinator is not doing their job.”

“So what?” He would ask.

“Are you kidding?!” I would say. “Don’t you think the Title IX coordinator should be accountable for their actions?”

“I do. You do. But, you didn’t illustrate that in this draft,” he would say. “You can’t expect your readers to understand the significance. If you don’t show them why they should care, then they’ll think it’s interesting at best and leave off thinking ‘so, what?’”

It is so simple and yet how often do we apply significance to something that doesn’t go the distance?

It is especially easy to forget this critical wisdom when we have strong personal feelings toward a particular topic in nonfiction. In fiction, this is a challenge when your best writing wound up in a scene that fails to advance the plot or effectively develop character.

I find it an effective thought exercise in the most practical terms. Every time I have an idea for an article or a particular story beat I ask myself, so what? You would be amazed at how evenly you’ll be able to cut down on potential time wasters.

This also helps me during the editing process. Even the smallest details can demand and should be questioned. And, if you find it truly insignificant, you can edit it out.

August Birch published an excellent piece on the one question he asks himself. You can read that article here.

Ask yourself the question. So what? Write it on a sticky note and post it on your screen or beside your keyboard on your desk.

In the end, we write for our readers. The key to success lies somewhere between giving readers what they want and writing with authenticity. By asking yourself, so what?, you will improve your chances of reaching at least the first of those two ideals.