I recently worked on a series of CM World blog posts that recapped some of their top presentations from 2014. One presentation was by Ann Handley of Marketing Profs, who published a book last year called “Everybody Writes.” During her presentation, she shared a simple writing technique for developing more focused content. It’s one small component of a larger concept she calls “A Writing GPS.”
So What? Because!
I hate outlining. I know that’s anathema to some writers, but I prefer freewriting about a topic and then going back and putting it in order. Starting with an outline as a writing technique feels like locking myself in a cage. It limits my ability to free associate and grab on-the-spot insights.
The advantage of freewriting (IMHO) is that it infuses the text with energy, cadence, and unique perspective. The disadvantage is that it takes multiple drafts and edits to distill the word pile down into what I want to say. I don’t think anyone creates perfect first drafts, but creative efficiency has its advantages. Those advantages include more sleep, less stress, clean dishes, and folded laundry.
The “So what? Because!” concept adds just enough pre-writing to create a more focused first draft, but it doesn’t put shackles around me the way that outlining does. I start by typing out a topic sentence/thesis statement. Then, I look at it and ask, “So what?”
In other words, why does this matter?
When you write one statement in an essay, your next few sentences should explain why it's important. This is one of the best tips on writing I ever received—tarnished only by the fact that my literature professor called me "Becky" all semester—because it reminds me to excise all material that isn't relevant to the argument. In other words, write your statement, ask “So what?” and then write why it's important. The "why it's important" is the "Because!" part of the exercise.
Here's how the technique works: Write a statement, ask yourself "So What?" and then write "Because (the answer that pops into your head)!" Lather, rinse, repeat...until you get to the point that your “Because!” becomes completely obvious or until you start to sound like Jean-Paul Sartre or Karl Marx.
When you go back through your paragraphs, your main points are there. Let me show you how I recently put this writing technique into practice.
Writing...in the Wild!
While the business world fretted about Mobilegeddon a few weeks ago, Google slipped in a far less upsetting update to its mobile search algorithm. Developers can now index the content in their apps.
In other words, if you have a recipe that’s both on your website and on your mobile app, Google can direct mobile searchers toward the content in your app instead of on your mobile website. If users already have your app, the content opens up within your app. Users who don’t have your app are pointed toward Google Play to download it.
App indexing has its limits: It only works for mobile searches performed on Google’s mobile search app, and it only works for Android users. But, hey, just because it’s not all-encompassing doesn’t mean it’s not a good thing.
In my notebook, I scribbled three main points about why I thought it was good.
I tried to freewrite from my bullet points, but I couldn't tap into what I wanted to say. I decided to put my idea through the “So what? Because!” machine.
I started with my topic statement, and proceeded through the steps:
As you can see, by the end, I’d drifted into reflecting on the purpose of business in society and the nature of what powers the economy. When you head into philosopher territory, shut it down. You have what you need.
Focus Without Constraints
If you’re interested in the full Writing GPS, visit Ann Handley's site to see the infographic. I hope this writing technique helps you become more creatively efficient—and fills your kids' dresser with folded laundry.