Hey, FOCUS! What to do when your copy has too many ideas
I have this friend who really, really wanted me to read a paper he had written in college when we first met.
I’m sure this was after we’d talked about writing, how I was an English major, how I’d written a thesis. And after we’d exchanged emails and texts in which I’d probably noticed, like the snob I am, that he had good grammar and knew how to write.
He was really proud of this paper. But, to this day, confused about why he’d gotten a D on it. (Meanwhile, I’d never gotten a D on any paper, even in some of the weirder classes I took, like The History of Naziism and Fascism or political science or The 60s…)
So I read the paper.
Not gonna lie. It was a tough read.
He had crammed a ton of ideas into that three-page paper. Ideas about other books, politics, society…and they didn’t relate to each other. Or to the paper’s argument.
Can you relate?
You write a blog post or a page on your website or an ebook, and you put a lot of work into it.
The problem is you’re supposed to be talking about, say, how to pay yourself a salary even when you’re just getting your business started, but suddenly you veer off in 83 million different directions. You mention bank accounts. Grocery shopping. Coupons. That one time you worked 30 hours of overtime in a week and subsisted on leftover pizza and room-temperature iced tea. (Yeah, that’s an oxymoron.)
You ain’t got no focus. (That totally deserves a double negative.)
What do you do? Do you scrap the entire thing? Do you let it be, John Lennon style? Do you get pissed off and pledge to never write another blog post again? Do you – gasp – not even notice how many ideas you’ve packed into those 1,000 words?
Here’s exactly what you’re going to do when your copy has too many ideas and not nearly enough focus.
Pick one main point. Just one.
Here’s what I think: So many people get in the weeds – the prickly, stab-you-in-the-arch-of-your-foot kind, not the happy, fluffy kind – with their content because they’re cramming a veritable Shamu-sized tank of ideas into one piece.
That Instagram post in which you shared about the why behind starting your business and also how you source your materials, your favorite Pandora station to rock out to while you’re in the workshop, your monthly goals, your favorite color and how it’s inspiring your new collection? Too much.
An Instagram post in which you share about the why behind your business and how others can find their why?
When you sit down to write, ask yourself what the one thing you want people to take away or learn is.
As you’re writing, continuously ask yourself if what you just vomited onto the page (errr, screen, unless you’re old school like than that, hey, more power to you) helps the reader do that.
And…check, double check, triple check that all the sections relate back to the main idea. Does each and every point add to the strength of your argument, for lack of a better word in this moment?
There’s no point talking about colors if that has nothing to do with your why. (In a world where getting to choose your own colors and use your favorite color is part of your why – maybe you worked for an agency and were basically just told what you needed to crank out that week – yes, totally include it. But not if you’re just bloviating for shits and giggles.)
Let’s say you’ve already busted out that epic Instagram caption and you’re about to post it, but you decide to give it one last read through.
That’s when you notice it’s a little scattered. It doesn’t connect. Does not compute, as the robots say.
It’s one thing to be super mindful when you’re writing and cut that shit off at the pass, but when you’re staring down a wall of text…it can be intimidating AF to know where to start to bring that copy back to the sunlight. (Wherein the sunlight equals focused, clear copy…)
This is where our old friend editing comes in.
You know that old style advice about taking one thing off before you leave the house? Coco’s tip absolutely applies to your copy.
Chances are there’s plenty of things hiding in there that need to come out. So what you’re gonna do is go through your copy and find all the ideas that don’t relate back to your main point.
And – you might wanna bite down on something to help with the pain – get rid of all of them. (Well, not exactly…keep reading…)
Remember to ask yourself:
What’s the one thing I want people to learn from this?
What’s the big takeaway here?
Does each section relate to the main point?
But also pay attention to if you’re suddenly introducing new, tangential ideas. Especially if you’re just mentioning them in passing without expanding on them or just letting them run amok in your copy.
(That would be something akin to finding a vague correlation between something you’ve written, maybe listening to music while you’re working and who invented sheet music or something, and dedicating the next three paragraphs to a history lesson on the printing press.)
They have no place rubbing elbows with the rest of your copy. But you can…
Save the other ideas for another piece of content.
Good news: You don’t have to completely abandon what you’ve written on Gutenberg or the mental health benefits of listening to classical music.
Every time you find an idea in your piece of copy that doesn’t relate to the main point, you’re going to first edit it out and then save it for another day.
Huzzah! You didn’t waste your time or your brain capacity!
If you keep a running list of ideas for your content (and you really should), drop it in there and come back to it another time.
The same rules will apply next time you ponder that idea and try turning it into a piece of content. And a new rule – well, not exactly a new rule but one we haven’t discussed here today – applies: Make sure there’s a lesson for your readers in it.
Sure, sure, you love that blog on musical theory, but does it teach your readers something they want to know? Probably not if you’re a business coach helping them make their side hustle profitable.
If your idea isn’t related to your main point OR something worthwhile for the reader, sorry to say you’ve gotta ditch it.
But – hey!
Remember that all those ideas mean you have a ton of content.
If you start stripping your content down so that each piece has one major focus, instead of cramming all your thoughts on ice cream, lactose intolerance, dairy allergies, whether non-dairy ice cream should be labeled “ice cream” (I don’t know how we got here, just go with it) into one post, just imagine for a second how many pieces of content you can create.
When you start getting hyper focused and saving the new ideas you find trying to squeeze themselves in to your newsletter, you’re quickly going to have hundreds of ideas.
And hundreds more once you start writing those and editing them ruthlessly. It’s kind of like a snowball effect.
If you’re thinking, “There’s a snowball’s chance in hell that I could ever write a focused blog post” HA! I see what you did there, and I approve. But also: You can. And I can help. If you feel like you’ve got too many ideas and don’t know what to keep or what to delete, check out Copy Confidence. You’ll walk (scroll?) away with a piece of copy that’s clear, focused, and something people will *totally* get.