Beating a Dead Horse – Every Writer’s Mistake

The discussion was becoming tense, and I wondered whether I had crossed a line.

A couple of weeks ago, I was helping Gentoku with a post on his mindful fitness blog, Give Me a Break – NO! Dammit Not a Kit Kat Bar.

In this early draft he dedicated content on how to communicate the need for space with one’s partner.  This particular section slowed me down as I read it.  I suggested how he might word the comment better.  He was somewhat agitated, and then he came to a realization.

“I’m not trusting the reader,” he said.  The post wasn’t about how to communicate well with your partner during a difficult conversation.  It was about how to take a break from work, training, and relationships.  It provided tips on ways in which one can take space.

But when his post explained precisely how to communicate to a partner, it veered from its main subject.  Gentoku realized that most people reading this post would have tools for communicating with their partners.  He needed to trust his readers to have that conversation.

Trusting the reader is an important lesson for every writer.  We can easily slip into the habit of beating our readers over the heads with details that it muddies up the intention of the text.  Even the most skilled and respected writers are guilty of this.

I see this most often when a writer over-explains something.  The content weaves through one argument and then another until I no longer know what it’s about.  Their ideas are not clear to me on that first read.

Then I will ask, “What are you trying to say with this?”  And in a few concise statements the writer will tell me what they’re trying to say.  Just say that, I tell them.

Here are some thoughts to consider about trusting your reader.

Just how many levels are there?  If you’ve answered the question, then you’re done.  But if you’ve answered the question and it leads to another answer and then another answer, then you’re beating your reader over the head.  If one topic leads to another topic entirely, then you’re veering off course.

Learn to move on.  So you’ve made your point or you’ve told your story.  You don’t need to beat your reader over the head with it.

How easy is this to read?  This is the most important question.  If it doesn’t read smoothly, then something is off.  When I’m revising my work or critiquing others, I pay attention to the areas that slow me down.  If I’m slogging through it, then I know it needs some attention.

Remember, your audience functions at an adult reading level.  If they got this far in your blog post or your book, then they’re not the dullest crayon in the box.  They don’t need you to spell out every painstaking detail.

Ultimately Gentoku cut out that section of the blog post.  Deciding to cut something out is an important move for a writer.  I was proud of him for his insight, and it showed me how he has grown as a writer.  Not only was he writing well, but he took it to another level.  He was learning to trust his reader.

I’d love to hear from you.  How do you know when it’s too much?  What lessons have you learned about trusting your reader?

One Comment Add yours

  1. Great question about the next level. Knowing what needs to be said and saying it is 90% of the challenge.

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