When we sit down to write for an audience, we want to sound like we know what we’re talking about. We want other people to read our words, and be able to relate.
But we often find ourselves rushing. I know it as well as you know it — writing can be a painful process, especially when you’re short on time and your inbox is spilling over.
What ends up happening is we use these big, sweeping generalizations.
I’ll give you an example:
That’s a fair enough paragraph, but it didn’t get your imagination vividly flowing, did it? It all felt very…average. You could take it or leave it. Put it in your sandwich or toss it to the dogs.
Now, compare that paragraph with the one below:
What’s the difference between these two paragraphs?
One thing, and one thing only: generous, beautiful, can-totally-picture-it detail.
Reading the second paragraph is like looking at an up-close-and-personal candid photograph of this person’s Sundays. Reading the former is more like a zoomed-out, generalized version of many people’s Sundays.
Most people mistakenly assume that writing in this much detail about their own experience would make it entirely about them and thus shut other people out; as a result, they resort to using very general and broad words and phrases: “gather together,” family, bond, “do the things we don’t have time to do during the week,” “the nice stuff,” “the stuff I wish I had more time for…”—you get the point.
But talking about “gathering together” and showing what it looks like are two entirely different things. Instead of trying to summarize your experience, take a mental photograph of what “gathering together” looks like, and describe that, instead.