Creating Content

Write like you’d take an photograph

By October 2, 2019 No Comments

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:

Exhibit A:

Every Sunday, we gather together as a family to bond, and 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. Stuff like yoga, and afternoon drives. I don’t know what it is about Sundays, but I always come out of one feeling more refreshed; more loved.

That’s a fair 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 this one below:

Exhibit B:

Sundays are for open windows and open minds. For Eggs Benedict, for braais, for sharing playlists and for dancing with your invisible top hat to make your little sister laugh. For a windows-down drive with Dad, for phone calls from Ouma. For cartoons, for gardening, for meals we can share. For meditation, for kneeling and praying, for mending, for dreaming. For rest, for colouring books, for congratulations, and sparkly nail polish. For love, because always for love.

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 peoples’ Sundays.

Most 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: “family”, “bond”, “gather together,” —you get the point.

Talking about “gathering together” and showing what it looks like are two entirely different things. Instead of trying to summarise your experience, take a mental photograph of what “gathering together” really looks like, and describe that, instead.

Give this technique a try the next time you sit down to write. I find it particularly helpful when I’m in a rush and I need to pump out short descriptions of lodges and hotels, but it helps in many other scenarios, too.

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