When we sit down to write, we want to share something meaningful with others. Perhaps we want to lift people’s spirits, make them laugh, introduce them to something novel, teach them a skill, or move them to action. Naturally, we want what we write to be well received and to be understood, and if we’re really lucky to be picked up by readers and shared with people they care about.
Often though, in the grey land between our idea for a blog post, and these friendly motives, pressing and powerful distractions intervene. We stumble over our language. We worry about whether we’re writing what we should as we should and what people will think. We hope for responses that we don’t quite voice: to be loved; to be celebrated, for people to pound our door down looking to do business and what have you. In the process we lose sight of why we’re writing, what we want to communicate, and what we want to give to our readers.
We’ve all seen the results, formally correct posts that say little and communicate less; blatantly self-promotional posts that may contain a kernel of knowledge, but are meant essentially to flack whatever the writing is hoping to sell; manipulative posts that indicate what we as readers are supposed to think and feel, and posts that gesture in the direction of something engaging, but never quite take us there. Reading these things puts us to sleep, ticks us off, or makes us work hard to get something of value out of the post. Yet, without a convenient way to sluice off all that stuff in the middle, we can easily find ourselves writing the very kinds of posts we hate to read.
Fortunately, there is a handy way. All it requires is that we answer a few simple questions. If we answer these before we write, we’ll know what we’re about and will write sharp from the start. If we answer them after we write a draft or two, our answers will allow us to find the gold in the mud quickly and surely, and to capably deliver the really good stuff to our readers without a lot of intervening falderal. That’s why I call these questions an “assay.”
That word probably caught your attention back at the title. “Assay,” funny word. I know what it means, but why not assessment, evaluation, diagnostic checklist? First off those terms have lots of syllables, and as the legendary comedian George Carlin pointed out, we lose immediacy, not to mention clarity, when we use lots of syllables when fewer will do. To wit, Carlin points out that in WWI we talked about “shell shock.” Now we have “post-traumatic-stress-disorder,” which of course requires an acronym PTSD, just so that we can remember it. Not only that, but we’ve all seen those other words—assessment, evaluation, appraisal—so many times before that the moment we see them all they say is, “and yet another fucking list.”
An assay, on the other hand, is a weighing of value. Gold and silver miners would go to the assay office to assess the purity of their finds, and would be paid on the basis of the purity and weight of their precious metals. So an assay is a means for you to determine the purity and weight of your post before it goes out, and if it’s lacking on either dimension, to filter it down to its essence. Remember, gold sinks to the bottom of the pan. Here then is the quick way to come to terms with what you want to say, and to assay your post’s weight and merit. All you must do is answer each of these questions in the simplest, clearest words you can find:
- Who are my readers? Really, to whom am I speaking?
- How do I want to help these fine people?
- What emotional response would I like each one to have on reading my post?
- What primary action do I want each reader to take as a consequence of reading my post?
- What secondary action?
That’s it. Answer these six questions; write your post, read it over and see if it meets your intentions, only then hit post. Better still, have someone who cares about your topic read your post and tell you whether it meets your goals. If they say it doesn’t, ask them what they need that they’re not getting. You’ll be surprised, once you start taking your pending posts to the assay office, at how quickly you start writing on point and blogging with flair.