How good writing is like a bad breakup

Breakups. We’ve all been through it. Whether you were the dumper or the dumpee, and  the relationship ended in person, over the phone, or by e-mail, chances are, it went something like this…

“I’m really busy right now, and I just don’t have the time to dedicate to our relationship right now.”

“It’s not you, it’s me.”

Or, there’s no explanation at all, which is probably the worst.

So why do relationships really end? Chances are, there are any multitude of reasons that are not listed in any of the above explanations. But do you tell someone that? No, never. Most people prefer to be vague to avoid being “mean.”

When it comes to writing, however, you need to employ that bad breakup strategy. When I was a TA at UW-Madison 10+ years ago, I learned about this analogy, and I think it’s genius. And it was particularly effective with students, especially those who had been dumped with little to no explanation.

Here’s why you can’t write the same way your ex explained your relationship ending: Because it’s vague. And nobody wants to read something that is open to interpretation.

We live in an age where, thanks to the Internet and other distractions, attention spans are at an all-time low. You only have a few seconds, and a few words, to captivate your readers. If what you’ve written is in any way confusing, or doesn’t give them the answer they’re looking for, chances are they will move on to something else. But, unlike a breakup, they won’t spend hours poring over your writing trying to find out what your words really mean. So be bold. Tell them what they need to hear, even if they don’t want to hear it. You’re doing them, and yourself, a huge favor.


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