'What's the point?' How to write your way to the top of the mountain...
...without getting lost, hypothermic, or injured
Do you recognise this scene?
A sad, shadowy figure sits at a desk, head in hands. Papers are crumpled around them and the wastepaper basket is overflowing. Half-full coffee cups and the detritus of snacks are strewn around them. Rain beats at the window as a deep sob emerges from the dark figure at the desk.
If it looks like you, don’t worry. It happens to the rest of us too.
Those days when you're frustrated with your writing are hard. When the words go nowhere and when you feel like you're rambling pointlessly, it's tempting to chuck it in. Writing needs a point; without it, it's simply a jumble of letters on the page.
The good news is, the point you want to make always exists. The (perhaps not so) good news, is that you need to do some detective work to uncover it.
The point of this post is to help you do that.
What to do when you find yourself crying, "What's the point?!"
Have you ever read something, and thought, 'What was the point of that?!' Maddening, isn't it?
What usually happens is that the point is so obscured by waffle that it's lost to readers. Most likely, the writer hasn't allowed themselves the space to work out what their point is. And if the writer doesn't know what the point is, you can be sure that nobody else will.
Scenario A - what to do when you're a READER asking what the point is
Hooray! Cheer and whoop because now you have an example of what NOT to do.
Scenario B - what to do when you're a WRITER asking what the point is
Hooray! Cheer and whoop because now things are going to get interesting.
Scream into a pillow
Vigorously chop onions or scratch your pen across the page until it rips the paper, whatever lets the pent-up frustration out.
In all seriousness, you need to feel the frustration that comes with having no clue what your point is. Its presence is a signal, letting you know something isn't quite right. You need to find a way to express your frustration healthily. And you need to let it go.
Let it go, because when you discover the point, you don't want to be handling a sharp object in anger. Yep, that point, when you find it, is gonna be sharp. Trust me.
Find the point, make your writing rock
A guide to finding the point:
Close the laptop
Pick up a pen and paper
Write in the centre of the page, in big letters, WHAT IS THE POINT?
Underline it in red ink, draw a bubble around it or box it
Start jotting down your thoughts...
Keep going. Keep writing down the different points that come into your head. Do that until you've phrased the same thing every which way and don't stop writing until you're stating the flaming obvious.
Don't be scared of the obvious. If it seems too easy, then you're on to something. Because the point itself should always be easy.
Climbing a mountain and finding the point are easy – the rest of the stuff is difficult
The point itself should not be hard to understand - and as a writer, it's your job to help the reader understand the point like that. It's the stuff around the point that makes it hard.
Think of it like climbing a mountain. The point of climbing a mountain, is to get to the top. The point couldn't be simpler! It's all the stuff that surrounds the point which is challenging:
What are the weather conditions?
Who's in your team?
What are their weaknesses?
What are their strengths?
What kit do you need?
Is your fitness level good enough?
How much food have you got?
What about water?
What happens if someone gets injured?
That stuff is hard! That stuff takes research, planning and careful execution. It's also the stuff that can trip us up and make us lose sight of the overall point of what we’re doing. All the stuff that surrounds the point can become the point, debarring us from our objective and the reader from understanding what we're trying to do.
The over-enthusiastic foodie that packs too much grub is like a writer that includes lots of distracting detail. How will they make it to the top with all that extra weight?
The optimist in charge of the weather watch, who believes too readily the fair forecast and doesn't bring a change of clothes, sets themselves up for a nasty surprise if Mother Nature takes a turn. As does the writer that doesn't prepare the ground with enough backstory for the reader.
The writer that starts their piece and then runs out of steam isn't going to cross the finish line; neither is the climber that hasn't trained or got themselves mentally fit for the task of summiting the mountain.
What to do with the point
Put it front and centre. Once you've worked out what your point is, tell your audience. Don't try to hide it from them, don't try to be clever, just get them on board.
If you’re writing anything, you’re asking for someone’s time, which you need to respect. If you’re writing for a business, it’s likely that you’re asking for something else too: money, investment, trust, ideas, some kind of exchange… Respect that. Make your point clear upfront.
The power of a clear point: a record-breaking example
Nimsdai Purja is a Nepalese mountaineer who, in January, lead a team of climbers to become the first humans ever to summit K2 in the winter. No stranger to breaking records, I recently heard an interview with Nimsdai in which he talked about climbing fourteen 8,000 metre mountains in just six months, obliterating the next-fastest time which stood at just under eight years. He called it Project Possible. The project needed funding, hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of pounds. A sponsor would make it happen.
Can you imagine going into that pitch and not being clear? Not being able to tell your potential backers straight up, “my plan is X, the point of the exercise is Y…”? Would the listener have sat through a presentation, working hard to understand the point? And if they hadn’t got it loud and clear, clear enough to hand over the cash, would the record be what it is today?
You might not be a world-record-breaking mountaineer, but you have so much value to offer. You have points to make that nobody’s even considered.
Get your readers on board, tell them where you want to take them, and then whisk them away on an unforgettable journey.
Good luck on the mountain!
Your words matter,
The Weekly Writing Reflection
Each week I share an inspirational quote and a writing prompt. The idea is for you to spend a moment doing some active reflection through writing.
Here’s your quote for this week:
“No one believed it could be done. Some people made a joke out of it. The main thing is to believe in it. That you can give 100%.”
- Nimsdai Purja, speaking about Project Possible
And your writing prompt:
Others say it’s crazy, but I believe I can…