I’ve been seeing something happen frequently among my fellow bloggers lately, but it’s most obvious to me when I receive offers to guest post on my blog.
Someone pitches me a great idea. Brilliant, in fact. An idea that interests me and one I feel will interest my readers as well. So I say yes. And the person writes the post and sends it to me. They’re excited, and I’m excited too.
The post begins well, and the opening is great. But as I read, something happens.
The writer makes a point that’s kind of tangentially related to the paragraph before, but not at all related to the point of the post as a whole.
The writer rides that tangent for a few paragraphs, then comes back on point.
All right, I’m back on track as a reader. Then . . . it goes off again.
You may not know you’ve gone off on a tangent
Even the very best writers go off on tangents without knowing it sometimes. But guest posts are really where you see tangents happening most often. And that’s because guest posts are where bloggers try to pull out their very best writing.
I know this from experience. When I guest post, I work hard to write a great post so that the blog owner offering me his platform (thank you, Brian) feels like he did the right thing by letting me in here.
Most of the guest posts submitted for my review have good grammar, a nice writing style, and a dash of humor.
They’re good. But no matter how good they are in all other respects, they very often still go off on tangents. And the writers appear to have no idea it happened.
The most likely culprit for tangents
I’m most likely to go off on tangents when I feel strongly about the topic I’m writing on. Passion is great in writing, but sometimes I have so much to say that I try to cram everything in there — whether or not it really fits.
For example, I recently wrote a post about something that angered me in the blogging community. The original post was about five pages long. In Arial 10. Single-spaced.
I asked a friend to look it over and point out all the places where I had gone off on angles that were unrelated to my original point.
She wound up taking three pages out of the article.
I had no idea those tangents weren’t related to the point, because I was so fired up and passionate about what I wanted to say that everything I had to say seemed relevant.
This meant that half the time, what I wrote didn’t really relate back to my original point at all. It took off in so many directions that the integrity of the argument was completely lost.
And it made the whole post very confusing to the reader, because no one could figure out the main thrust of what I wanted to say.
How to tell if you’ve gone off on a tangent
I highly recommend asking another person to read what you’ve written when you feel excited or strongly about a topic. You’re not asking them to edit your work; you’re asking them to see if you stayed on track.
Someone with fresh eyes and a fresh mind will be much better able to point out paragraphs that seem unrelated to your post. When they point them out to you, you have two options: take out the paragraph (and possibly save it as the start of another post), or re-write it so it refers back to your original point.
Then double-check with your reader to be sure you did that effectively.
If you’re editing your own work, play this little game: Look at your original topic, which is usually in the first paragraph or two of your post. For this article, my original topic is “are you going off on tangents?” The related points are “you may not know you’re doing it,” “what’s probably making you go off on tangents,” and “how to find and fix tangents.”
Check each paragraph. If every point relates back to the original topic and you can clearly see how you have linked the two, you’re golden.
If not, you’ve probably gone a little off-track. No problem — just rewrite your paragraph so it’s more on-point.
Or, realize that the point wasn’t related at all. It was just a tangent, because you were upset or excited. In this case, take it out and let it go.
What about you? Have you ever caught yourself going off track? What were you writing about at the time?
About the Author: For more great tangents that go wildly off topic but always help you get ahead in your freelance career, check out James’ blog at Men with Pens. Like to stay right on track? Click here to sign up for the Men with Pens RSS feed.