8 Questions You Must Ask Before You Hit The 'Publish' Button
A habit that can notch up your story & your writing skills
The writer I see in myself today, tapping away on the keyboard, is not the same a year back. I have traveled quite some distance.
And during this phase of writing consistently and learning from every nook and corner, I developed a system to check certain ingredients in my story. I make intentional infusions so my story checks all the boxes on the list.
The results only encouraged me to keep asking questions and adding more to the list.
If you are in a space where you are trying to improve your writing and garner more readers, ask these questions after you finish your story and before you release it to the world.
Qs. 1 — "Does my story keep its promise in the headline?"
Nothing can be a bigger put-off than a promise not kept — and a headline is a promise.
It's a slippery highway — you can easily stray from where you want to land up finally. The headline is the north star of every story, and the whole story must be connected to that at every point.
Deliver on your headline. You boost your credibility as a writer every time you do that.
Keep going back to the headline and check the alignment of your story to it. At any point, if the answer to the question is 'no', you are either:
- using clickbait, or
- over-promising and under-delivering,
Qs. 2 — "Does my story have 'ME' in it?"
You are a brand.
Just like you build your image when you talk to people, it's the same when you write. People perceive you.
Oh XYZ! She writes funny. She can make the dreariest of topics look fun!
I like that writer. Everything is short and crisp. No-fluff writing.
ABC writes the same topic in 327 different ways. Nothing new.
Own the story. Take the same ingredients but whip up something that only YOU can add. That is what your reader is looking for.
Recently, I took the usual pieces of writing advice and whipped up some 'sexiness' into it. Result — it was an instant hit. That was the 'ME' factor in that.
Qs. 3 — "Is my story fun to read for the readers?"
I get bored easily. And I profile my readers likewise. I don't want them to use my stories to slip into a slumber.
Just because someone wrote something, the readers are not obliged to read it. The onus of keeping them engaged lies on the writer. Hence, learning not only to hook but also to retain the reader's attention is an art every writer must master.
Ensure that you have some fun elements sprinkled around my stories.
- some deliberate light moments,
- some new/coined words
- some twists and turns, or
- some smack-you-back-to-attention elements in my stories.
I also like to keep the tone casual. I want my readers to feel like they are having a chat with a friend. And that gives me the leeway to joke around.
Qs. 4 —" Does my story have a takeaway for the reader?"
I got this one wrong in the beginning. I assumed writing is all about how well one can articulate thoughts. It was only later that I knew:
No one cares about me or my thoughts.
When a reader decides to read a story, there is one underlying thought —
“What’s in it for me?”
As long as you keep giving value to them, they are with you. The value can be information, entertainment, advice, anything. The moment you make it about YOU, sorry, but you are alone on the podium.
Always remember to keep having takeaways for your readers. Always set the limelight on them — even when you are talking about yourself.
A booster tip:
Highlight the takeaways — it suits the skimmers too!
Qs. 5 —" Is the story formatted for good readability?"
According to Statista, approximately half of the world's web traffic is on mobiles.
So, when your reader is in Rome, it makes sense to talk in Roman, right?
No matter how well your content is, if not formatted, it can be a dizzying experience for your reader. Spare them.
- No big chunks of texts sitting heavy on the story, please.
- Short paragraphs, appropriate punctuations.
- Images, reference pictures.
- No redundancy too.
I have some things that I tick to boost readability and keep my reader's attention. You can check this here in detail.
Qs. 6 — "Have I included all the information related to the story?"
Half-baked cookies are no one's favorite. Nor are half-baked stories.
You cannot start telling a story, build on it, and then leave in a hurry telling the readers to hang on for the next part. Sadly, I have seen writers do that, and it makes me feel let down.
Bringing the topic to a logical ending is my job as a writer; you cannot shy away from that.
Another lousy turn can be over-information — all information that is related and also not related. So a thing to keep an eye on is to impart only relevant information.
- If it is a topic that cannot accommodate itself in one go, make it clear in the title and leave the decision to the reader whether they are ready to invest themselves.
- Use links to complete the story without making it too lengthy.
- One need not do a thesis out of a story. Things that are not related to the topic should be skipped.
Qs. 7 —" Is the flow of the story seamless?"
Every story is a song when it has a rhythm. Sans that, it becomes raucous — unpleasant to the mind.
The questions you need to ask are:
- Does every segment lead to the next logically?
- Is there a drastic jump in the line of thought somewhere?
- Are there any jerks in the story the reader might experience?
These are the weeds you need to pick out.
How to check this one out? Simple — just read it aloud or ask someone else to read it aloud for you.
That way, you know exactly how your story sounds, and you can trim the edges to make it look well-rounded.
Qs. 8 — "Is my headline powerful enough to make readers want to click on it?"
You cannot afford to go wrong here.
I believe, and keep saying, that building a headline muscle is one of THE most essential parts of writing. It is the opening line of your show and the first moments when you connect with your readers.
You cannot afford to go wrong here. I think you will start rolling your eyes if I say that 8 out of 10 people will only read your headline [it's cited so many times now]. But facts remain facts.
Allot time to decide on the headline. It is an investment. I personally never publish even if I find a good headline. I wait for some time. Revisit. Something better comes up.
I keep doing this till I feel — yes, this is the one I am going with.
And this feeling came with time. Like I said, build on the muscle.
Well, there can be many more questions that you may ask to refine your story.
Understand that there is no perfect story — with every edit, it becomes a tad better.
Editing is the combing process that detangles a story leaving it shiny and glistening after every brush. Encourage yourself to revisit your work with an eye to chip off rough edges.
Keep asking the right questions and keep getting better.