How would you explain this to your Mom? Writing for your audience instead of yourself.

One of the hardest things about writing in a field where you’re an expert is that you want to explain too much. You want to compact everything you know about the topic into each article.

I had an English teacher in high school who called it “diarrhea of the pen,” because you always end up writing too much. But I think of it as “constipation of the mind,” because before you write too much about it, you are stuck in a mind crammed with all this stuff. Stuff that you know relates. Stuff that you know helps. Stuff that you know can’t be delivered in a nutshell. And you’re not sure how much is enough.

Then you start writing. And writing. Suddenly you have a thousand word article where you intended four hundred words.

The real problem is that you’re starting from the point of “what you know about the topic” instead of “what your intended audience wants to know about the topic.” Notice I said “wants to know.”

The whole idea of writing articles and blog posts is to give your audience the information and ideas it is looking for. And you already know how to do that. You learned that when you wrote essay exams in school. You knew what the teacher was looking for and you gave him or her the essence of it in a paragraph or three. You covered the main points and then went on to the next question. You didn’t have time to fool around. You just got right down to it.

You also know how to give targeted information and ideas from having to explain things to friends and family. You don’t give them a dissertation. You give them a casual overview of what they’ve asked about. And maybe you throw in a story or two to illustrate. Maybe you refer them to a YouTube video you’ve seen that shows them more. Or email them an article you’ve read that covers the material in more detail. Or take a photo of something that sheds more light on it. Or refer them to an amusing infographic.

Hey, maybe you can do the same thing when you’re writing on your expert topic. Maybe it’s really as simple as asking yourself, “how would I explain this to my Mom?”