Have you ever written a blog post and found it’s growing too big and unwieldy? Or you set out to develop a book only to realize you don’t have enough material to fill a 45K- or 50K-word manuscript?
If so, you’re struggling with Goldilocks Syndrome: your idea is too big or too small for the project’s purpose and the way it’ll be published or shared with the world.
You’re trying to cram everything you know about, say, computers into 800 to 1,000 words. You’ve got the makings of a book when you set out to write a blog post. How do you narrow it to a reasonable length?
Or you’re trying to stretch the idea of cooking with crackers into a book-length project, but it’s not enough material. How do you broaden the concept to produce a compelling cookbook?
What does it take to land on that just right length for your next writing project?
The 6 Right-Sizing Methods
Test these six methods for narrowing—or broadening—your next writing idea and you’ll land on the perfect length, approach, and slant to suit this project’s audience, purpose, and medium. In the process, you’ll gain clarity and solidify your ideas.
The six different methods to right-size your projects are:
Let me describe each one, starting with time. When does it mean to right-size your project using time?
You can use time to focus on decades, a stage of life, or an era. For example, depending on your topic, you might limit your idea to focus only on the 1950s, only early childhood, or only on the Middle Ages.
If you’re writing a memoir, you’ll limit the scope of your book to a specific time in your life in which you experienced struggle and transformation.
If you’re writing about plants, you could focus on the planting stage.
If you need to broaden your idea because it’s too narrow, you can simply expand from the 1950s to the first half of the 20th century or from early childhood to Kindergarten through sixth grade.
Location is another way to land on the right size for your project. You could focus on geography, meaning anything from a continent or country all the way down to a city landmark, neighborhood, or business.
But you could think of location on an object or a space. The gardener may want to write about an area of the garden or the location on a specific plant, such as the roots or petals.
If you’re writing about flight, you could focus on small airports in a given state or areas within a specific airport.
We can also use categories to think through an idea we find to be too big and broad or too small and narrow. Find some commonalities and group those things that are similar.
If you’re the garden blogger, you could focus on one category—vegetables—instead of flowers, trees, or groundcover. Dial down even more by categorizing nightshades or spring vegetables or weeds.
The blogger who writes about planes can narrow to categories such as biplanes, jets, or airliners.
By focusing on a small category, you easily narrow your idea. And then you can broaden by including multiple categories.
First-time authors often want to write a book for everyone in the whole world. That’s not realistic. The first step in right-sizing will be to narrow your audience.
For a specific project, you could narrow even further, selecting a sub-group within your target audience.
Maybe you write for parents, so to narrow the topic you outline an idea for parents of preschoolers or parents of teens.
So you can use a subgroup of your broader group to narrow. Including more types of people in your audience will broaden the idea and inform how you write it.
Many topics have issues baked into them: gun control, parenting philosophies, technology use.
Writers may take one side or another on these topics to automatically right-size their idea. Addressing only one issue related to their idea or topic, they avoid having to address every possible opinion or angle.
If you think your idea doesn’t have an issue, do a little research. Dig around. You may find there are issues surrounding your topic or specific idea.
The last method we’ll discuss for right-sizing your project is structure. Think through the format or structure of your idea and you’ll see how to consolidate, simplify, and narrow with the structure of your project—or broaden it.
Bloggers who use lists and bullet points to organize concepts find this structural approach a naturally right-sizing method.
But essayists and memoirists and authors of nonfiction can convert similar ideas to paragraph descriptions to compose an essay or a book chapter, building on those neat, tight lists. They can elaborate, explain, and offer examples to support their claims.
Mix & Match
You can mix and match these methods as needed.
Mix & Match Example 1
Let’s say you wanted to write about a vegetable garden. Your idea? You want to talk about tips for Spring planting.
You’ve already narrowed it using time by focusing on Spring. And you’ve taken the bigger topic of gardening and focused on the category of vegetables. Already you’ve narrowed it.
But let’s say those two methods aren’t narrowing the idea enough for a blog post you want to write.
Try audience—perhaps you write for first-time gardeners.
Now try location. Maybe these first-time gardeners in a small setting like an apartment, so you narrow to offer advice for a successful balcony garden.
Now you’ve got an article idea for first-time gardeners about planting a vegetable garden in the Spring within the limitations of a balcony. Your content practically writes itself! You can picture the person’s space, you advise them on right containers for their plants, and you can offer ideas to keep costs low.
Mix & Match Example 2
Another mix and match example could be an article idea for parents. You have the idea of writing about limiting technology access for kids, but you need to narrow it for a magazine article.
The first way to narrow might be to cover the issues related to technology, like the effects on brain development in young children or the appropriate age for a parent to get a cell phone for their child or the challenges of online classes requiring constant access to screens.
You can notch down by category and address an age range of the children. You land on the challenges of online school for grade-schoolers.
Location already is expressed in the online school topic but could be further narrowed by addressing challenges of urban and/or rural homes that don’t have Internet access.
Use Right-Sizing Methods to Find Your Slant
See how this provides you, the writer, with a possible slant that suits your audience?
When you learn to right-size your projects, you’ll no longer struggle like Goldilocks with an idea that’s too big or too small. You’ll stop trying to dump everything you know into one blog post or essay—and you’ll stop padding your projects with unnecessary elements to fill word count of a book.
With practice using these six methods, you’ll generate an endless number of unique ideas that you write with greater clarity and confidence because you nailed your slant and locked in your angle.
Try it! Download the resource below and pick at least one of the six methods to narrow your idea or broaden your next idea.
- Back to Basics series
- Improve Your Writing by Getting Back to Basics (Ep 225)
- Back to Basics: Generate Ideas to Find What You Have To Say (Ep 226)
- How to Generate Ideas for Writing
- 52 Creative Writing Prompts: A Year of Weekly Prompts and Exercises to Boost Your Creativity
- Need Writing Ideas? Take Inventory of Your Life!