I have lots of ideas and I love researching them. This post is about the writing part, which I find very hard. My pitches run long because I try to cram in all my research. I like to include a lot of details — stats (Hey, look at me! I know how to research stats!), colorful language (Hey, look at me! I know how to write colorfully!), names (Hey, look at me! I already know who I want to interview!), and interesting facts (um, a phrase used by my kids’ elementary school teachers to validate lists of facts).
A pitch, however, should never be a list of interesting facts. A pitch should show how you’re going to tell a story. Not a list, but a path. A beginning, a middle, and an end. Okay, maybe you don’t know what the end is yet, at the pitch stage, but you should have some idea where your story is going.
Good pitches are pithy. They get to the point quickly. They tease you into wanting to know more. They provide a little journey, a surprising contrast, a kicker.
One day, after I’d walked my daughter to school and we’d spent the whole time crafting haikus, I had a crazy idea. What if I applied my haiku practice to my pitches?
I love to write haikus even though the form challenges me. I have to use evocative language to set the scene, I have to focus on what I want you, the reader, to see, and I have to have a flash of insight.
What if I tried to winnow a long-winded pitch down to the seventeen syllables of a haiku? I cannot fit everything in, so I have to select — the most important thing or the most interesting thing. I need to limit multisyllabic words and favor simple language so that my reader (an editor) sees what I see. And I must use that last line to surprise or get a laugh.
I’m never going to send a haiku instead of a pitch. (At least, I haven’t done so yet.) And yet, I find the practice helps me get past my mental blocks — the voice in my head that whines, But I cannot distill this most fascinating idea into a single sentence!
Fine — don’t write a single sentence. Use seventeen syllables.
Essentially, haiku — something I love to do — allows me to play with something that otherwise stumps me. It forces me to select the key elements of my story, to choose amongst my many interesting facts, and to focus my pitch.
Here’s a few examples from my recent work.
Who likes dragonflies?
Birders who have seen it all,
Also, late sleepers.
Success story in state park
One quiet man’s quest.
Confidence is good
Overconfidence is not
How to find sweet spot.
Photo credit: William Brawley on Flickr