“Jason, you’re a decent writer, but your Achilles heel is your conclusions!”
Sadly, Mike wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t already know. I can craft a headline and set up a story like a champ. I can fill a body and write with a strong voice. I can use colorful and descriptive language.
But, when I get to the conclusion, I choke.
Mike asked if I wanted him to look over one of my latest pieces for Medium, and I jumped at the chance because I love working with editors and don’t get the chance very often because of one thing I lack the most — money.
As a friend, Mike has edited a few of my stories and every time, it was 100% better than when I handed it over.
He usually fixes errors in spelling and grammar and spruces up wording and phrasing. He always turns it into a learning experience, but a Master’s Degree and decades of teaching and editing will do that to a guy.
He never once made me feel stupid for my choices and that is important to me because at times I can be sensitive that I don’t have the classical training that many writers do. I am completely self-taught. I am forged through thousands of hours of writing and a willingness to accept my mistakes and faults.
I know my faults and am actively working to fix them. So when he said my conclusions sucked, I didn’t get upset, because I knew it was true. And he didn’t actually say the word “suck,” but I knew the sarcastic bastard was thinking it.
Then, in a true learning moment for me, he “fixed” the issues in a few minutes and I was left wondering why I couldn’t do the same.
An Editors Guide to Killer Conclusions
In my defense, I have been on the internet looking for guides on how to write good conclusions, but, dammit if they don’t all say the same things.
“…reiterate your main points…”
“…don’t forget to end with a bang, leaving them wanting more!”
Yeah, I knew that and I do that, but those things a good conclusion does not make.
So I went to the source.
I asked Mike to take a few minutes away from his social media addiction (he loves Justin Bieber), and help me out again, for free, and being the true friend he is, he agreed and didn’t even whine a little.
My question exactly was:
“Okay….I am writing about conclusions, and the advice on the internet sucks ass and is the same old thing. Can you give me three pieces of advice from an editor for killer conclusions, and can I quote you?”
He agreed to do what he could even though he was typing on his phone, and probably preoccupied with the Bieb’s, and asked that I paraphrase as best a guy with a 6th-grade education could.
Here is the advice from a genius teacher, editor, writer, and author, Mike Hancock.
The Formula For Killer Conclusions
- “Forget transitional phrases. No “In conclusion,” et al. It’s fluff and we already know it.”
Chalk one up for me! I haven’t added “in conclusion” since I wrote my last college essay called “Simplicity and Style in HTML Formatting.” I’m so glad I don’t have to write that stuffy shit anymore.
- “End with one of the four appeals, the strongest being emotional. Paint a beautiful picture that underscores your point.”
Ugh, back to college. The four persuasive appeals are ethos, pathos, logos, and kairos or appeal to authority or character, appeal to emotion (bingo!), appeals to reason, and the timing of an argument. So by appealing to emotion I can bring a good story together and tie up all the loose ends. Instead of telling what I talked about, I should create a picture, a moral, a reason that appeals to the reader that highlights it all.
- “Make a one-line direct appeal to the audience: a call to action.”
I have been doing this, I just don’t think I’ve been as effective as I could be because I always try to be flippant or deep and it never works out for me. So maybe instead I just say what I mean instead of trying to be clever?
“That’s it. That formula always wins.” And then he disappeared into the ether never to be seen again. I like to think he is somewhere with his idol enjoying Banana Splits and singing teen anthems.
I decided I wanted to turn this learning experience into a story because I learn best by doing.
So with the words of my mentor and friend fresh in my mind, I sat and tried to apply what I’d learned, the little writer voice inside me cheering along as I typed. These learning experiences make me the writer I am, because, as much as I wanted to, I didn’t learn about writing in college. All that I am as a writer today is because of the people who helped me along the way, and the years of blood, sweat, and tears at the keyboard when I would rather have been playing Diablo or watching Netflix.
Hopefully, from now on, when I do get to my conclusion, I can turn words and advice into something magical that keeps my reader from clicking off to the next distraction.
- Forget transitional phrases
- Appeal to emotion
- Make a direct appeal
It seems simple, and I feel like other people grasp the concepts easier than I do, but in the end, I wrote this story. I may not have personified the concepts but I am learning and each one of the pieces I write will keep getting better and better.
So, if this article wasn’t everything you thought it should be, stay tuned. I promise I’ll get better.