4 “Aha!” Strategies for Enhancing Your Writing

Simple Steps for Creating Epiphany Moments for Your Readers

Few videos are more mesmerizing to me than those that feature people who go from not being able to do something to suddenly doing it. In the following video, for example, an older colorblind man puts on special glasses and is able to see color for the first time.

This is a beautiful example of what I call an “Aha!” moment. Aha moments are powerful, and if you can work them into your writing, they keep your readers from getting bored. They deliver a sense of payoff that delights readers and prompts them to share what they’ve read with others.

In this post I’m going to share how you can increase the number of aha moments in your writing.

Keep Your Radar Up

As you go about your day, keep your radar up. Be on the lookout for creative subject matter.

I remember talking with a coahing client who was concerned because she couldn’t come up with any blog post ideas. I asked her to tell me about what she did that morning, and we quickly found something she did that made its way into a great blog post.

Life brings all kinds of ideas to you, but they don’t necessarily hit you over the head. You have to be looking for them. And the more we look for things we can write about, the more aha moments we’ll be able to put into our writing.

Don’t Let Them Get Away

Don’t stop there. It’s not enough to look for great material. We have to capture it. You can do this in a lot of different ways. If you see something that grabs your attention, take a picture of it. If you get an idea, write it down in a notebook.

Here’s an idea. Go out and buy yourself a nice notebook, one you’ll want to have around. Make sure it’s practical. If you know it needs to fit in a pocket for you to carry it around, make sure it fits in your pocket. On the first page write “Ideas” at the top. Then skip a few pages; these will become your table of contents. Now begin numbering the pages. The next time you see or hear or experience something that could be useful in your writing, jot it down on page 1 and give it a label along with its page number in your table of contents. Keep doing this as you come across material. This is one way to keep track of your ideas.

Another way is to use the software program Evernote. In my own Evernote account I’ve created a separate “notepad” (the program’s label) titled “Blog post ideas” (my label). As I come across ideas, I record them here. Sometimes I type them out. Other times I create an audio recording using Evernote’s recording feature. In fact, to listen to the recording that prompted the blog post you’re reading right now, click here. It’s nothing special, definitely the backend of my creative work, but it’s why you’re reading these words.

You can do this for blog post ideas, but you can also do it for chapter ideas or for ideas to include within particular chapters. The main thing is to avoid letting ideas run past you. When you see a great idea, trap it, and add it to your bag.

Do Your Research

Another way to create more aha moments in your writing is to do research. It’s amazing the things we discover when we go looking for them.

I have a story I often tell about Jan van de Capelle, a Dutch Golden Age oil painter whose work transfixed me at the Seattle Art Museum. I did some research about him and found out he was an amateur. Van de Capelle did not have any formal training nor did he join his local artist guild. He painted for the love it and ended up being called “second to Rembrandt as a painter of light.”

Isn’t that inspiring? I think it is, and that’s why I tell his story. Van de Capelle’s story was an aha moment for me, and I learned about it through research.

Or take my friend, author Lois Tverberg. She writes whole books about how understanding the values and morays of ancient Jewish culture opens the world of the Bible in ways you’d never know if Lois didn’t do the research for you.

So don’t be afraid to do a little work. Do some digging. You just might find an aha moment, and your readers will be glad you did.

Use the Magician’s “Prestige”

Imagine a magic trick. The magician holds a red ball in his hand. Then he waves his other hand over the ball, and it’s gone. Vanished. You’re amazed: where’d it go, you wonder. The trick isn’t complete until the magician reaches behind your ear and shows you that somehow the ball ended up there. Then the trick is over.

That last bit, when the ball reappears, is what magicians call the “Prestige,” and it’s a useful metaphor to keep in mind when you’re writing. When you have an aha moment, make sure the aha happens all at once. In other words, aha moments are moments, not marathons.

Let me give you an example. Take Jan van de Cappelle from earlier. If I started the story by telling you van de Cappelle was an amateur artist who never received any training, and then I told you he was still a great painter—considered, in fact, second to Rembrandt as a painter of light, you’d still be impressed. But the story doesn’t have near the effect of starting with my being transfixed with his work and telling you that he was a master painter in an exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum. Do you see what I’m doing there? I’m building to something. Then I reveal he was self-taught, never joined the local artist guild. I didn’t say this earlier, but van de Cappelle’s day job was to run his father’s dye works company. He did his art in his off hours, like so many of us do, yet his art stands with the most renowned masterpieces in history. And wham-o, there’s your aha moment.

So when you have an aha moment, be careful with it. Build up to it and then reveal it in a flash. That way your readers will ooh and aah like they do when watching a cleverly performed magic trick.

Your Turn

OK, that’s my advice on aha moments. Now it’s your turn. Begin by getting your radar up and capturing great ideas. Remember to do your research. And when you have an aha moment, build up to it and then reveal it all at once. When you do these things, you’ll delight readers and build an eager audience for your words.

Question: What’s one thing you you’ve read in this article that you plan to use for or in your own writing? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Danie J Botha

    Succinct as always, Chad!
    Excellent advice: increase your situational awareness_make use of ALL your senses. It can be improved with practice. And jot them down.
    i overestimate me ability to “remember detail.”
    Record even snippets of conversations. Collect them, store them for later use.
    I’m planning on taking my notebook along again.
    Great post, Chad!

  • Someone once said that writers tend to be ‘noticers’ of everyday things. Yes! This post speaks to that idea. I appreciate your practical ideas on how to take note of what we notice and turn it into meaningful moments for our readers. (And I’m going to check out that Lois Tverberg!) Thanks for sharing this, Chad!

    • Chad R. Allen

      You’re welcome, Katie, and thank YOU for taking the time to comment! I appreciate it.

  • Scott C

    Chad, and readers! A day late, but here’s my first blog post! Thanks for reading, would love any feedback. http://www.christonthecouch.com

    • Chad R. Allen

      Well done. I commented on it!

      • Scott C

        Thanks Chad! Publicly committing to a deadline pushed me off of the diving board…

  • Joylene Bailey

    I keep a notebook for ideas but I’d never thought of putting a table of contents in there with page numbers to match ideas. I’m adding that to my notebook today. Thanks, Chad.

    • Chad R. Allen

      You’re welcome, Joylene! Would love to know how it works out for you.

  • Jenny gehman

    Moments not marathons. Yes!! Love it, as usual. Thanks Chad!

    • Chad R. Allen

      Thank you, Jenny! Appreciate you!

  • Karen Jones

    I use a notebook, but primarily for writing things down when I don’t want to break out the laptop. I date my thoughts, then when I finalize it (in my laptop), I check it off. This tells me I’ve finished that particular train of thought, then it’s off to the next. I take inspiration from everything, pets, family, even the weather. Everything is open to the writer’s pen, as long as you write it down.

    • Chad R. Allen

      Awesome, Karen! That sounds like a great system.

  • Shannon Geurin

    I love the idea about getting a notebook and jotting down ideas. And I LOVE that you tell us exactly how to do it by numbering the pages, etc. GREAT idea!

    • Chad R. Allen

      So glad you found it helpful, Shannon.

  • curtheffelfinger

    The Prestige principle is something I never heard before. I was able to read that far after wiping the tears out of my eyes from watching that video. Thanks, Chad!

    • Chad R. Allen

      I cried too, Curtis!

  • Scott C

    Thanks Chad! You took me from your subject line to your e-letter to your blog to the video to reading the whole article – and I’m glad I did. Great job all the way through.
    I started a blog yesterday, “Christ on the Couch” (www.christonthecouch.com), a place for me to get my butt writing about things I’m passionate about! I’ve spent 25 years as a therapist trying to figure out how God’s shows up in the deep struggles of life so I want to write about what that’s been like for me. This is my public promise to publish my first post by Monday…thanks for the encouragement!

    • Chad R. Allen

      Go for it, Scott! If you’d like, come back here, link to your blog post, and I’ll read it!

  • Barbara Rodgers

    Hi Chad, I really learn a lot from your articles and have been following you for a few months. Thanks for all the great information! I have a book proposal being reviewed by publishers now. I have two questions for you. (1) As far as including “aha” moments in blogs, are you saying that the aha moment should relate to the subject matter in the blog or just anything that grabs peoples’ attention? (2) What format do publishers prefer for in-text citations? It seems like it varies greatly. I was using (author name, year published) but my book is a heavily referenced nonfiction, self-help book and the citations looked distracting. Am now reformatting to a numbering system, but have seen many books that have no in-text citations at all, which is what my publishing consultant suggested. I’m reluctant to remove them — will be a nightmare if I have to re-insert them.

    Appreciate your advice!

    • Chad R. Allen

      Barbara, thanks for writing. Aha moments should definitely relate to your subject matter; otherwise they’re just gratuitous. Keep your citations! It’s important to document your sources. If the publisher wants to remove them, let them do it, but i doubt they will. Most authors I work with use MS Word’s reference feature for this.

      • Barbara Rodgers

        Thanks for the advice!

  • I’m never ever going to forget this example or this message. That video was POWERFUL! Bookmarking it for later use. It got my brain sparked and I have AHA moments I need to write down, right now. Thank you, Chad.

    • Chad R. Allen

      Woohoo! Awesome, Jolene!!

  • Barb Johnson

    What a great post! It helped me to realize I have about 400 article I’ve written. Posts that I used on church bulletins. Never thought of putting them in a blog. They are stories from my life, with a Bible emphasis. Thank you for this writing. (I loved the video too.)

    • Chad R. Allen

      Terrific, Barb, and thanks for taking the time to comment!