Get Started Writing - For You or for Me?
As a writer, are you hoping to be read? If so, advanced planning and carefully understood choices will make the journey easier and more productive. Write first from your passion but tailor it for the audience you believe might want to read your book - especially the style. Other considerations are the genre and the format of the written document. Above all else, remain lighthearted and playful even if the topic is 'deadly serious.' Holding on too tight makes it difficult to 'change your clothes.'
Writing as catharsis, penning a diary or exploring who you are on paper – these are examples of private avenues of expression. They do not need an audience, in fact, do not want one.
While most people write to be read, putting out your shingle in the form of a book, one tiny book amidst the millions of others on display or online, can be disconcerting. “Hey.” you shout, “look at me. I've written a book, too.”
In order to attract an audience (readership), your book must satisfy at least some of the reading needs of your audience, however large or small. Readers have preferred styles, genres and modes. Your job is not necessarily to match your style to what you “think” your audience prefers but rather to recognize that each choice you make will limit your potential audience.
- Styles - humorous, serious and inspirational
- Genres - poetry, fiction, nonfiction, plays, mystery and romance
- Purpose - tell a story, explain or persuade
Anecdote of the Misguided Writer
A young college grad was asked to speak at a convention of business people. Being technically knowledgeable, erudite and overflowing with advanced vocabulary words, she prepared a talk that was dense, packed to the brim with ideas and also boring. She put the audience to sleep. If the audience could have walked out, they would have.
This woman's academic presentation might have been perfect for a technical symposium but not for practical business people. The language was foreign and quickly they had no ability to listen to, or gain value, from her talk. Before writing the speech, did she assess her audience to understand their needs, style and the manner by which she could relate to them?
- Simple humor to break the ice?
- An introduction, a big picture overview?
- A new methodology without generalizations?
Selecting a Niche
Your book will more likely be successful if it fills a niche – an area of specificity – that readers are looking for. What is your passion? What niche does your area of expertise fill? And is this a topic for which there is very little competition?
“I love to cook so I want to write a cook book.”
As we all know, the number of published cookbooks is daunting. Like the proverbial envelope of junk mail coupons, how do you choose? What do you choose? Nothing looks interesting, and I don't need another cookbook.
Yet the field of cooking is evolving. Some of the newest books are focusing on vegan cooking, organic cooking and home cooked meals for your pets. If you are an avid chef, professionally or in your home kitchen, if you are dying to write a cookbook, ask yourself what you are most passionate about. Then step into the shoes of your readers. If you saw your cookbook on the shelves, would you buy it?
Examples of titles that fill a niche but would anyone buy them?
- Cooking on the Moon – Challenges and Applications to Cooking on Earth
- Cruciferous Cooking – Mustard greens, Cabbages, Coleslaw, Cauliflower and Brussels Sprouts
- How to Fry an Egg on the Sidewalk – Use of Heat to Create Texture and Favor
Generating such unusual titles may be a fun game at a party but it is probably not how you will determine your future book. We can't emphasize enough: always begin with your passion. Take the time to articulate your reason, your purpose and your vision.
“I have something to say. I want to tell the whole world and this is why. I used to be afraid of using a chop saw. Not anymore. What a wonderful tool. My book will win you over just like I was.”
How much this writer's life changed after s/he learned how to use the chop saw and discovered how many practical uses there were. How much the writer wants to share their joy with you.
Your Favorite Genre
Just as houses come in many varieties, so does writing. How about:
- A well insulated, net zero mud hut? No, thank you.
- A house at the seat coast on stilts? Maybe.
- A mansion in Beverly Hills? Nice, but too expensive.
- A small farm with horses? Now that's my style.
What genre interests you that you are also comfortable with? Examples include poetry, fiction, nonfiction, plays, mystery and romance. Using poetry to explain climate change is not a good choice but framing it within a nonfiction, report format is.
Like an artist selecting the right medium, brush and color, your words are the means for painting a verbal picture. Remember this: Many great artists begin with a sketch or multiple studies in pencil. The brush and color come later. Start out by creating a written sketch. (First draft)
- Do not worry about connectors (and, but, although, while)
- Pay no attention to how many times you used the same word
- Ignore your use of empty pronouns like “it” or dangling modifiers
- Don't be surprised if characters in your story appear out of nowhere
- Passive voice? It's OK for now.
- If it sounds “dull,” don't worry, a few new words will make a huge difference
Write quickly as if your life depended on it. Complete a section of your “book” – the opening, chapter 1, act I of chapter 1, etc. When you have reached a climax or turning point, when your characters have come to life in a particular setting, consider acting like your own editor-in-chief.
Review your manuscript and slowly, methodically, spruce it up. Have fun at this stage. Think of it as adding makeup, or a different tie. Remember the old adage: Don't like the program? Change the channel.
- Select alternate words and phrases (thesaurus)
- Contrast the sound of your narration using questions, declarations and conversation
- Intersperse a mix of sentence lengths
- As appropriate, convert the passive voice to active voice
- Convert some of your text into poetry
If this process sounds time-consuming, be aware that it is. Good work requires effort but passion makes it feel “like a piece of cake."
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Posted: April 24, 2014 Nancy J Conrad