Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Always Write For Your Readers

When writing for publication it's important to keep your eventual reader at the forefront of your mind.

Writing primarily for yourself can be a lot of fun and, if that's what motivates you, then that's the best way forward, at least for the first draft.

Eventually, however, it's your readers who will decide whether you have written a book that they find satisfying, worthy, and purposeful.

It could be that, during the writing and editing process, some degree of self-discipline is required to fulfil the objective of writing a book that people actually want to read - and will enjoy reading.

My preferred approach is to write quickly and edit methodically later.

I find writing the first draft fast and furiously keeps the juices pumping and doesn't allow for too much time to reconsider word-choice, direction, momentum etc., until after the first draft.

Writing slowly, painstakingly, I find, tends to make me hesitant, overly self-conscious, and can sometimes lead to getting blocked if I can't decide little things, for instance, like where to put a comma.

Far better to get down as much as possible of the meat without questioning the creative process and stick with the decision to come back to the writing later when the first draft is fully written and complete. Even if the first draft strikes you as a mess.

I'm a great believer in having a plan and sticking to it.

So, having made the decision to write a thriller, for example, you should write with the intention of thrilling your reader. You need to know your purpose before you begin.

When writing your first draft quickly and without too much agonising, try not to get sidetracked into overdeveloping ideas that are not pertinent to your purpose. Stay as focused, in other words, as you can on the intention of your writing.

The key difference between writing literary work and genre fiction is, to me, about maintaining discipline.

Literary works may meander without purpose, hopping from one set of profound observations to another. This may lead your reader to feel rudderless.

Genre writing is often more focused on the needs of the reader and invariably requires more work in the writing and the editing from the writer.

To me, the important issues are clarity and direction. Your story or nonfiction piece should shine with a clear and obvious thrust that takes a reader on a focused journey.   

A good narrative contains logic that can easily be followed by most readers, whatever their upbringing or education level. The author's job is to present an alternate view of reality that is compelling. Only text that is easily understood can be fully absorbed and endorsed by a reader.

The need to emphasize logic and sense in your stories may mean that your final editing process is ruthless. You may need to remove paragraphs, sections, and even chapters that have little or nothing to do with the story intention.

When editing, you will need to become acutely aware of how the writing flows from the point of view of the reader.

This is one of the main reasons why you should take time out between edits to distance yourself from your own work: you need to be able to see your writing from a reader's perspective.

If you can't manage that trick, show your work to others before you publish or submit to legacy publishers.

At the end of the day, writing for publication is about writing for other people: to entertain, to inform, and to help them transcend the norm. Your friends and fellow writers are often the very people who will tell you whether you're succeeding in that objective.    

There's a whole new industry growing online that offers to edit your material for publication - for a price, of course.

But actually, to me, using a third party editor can cause long term problems for you. Not least because, unless you edit regularly, you'll never learn how to do it properly.

You really should be editing to the best of your own ability at all times.
This does not mean giving your work a cursory once over just after you've written it (as far too many new writers do.) No. It means studying every word, sentence, every piece of punctuation, grammar, every nuance and stylistic inflection - and to keep editing until you know for sure that what you've done is good enough for mass market consumption.

If you're not sure of the quality of your own work, join writers' critique groups. 

Offer to read and give feedback on other writers' work in return for feedback on your own. Sure, show your manuscripts to your friends and family. They can be the most brutal critics, when they're not trying to be nice.

Other writers are most often the best critics because they're coming from a different place than you and they may have higher standards than even most readers.

Before you proceed to publication or submission, my advice would be that your thoroughly edited manuscript should be read by at least two or three other writers.

Keep Writing!
Rob Parnell's Writing Academy