Put simply, a writer spends time writing for readers. At the end of the day, “readers” may be singular and synonymous with the writer, or add up to millions. Last Thursday I shared with you six lessons I’d learned from writing. This past week I had the opportunity to put in approximately 26 hours of writing time on Ashlee’s book. What I got in return were 6 chapters, 15,157 words and 1 more beautiful lesson about myself that will serve (I hope) to make me a better writer, one who does a much greater job of writing for readers.
Ask yourself some tough questions.
Each person should put a pause on life sometimes to ask himself some pointed questions. This is just good practice to be a better person—to be a better husband, wife, friend, leader, co-worker, parent, etc. This is also good practice for your career. Whether you are a welder, a doctor, a teacher or a writer, you should ask yourself hard questions from time to time to make sure you’re doing what you were meant to do and to make sure you’re doing it to the absolute best of your ability.
So, here are some questions I asked myself:
Who can I benefit by writing?
What do I love about writing?
Where would I be without writing?
When could I possibly set my pen aside?
Why is this so much more than something I do?
How is this my passion and my calling?
Early on in my journalism career I learned the 5 Ws and the H. Each interview and every story received all six of these questions…plus one more—SO WHAT? My journalism professor in college taught me that one. He told us, “Sure! You’ve got to give people all the facts. Answer all those questions that you’ve been taught for years to ask. But, don’t stop there. Your readers have another question, and that’s the most important one. They’re going to scan the headlines, a few first lines here and there. When they find something that affects them—words that give them a reason to read—they’ll stop scanning. You’ve got to answer their ‘So What?‘”
Every reader asks this question when choosing what words to spend time with. This applies to everything from newspapers to novels.
Taxes are going up agin. So what? Does this directly affect me? If so, how?
This girl faces a destiny that will separate her from friends, family and an ordinary life. So what? What’s so special about this tale that I should commit my valuable reading time to it? Will this little faerie story change my life in some way?
Since every reader asks this each time they make a choice of what to read, the writer must answer this question—not once, but twice.
I like to write. So what?
It’s easy to say, “I like to write.” But, the thing is, that’ll get you about as far as the second page.
When the giants Fear and Self-Doubt come charging at you with massive clubs, your yelling “I like to write!” in a tiny, insignificant voice isn’t going to win the battle. Those words feel mighty diminutive compared to the words of critics, skeptics and “professionals.” And, those words won’t help a whole lot when it’s 2 a.m., and you haven’t been this exhausted since you had your first newborn; but you’re trying desperately to write one more scene before you collapse for three hours before it’s time for your day job. (News flash: A writer’s life isn’t actually all that glamorous. It’s late nights; bags under the eyes; lots of junk food; unbrushed hair; and lovely, powerful words.)
I like to write. So what?
I finally answered this question this past week. I’ve always said, “I love to write!” I’ve always known I wanted to be a writer; so I chose that as my profession. I’ve always known I also wanted to be an author. So, though I took the long way around, I am here now, working to make that happen. But, this extra question has remained unanswered. As I worked on Ashlee’s book this past week, all the doubts melted away for me about taking that step from writer to author; and, reader, I answered that final question.
I can’t NOT write.
I CAN and WILL write a book…and another…and another, until I can no longer lift a pen, tap a key or speak a word. I like to write because:
Who I am,
What I love,
Where I land,
When I’m most at home,
Why I breathe,
How I speak and
I can’t NOT do it.
I simply can’t NOT create those worlds. I can’t NOT tell that inspirational story. I can’t NOT follow that beckoning character across the misty moors on a dark and stormy night.
I’m writing a book, article, blog post, short story, poem, play, etc. So what?
Once that first so what receives its answer (which will be different for every person), a writer must answer a second so what to be completely prepared for writing for readers. You’re writing something—doesn’t matter what; if you’re writing, you’re writing FOR someone.
You’re writing for a reader. So what?
Who should read it?
What’s in it for them?
Where can it most affect people?
When will it touch someone?
Why should someone read it?
How can your words affect or alter someone?
How are you going to answer your readers’ so what? Of all the zillions of words out there, why should they sacrifice their valuable time to read yours?
This, my friend, is how you perfect writing for readers.
Writer, once you answer those questions, you’ve answered the second so what. You’ve unlocked the key to your readers’ hearts and you’ve found the path to sharing all the passion and joy and hope and tales bound up within your soul.
Go forth and write!
Writers, which questions do you still need to answer? Which ones have you already answered? I’d love to hear any surprising or life-altering solutions you’ve discovered on your journey!
Readers, how has a writer answered those questions for you? Think of a favorite read and share with us how it answered that most important question for you.
By the way, the lovely photo on today’s post comes to you by the beautiful and talented Casie Jones Photography!