Missed an article from this series? Look for it here.
“Understand Writing Essentials”
You decided you want to write. You started working on your marketing budget. You figured out how to manage your time. You prepared yourself for rejection.
But have you actually learned how to write?
If not, this would be a good time to remind you that it’s important to know what you’re doing if you say you’re a writer.
Disclaimer: Much of what I write here is an echo of my seventh article from the Why It’s Okay to Write for Fun series, but it’s also one of the most important parts of preparing for a writing career, so let’s learn it again! Go ahead, refresh your memory.
Now, I should emphasize right at the start that understanding the writing essentials doesn’t mean that merely typing words or knowing vocabulary is good enough to prove your skill. Any monkey can type, and any monkey has the potential to type out a few actual words. You tap at the keys long enough and you’ll eventually spell out a word someone will recognize. Likewise, you can flip open a dictionary, point to a word, and write it in whatever sentence you’re working on and sound like you know what it means. You might fool a few people, especially those who don’t normally read (assuming you’re savvy enough to get their attention). But you haven’t proven that you know what you’re doing.
We spent the last four weeks talking about the prep work behind establishing a successful writing career driven by effective marketing, but we haven’t yet discussed the most essential role of the writing and publishing journey—the writing itself. If you don’t know how to write, you’re not going to accomplish much with your writing. Common sense, right? For those of you who spend all day sending emojis to your friends, common sense is that thing we call “shared knowledge,” which is what you have when you make decisions or show understanding in reference to an obvious solution to a problem. For example, if you approach a busy intersection, common sense tells you to wait for the crossing signal to display the “walk” sign before you actually cross. The reason nobody waits for that signal is because, well, I’ll leave it up to you to figure that out.
Now, learning how to write is important, but it’s also important to learn how to write the type of work you want to publish. The fact is, writing isn’t just about words, but it’s also about structure, conventions, styles, and reader expectations. If you fail to deliver on any of these elements, then your writing is not going to accomplish any of the goals you’ve set for yourself. In that case, you’ve written into the wind.
Assuming you don’t want to write into the wind, here’s a sample of writing conventions you’ll want to consider before you start:
Are you writing fiction or nonfiction?
-Each major type has its own set of rules, so you’ll need to learn and follow them. For example, nonfiction focuses on true stories; fiction focuses on fake but sounds true stories.
Are you writing a business book or a relationships book (or a combination of both)?
-Every category or genre of nonfiction must address a main idea, and will ideally tell a true story or attempt to solve a problem or inspire you to come up with something profound to share with other readers.
Are you writing a mystery novel or a romance novel (or a mystery novel about why romance is so popular)?
-Every category of fiction must follow a story arc, told in three or four acts, and take the reader through a series of conflicts until the story’s problem has been solved. If there’s no conflict or structure, then there is no story.
Are you writing something original or are you plagiarizing?
-Let’s skip this one. Protip: Don’t plagiarize.
It’s also important that you know how to tell a story, even if you’re writing nonfiction. Readers are more engaged when they’re not only interested in the topic but also when they find themselves captivated by your awesome storytelling skills. Consider any biography you’ve ever read. Chances are, you get more out of the stories about fighters who overcome the odds (like Unbroken or Breaking Night) than those about winners who stay winners and learn nothing in the process (you probably won’t find any successful examples of this). Just because you write a book of nonfiction doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to captivate your reader with twists, turns, and a lesson to learn. I recently read a business biography about Nintendo, called Super Mario, that I couldn’t put down because its author knew how to tell a captivating story using real life and a real timeline of events. Nonfiction doesn’t mean boring!
And, of course, there’s grammar. Learn how to write at the sentence level. Yes, it takes time and practice to figure out how to use your commas and semicolons effectively, but your readers will thank you for your clarity. Don’t skimp on the micro level work. While you’re at it, work on vocabulary. You don’t need to write above a ninth grade reading level (and you probably shouldn’t, as higher reading levels will begin to alienate certain readers), but it’s a good idea to know as many words as possible to prevent long phrases from slowing down the reading when you could easily condense your thoughts yet say the exact same thing.
Challenge Time: Use your vocabulary skills to condense the above paragraph to its simplest form without changing the meaning. Submit your answers in the comments below.
Yes, learning how to write takes time and effort, but it’s the core essential to becoming a successful author. You can save all the money in the world and free up all the time in the world, but none of that will give you a successful writing career if you don’t learn how to write. And the best place to learn how to write is any published book, including those books about writing, of which you can find plenty, online and off. That means you should also learn how to read.
In case you missed my previous article on the fundamentals of writing, here again are some additional tips for you to ponder.
Next week we’ll address the happier sister to rejection, feedback!
Note: This article was supposed to go out on Wednesday, March 29th. I usually set these articles on a timer, but I was falling behind this week, and I hadn’t quite finished with the final draft Tuesday night (still needed to proofread and add my links). I thought I’d be able to finish and post Wednesday afternoon, but I was out and about from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to sleep, and yesterday I was recovering from exhaustion. So, it’s late. But now it’s posted. I should probably do a post about punctuality and meeting deadlines one of these days.
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