3 Things Every Writer Needs to Know ---by LA Jamison

We may not admit it but we all like to achieve goals or arrive to destinations quicker if we can, even if it involves a little bit of cutting a corner or a cheat--so long as no one is hurt.  Better yet, when we have the skills to race far ahead of the pack who do not possess the skills we have, our ego get's twice the rush. Here are three key items you can use to get your writing ahead of the pack. It will make your writing relevant and more focused in a era where everyone is coming out with a book. These three tips can help you stand out above the fray.   

 Matej Mohoric is ahead of the pack here and wins the Gold.

Matej Mohoric is ahead of the pack here and wins the Gold.

1. Write What You Know Toward An Audience Who Doesn't Know It

The easiest thing to write about is what we already know.  It could be something in your life you have overcome, to using characters in a piece of fiction who are based off of family or friends, or a how-to around a hobby you have been doing for years.  However, this doesn't mean you can't do research, learn something new and write about it.  Even if you are creating a piece of fiction, you can still incorporate things you know or research into your make-believe time that make your writing have greater impact.  Whatever the case, you should be writing "in the know".  

Next, you will then do what all teachers do in the classroom: you will tell it like you are sitting across from someone who has no earthly idea what you are talking about.  There are some exceptions but even in trade books or a publication where you might expect the reader's to know some kind of trade industry lingo, it is always best to assume that your readers may not understand these things.  You don't want to isolate potential readers who are looking at the subject for the first time or who are returning to your genre after a long absence.  There is no quicker way to have a reader not buy your book than to write over your reader's head.  You write over a reader's head anytime you cannot assume your reader knows what you are talking about when you haven't told them.  Except in cases of developing a mystery of some sort, you should assume the very opposite--that they do not know what you are talking about.  This is key in teaching as it is in writing.  

I don't know about you but I find it frustrating picking up what appears to be a great fiction novel with a thrilling cover that ends up using a lot of names for things that are made-up words which never really get defined.  Magical orbs and cities that are given no history aren't really all that magical if that history and description largely remains in the writer's head.  You don't wow people by a bunch of gobbly-gook words. It might be "make-believe" but when you are trying to get people to buy into your universe, it can't come across fake.    When you introduce something to your reader, whether it be a fictional word, character or any concept or definitions (fiction or non-fiction), you will want to "teach" it or "define" it quickly as possible.  The more you have of these unexplained and undefined words, the more you will frustrate your reader.  This doesn't mean your explanations or definitions have to be boring.  You can also save it for a glossary or some kind of appendix.  

To help in this regard, here's a motto in script writing that I take to all my writing: show it, don't tell it. In script writing, you want everything to be revealed through action and in a lesser sense dialogue.  Of course, this doesn't fully apply to novel writing; however, authors can take "show it" to mean not just telling via actions but great description as well.  If your characters or story can "show" something rather than you as narrator "tell" something, all the better because it keeps your reader in the story.  Even better yet, what this phrase "show it, don't tell it" reminds me of, is to think out of the box.  Don't be boring and just do information drops.  Is there some creative way to bring to bring your new word or concept forward?  Is there something that can happen to a character that introduces this concept? Is it a good time to interject a flashback? Can you use those stories from your childhood  to introduce and spice up your how-to around building this or that? What made your understanding of the words or concepts easier for you to grasp? Then, use that. You really can't avoid some information dumping, especially in how-to's but as much as possible when things have the potential to become boring, get creative with the telling of it.

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2. Know Your Niche' Audience and What They Want/Need

One thing I know for certain with writing is that by the point I am hungering to publish and market my piece, I want the whole world to read it, benefit from it and love-it-love-it-love-it! However, think of author J.K. Rowling and The Harry Potter books. Young and old have come to love Harry Potter but it was marketed at first for a niche audience--children.  It was the excitement of the children that forced adults to buy every copy, read them to their kids and eventually get hooked themselves.  Adults love Harry Potter now but precisely because it gives them the escape of putting themselves in a child's shoes again and live out a fantasy.  This happened because of where J.K. Rowling knew her audience to be children and crafted her writing to them and what they would want.  Now, imagine the Harry Potter books and movies if the author geared them for adults (wrong audience) or a mix of adults and children (too broad of an audience).  This would have deluded J.K. Rowling's writing by trying to appease a wide audience with different wants and needs that she couldn't have possibly met while keeping the writing compelling enough for children.

Narrow you audience down.  Is your piece for women trying to balance a career and child rearing? Maybe your book speaks to teens? Computer gurus? Teachers? Counselors? People of faith?  Once you narrow your audience down, you will want to start to think and explore what your audience wants and needs.  Do they need encouragement because they are on a challenging road? Maybe they need to be challenged and see the necessity for a change in mind-set?  Are they young children who need things like role models and happily-ever after endings?  Whatever that need is make sure your book or article delivers on it. If you are unsure of what your audience may want or need, look at other books or articles like the one you want to write. You can do this easily now online without having to leave home! What topics are your peers in your specific market covering? Better yet, what are they missing that your audience really wants or needs to know?  I wrote this article based off of this very concept.  Being a writer, I know what writer's need to hear.  The advice I'm giving you here is advice I needed to hear years ago so I know I'm hitting a need and want out there.  

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3. Know What Your Writing Piece Offers People & Market That!

Whether your story is about a character with a fluid sexuality and a gender non-conformist or your book is about how to do something in the least expensive way possible, what is that special thing(s) your piece of writing has to offer the audience you just identified in tip #2?  Maybe you got a story that is better than Harry Potter, The Hobbit or James and the Giant the Peach! Maybe you have household tips that are better than Martha Stewart! Okay, great! So, why is your book special?  Even better yet, why is your book better than the rest? You have got to get specific on the answer to this question because this will be the very selling point of your piece to others.  Do you have a quicker or easier way to do something?  Have you been through something very few talk about in real terms?  Consider this the whip-cream on the cake of your writing.  You always get that question with a dessert right-- "Would you like some whip cream with that?". It really makes you buy that delectable dessert and eat it all up, doesn't it? Maybe even a cherry on top?   Well, the same holds true with what specialty your book has to offer.  No body wants to see you ramble for the sake of reading it.  Just because you thought it or dreamed it up, this doesn't mean people want to spend the time or money reading it, despite the effort you put in (because they often don't comprehend what that effort entails).  You may be thinking, "Oh no! My writing really doesn't have anything special after all! Maybe I should give up!?!"  Not necessarily.  You can turn a rather self absorbed piece of writing into something special by taking that piece and going through the prior two points I just covered.  Draft pieces rarely ever finish how they are started so don't be afraid to re-write something.  Start interjecting and transforming that piece around what you know and put your audience first and then make adjustments accordingly. 

When it is all said and done, you will want to promote this writing piece through some combination of you addressing your niche' audience and what their need is and lastly, how your book meets that need, like no other book does.  Then, you truly may have a best seller on your hands. 

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