Saturday, March 28, 2015

Developing a Voice of Authority

Why is some writing believable and other writing isn’t? What makes the reader believe in some pieces and know that the material is made up in others? The answer to both questions is voice of authority, that sense the reader gets when reading that the writer really knows what he or she is talking about.

Most writers don’t even think of this when writing. A voice of authority enables the writer to create a depth to a piece of writing in non-fiction and to characters in fiction. This comes from research. To write with depth takes lots of research. The more research you do, the better you’ll be able to draw your reader into your article or story.

The effect of a good voice of authority makes the writer seem like an expert in the subject. What captures readers is a sense that the voice of the writer has authority.

So how do you become an authority on a subject without years of study? There are several ways you can become an authority on the subject. Obviously, you can prove you’re an authority if you’ve already amassed this knowledge through earning an undergraduate or graduate degree, or if you’re a professional writing about a subject in your field. But you can also rely on experts through interviews and research. Lastly, your own personal experiences might give you all the authority you need about a particular subject. After all, the cardinal rule in writing is to write what you know.

But knowing your subject well isn’t the only secret. To truly draw your reader in, you need to write using active voice. That means you’ll have to forget what you learned in school because there you learned to write in the academic style where writers hide in the shadows and have to credit their sources.

Writing in the active voice is in-your-face writing. In it the subject of your sentences controls the action through active verbs that offer precise images to the reader. Combine that with knowledge and you’ve got a winner. Using adjectives that describe scenes and people precisely also helps to improve the authority of your voice. Authority not only involves what you know but your values and your vision. In some cases, this may involve your personal beliefs.

What person you choose to use to write your story also affects your voice of authority. If you write in the third person, the reader views it as a report on what’s happening. If you write in the second person, the reader becomes personally involved—like in this blog. And if you write in the first person, whether your story is true or not, the reader believes every word because it’s coming straight from the horse’s (your) mouth.

But even if you choose to write in the third person, you can still demonstrate your authority on the subject by the details you choose to include. Using lots of details make it seem to the reader that you really know your subject, even if it’s the one and only piece you’ve written on it.

In creating convincing fictional characters, many writers research the lives of real people to gain insight into how they think and communicate about their chosen lifestyle and locality. This isn’t any different than method film actors who take the time to follow along with a real person who’s in the same occupation and lives in the same region as the character they’ll be playing on the screen. That’s what makes their performance so believable. That’s what draws viewers into a film and makes them empathize with the character.

Narrative authority signifies believability. It’s a series of deliberate yet subtle cues that you’ll use to convince the reader that what he or she sees on the page amounts to a genuine human experience. In order for this to work, the reader must accept that the you, as the article writer or storyteller, are the best person to deliver the information. Ultimately, authority convinces readers to take a leap of faith. It instills trust and makes the reader believe that the illusion of the story in fiction is as real as anything else. In non-fiction, especially historical writing, it propels the reader back to another time and place.

However, you must not use tricks and gimmicks to work authority into your writing. You’ve got to be honest with your reader and show that you truly know your subject. That’s the only way it will work.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Spring Into Something Special

Spring is here once again—well, it is if you live in someplace warm. It’s a time for renewal and optimism, a time for looking beyond what you’ve accomplished into new waters. If you’ve been freelancing for a while and are just sort of floating along, perhaps it’s time to consider developing a specialty.

If you’re a good writer, you should be able to write about anything. Right? Not exactly. In the world of freelance writing, there are two groups, generalists and specialists. The former is a person who writes fairly well on just about any topic. These writers usually sell their work to local or regional publications. The latter is a person who writes knowledgeably and passionately about a particular subject.

The difference between these two types of writers is the difference between the words “subject” and “topic.” Understanding that difference can make a mediocre writer shine. A subject is a broad category, perhaps travel. A topic is a specific idea within the subject. You’d think that the two should be reversed for generalists and specialists. But they’re not.

As a generalist, you’ll write about a variety of topics, none of them in depth. Switching from one topic to a completely different one constantly uses a lot of energy and resources. You’ll have to do two or three times the research because you most likely won’t know anything about each topic. While some may be related, most won’t be.

But as a specialist, you’ll have studied a subject extensively. In short, you’ll become somewhat of an expert. So instead of writing about just one topic, you’ll write about many topics within the realm of that subject. Instead of writing about travel and switching from one country to another, you would write about just one country or group of countries, say Italy, in depth. But won’t that limit my markets, you ask? It might, but on the other hand, once editors get to know how much you know about a subject, they’ll seek you out.

So how do you go about developing a specialty. Learning about a particular subject can take years, but it’s possible to get a running start in about two years. That means you’ll still have to write generally while you’re learning.

The first step you want to take is to study the markets for your subject. If there has been a lot of writing done on it, then perhaps you should consider another subject altogether. However, if the topics you’re planning to write about are a bit overdone, you may want to consider others. If little has been written on the subject, say Norway, then perhaps the market isn’t big enough to specialize in that subject.

After you’ve researched the markets and decided whether to specialize in your subject, find one or two really good general books about the subject in which you plan to specialize. Read them not once but several times. Learn all about your subject.

Next, find articles on your subject and study them to see what other writers are doing on the same subject. Begin with your interests. If your specialty is Italy, what about that country interests you—history, food, culture, politics, etc.  Watch videos related to your subject.

Develop a network of resources. Search the Internet for Web sites and blogs specializing in your subject. Bookmark the sites and follow a few of the blogs. Subscribe to publications dealing with your subject, either in print or online.

Finally, and most importantly, begin to develop a network of contacts. You’ll need to know a variety of people who are knowledgeable about the topics you plan to write about.

After you’ve done all of the above, you’ll be ready to begin writing some short articles about your subject. Don’t make the mistake of diving in too deep and writing a definitive article about any topic within your subject area at first. At this point, you aren’t knowledgeable enough. Wait until you become an expert on the subject to do that.

Over the years, your knowledge about your subject will grow and so will your markets. Your articles will become more in-depth and insightful. Eventually, you may be doing half or more of your writing on that subject. And by that time, it may be a good idea to consider writing a book on it.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Finding Your Ideal Reader

Whether you always knew you wanted to be a writer or you’ve just recently discovered that you had some hidden talent, one of the hardest things to learn is to whom you should focus your writing.

Everyone learns to write in school, but the type of writing you learned during those years was the kind used by academics. In this type of writing, the main focus is on the writer. But to academics that seems egotistical. So many find ways to avoid drawing attention to their interests and opinions and use such devices as passive voice to direct the reader to their subject, sucking the energy out of it. 

But since you’ve gotten interested in writing for publication, you’ve probably discovered that focusing on yourself doesn’t really get you anywhere. That’s because writing outside of academia focuses on the reader. As soon as you realize this, you’ll be on your way—almost.

Focusing on the reader is only the beginning. To be successful at writing for publication, you have to focus on a specific reader. If you try to write to a whole room full of people, for example, you won’t hit your mark because each reader is different.

While this isn’t as important in writing short pieces like articles or short stories, it plays a major role when you write books. Some people say you should write a book that you would buy, but not every reader has your same likes or interests.
Perhaps you think you should write for your editor. Surely, that will impress him or her. Unfortunately not. Your editor won’t be buying your book.

To find the best reader to write for, think of someone you know that would enjoy reading about the subject of your book. This applies to both fiction and non-fiction. For instance, if you decided to write a travel book about a particular country, think of who best from the people you know would enjoy traveling there.

Another avenue of approach is to visualize one person. Let’s say it’s a man. How old is he? What does his do for a living? What’s his level of education? Is he married? Does he have a family? What are his interests? What is his name? Imagine him reading your book. What sort of questions might he have? Once you answer these questions, you’ll be able to begin writing your book.

As you work on each chapter, imagine him reading it. Is he able to understand what you wrote? If it’s a non-fiction book, is it too technical for him? If it’s a novel, is the plot too complicated?

Once you learn the tastes of your ideal reader, you’ll learn to write to those tastes.  Doing so will force you to be consistent in both style and voice in your writing.

By focusing on your ideal reader, everyone with similar interests reading your book will be drawn into it. The reaction you want to get from your reader is that he can’t put it down.  You want to enlighten and entertain your ideal reader. What results from this method is a focused effort that targets your reader. By fulfilling your ideal reader’s expectations, you’ll have a reader for life—and a successful book.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Is Writing a Book All It’s Cracked Up to Be?

It seems most beginning writers want to write a book. Some of them start out doing that without ever having written anything else for publication. Why is that? It could be that “authors” seem to get the most exposure. When was the last time you remember the name of the writer of an article or short story?  Probably never. But readers tend to remember and talk about those who write books. Remember, not all writers are authors but all authors are writers.

Perhaps it’s the title of author that seems to get more respect. Have you ever been at an event where someone asked you what you did? If you said that you’re a writer, they probably asked what you’ve written. If you only had written a short article on tips for winterizing your home, they probably wouldn’t be impressed. But turn that into a book on whole house maintenance and their ears will probably perk up.

So before you dive into writing your first book, think about the mistakes lots of beginning writers make.

First and foremost, don’t start out writing a book. It’s a huge project that will use every once of writing skill you have. Start out small writing articles or short stories. Get used to writing, itself, and improve your writing and thinking skills. Remember, an average non-fiction book equals perhaps 10-25 articles. A novel equals even more short stories. A book is so big that you may forget the beginning before you get to the end. So you’ve got to develop your planning skills as well.

Some people say not to tell anyone about your book. That’s rubbish. Discuss your idea with close friends or family members. Listen to what they have to say about it, but don’t necessarily take their advice. What you decide to do is totally up to you. However, too many beginning writers think that if they talk about what they’re doing, someone will steal their idea. As a writer, you should have lots of ideas and variations on them. But your friends and family aren’t about to steal them. Talking about your book idea may firm it up in your mind, but don’t talk about it to strangers.

Stay objective while working on your book. This is hard to do. Some writers fall in love with parts of their book. This doesn’t help when it comes to editing later on. And editing doesn’t just mean looking out for mistakes in grammar and such. Editing for continuity and length is an important part of the process. If you’re objective, you’ll be able to delete parts that don’t belong.

If you haven’t done any writing for publication before starting your book, you’re in for a big surprise. Beginning writers often think that the words will just pour out and the book will write itself. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

No matter what kind of book you’re going to write, you must set some realistic goals. Writing a book takes months of hard work, beginning with thinking about it, then intensive research, planning it out, writing the first draft, revising and re-writing, and finally editing. The idea of writing a book in a month, itself is unrealistic. So don’t follow the crowd in NaNoWriMo and plan to write your book come November.

You need to set some long-term goals for your book project and some short-term ones. Know where you want to be on the project in say six months. For short-term goals, set them to write each chapter. Consider each chapter a unit by itself. Also, set time goals. Figure how much time you’ll have to write each day and plan to write for that amount of time, no matter how many words you put down. Even if you write a little each day, it will all add up. Above all, don’t go on writing binges and work for hours on end. Limit the time you write.

Get organized from the start. Create a folder for your book in your computer, then create subfolders for each of the chapters within that. You’ll also need folders for your research within the main folder. Number your drafts to keep them separate from each other. And save your work often. Some word processors, such as Corel WordPerfect, automatically save your work after a certain number of minutes, say 10, that you specify. That means that even if your program crashes, your work is backed up. Otherwise, set a timer to go off on your smartphone every so often to remind you to save your work. At the end of each writing session, also save your book draft on a thumb or external hard drive or to the Cloud if you have that available.

Writing a book is hard work, so make sure you enjoy doing it. Pick an idea that you love and really get into it. Remind yourself why you why you decided to write a book in the first place.