Monday, November 29, 2010

Ill-advised Projects

An author mentioned her book in the comments of another blog the other day, so I went to see what the book was about. The author appears to have written the book to impart the wisdom she has gained during her life—all twenty-two years of it—through “poems and journalistic thoughts.” In other words, she published her diary. The folks over at PublishAmerica printed it for her, so don’t think this went through some editorial review process. But the fact is that she isn’t the first author who has published something so ill-advised. If she had sent her work to an agent, we know how it would’ve turned out. “Not for me.” But if we know that, then why didn’t she realize that? More importantly, how can we recognize our own ill-advised projects?

I suppose that he problem could be that we’re all so blinded by our own conceit that we can’t see how bad our own projects really are. That’s a unsatisfactory answer because that would mean that we have no means of judging the value of our own work. It isn’t just a problem with being able to tell whether the project idea is any good, it would also mean that we have no means of determining if the way we are telling the story, the sentences we use and our word choices are any good. Being so blinded, we shouldn’t even attempt to write without someone sitting at our side to tell us if what we’re doing is any good. That’s ridiculous. A good writer knows when his work is good, so it’s something a wannabe should learn.

Too often, authors look at the rule of writing that says we should write for one and only one person and they assume that the one person is either the writer or God. Let’s get that notion out of our heads. We should instead be writing to that reader that we want to see changed by what we write. That image of our reader is very important because it defines what we write. The things we would have to say to an electrical engineer are different from what we would say to a politician. Our subject matter would be different. The words we choose would be different.

In evaluating the worth of our project, we must keep our reader in mind, just like an agent or a publisher would, but we shouldn’t ask whether we are saying something we want the reader to know. Instead, we should ask whether this is something the reader believes he want to know. For non-fiction, we might write something that has all kinds of information an electrical engineer could understand, but until he sees a way he can apply it to his job, he isn’t interested. So, if we can’t see why our reader would want to apply our project to his life, then the whole project is junk. In the case of the author I mentioned above, she needs to grow up and realize that unless the author has had a particularly unusual experience, people don’t look to twenty-two year olds for life advice. For that matter, there aren’t many readers who want to read someone else’s journal. Put stuff like that on a blog.

With fiction it is more of a question of whether our reader would like to venture off into the world of our story. Forget the rules, but ask yourself if you are creating an environment that your reader will enjoy. Your reader in this case is defined more by genre. A romance reader enjoys a different kind of story than a mystery reader who enjoys a different kind of story than a techno-thriller reader does.

It’s an easy thing to do—I’ve been guilty of this—to sit down and write a story, just because we want to tell the story, without giving any thought of who the reader is. We assume that there’s a reader for anything we might write. That’s probably true. Her name is Mom. But who are the other readers. If we aren’t sure or if those readers are hard to find, our project probably isn’t any good.

1 comment :

Michelle D. Argyle said...

Great advice, yes. The more I get into publishing the more I see how important it is to know who you're writing for.