There are many things to think about before, during and after writing and there isn’t room to cover them all here. However the following might be useful:
Writing as a flow of thoughts
Have you ever sat by yourself and started to think about something? Try turning those solitary thoughts into actual words, and record them in the form of written text. For example, think about the origin of your family; write all you know about your family. Write until you feel you have exhausted everything you know about your family, and also note down what you feel you don’t know about your family that you feel should be included in your story. Then leave the text for a day or two; do something else or write a different assignment. After two days, go back to your story and begin editing, adding or deleting information. I am sure the story will read differently and you will see a significant improvement.
The next thing now is to do research about your family by seeking information about your family’s origin. Design a family tree, starting from where you have reached in your research. For every person on the family tree, write a profile, at least 500 words if possible. By the end of this activity you will have written a book about your family’s origin; that is how to come up with an idea to write about. Claiming that you have writer’s block and you don’t know where to begin writing is a condition that you have created yourself. So long as you can think, and you are able to put your thoughts onto blank pages, there is no room for writer’s block.
A friend once asked me what I did for a living. I told him, ‘I write to eat’. He asked another question, what do I write? I told him that I write anything. He went further, asking where I get topics and ideas to write about. I told him that I write what I love, and what I think people will love to read about. Still he continued, asking how I write to editors and publishers requesting they consider my piece of work or how do I get a good comment from a reader? Immediately, I knew why he was asking these questions. He had been on the receiving end of my rejections and critical comments. I had to be frank with him; I had to tell him that I went through the same experience as he did, but that I had improved my writing or followed suggestions from editors and publishers about how to rewrite my piece including how to get the right angle to fit with what the publisher wanted.
Five points of advice
I had suffered from this experience to the extent of giving up writing, and I realized that he needed advice before it was too late. I had five points of advice to give him to save his writing career: first, I advised him to be like a teacher and educate his readers; second, to write simply to be understood immediately at the first reading; third, to be sharp like a needle to ‘inject’ information into the mind of his readers in the introduction to his pieces; fourth, to be an entertainer and use his writing as entertainment so that readers like it; and last, in as far as he could, to answer any question that the reader might ask about his pieces and the topic he is covering so that he gains his reader’s trust. Editors and publishers will consider if his work should be published to their target market because no publisher wants to risk getting bad feedback from their market, which is their audience. That is why they are careful about what pieces to publish.
People read because they want to know something, so as a writer you need to try telling your readers what they want to know and prove the facts to them using real-life examples. It is your job as a writer to teach the reader. That is why I advised my friend to be like a teacher. The publisher is the writer’s first audience and immediately acts as a litmus paper to test the suitability of your writing for public consumption. If they don’t like your piece it means probably the public won’t like it.
Simplicity makes understanding easier
If the publisher struggles to understand your writing, then it would be even more difficult for their public to understand it. That’s why, sometimes, if the publisher likes the topic but feels you have not written about it very well, they might give you another chance to rewrite your piece for publication. When you’re trying to communicate with your readers, try to be easy to understand from the start. The reader does not have time to look up a difficult word or guess what you mean. Clarity and to the point is very important in any writing and keeping it simple gives you a better chance of reaching your market. A writer has to introduce information into readers’ minds, immediately they begin reading a piece. And they must feel the urge to read more. Readers should not have to guess what a writer means, but instead should be clear about what the writer has told them. If the reader starts wondering, what the writer means, then you are likely to lose that reader and receive negative feedback.
The method used by journalists is the best way to get your message delivered to the readers immediately, even if they read only a paragraph: scholars call it the magic bullet theory.
When reading newspapers, for example, some people will not read a whole news story. They read headlines and the first paragraph of every story that is of interest to them, and then they have a grasp of the main information, and have no need for unnecessary details. Those details are left for people who are interested and have the time to read the whole story. Writing that beats around the bush before coming to the main point is likely to annoy readers: they want information immediately.
Show, don’t tell
Readers read for a purpose. Remember how to hook them, entertain them, teach them and make them want to read more. Write clearly and simply and introduce humor if relevant. Present your argument in a way that makes the readers able to see what you are telling them in their mind’s eye. In journalism jargon, it is showing the readers the story and not telling them the story.
When describing a character or a place, take your readers right to that place, let them see images of a character or location through the right choice of words; take the readers to the scene, but don’t tell them, for example, that a building is glamorous, let them come to that conclusion through your vivid description of it. It’s not even necessary to use the word ‘glamour’. But don’t overdo it: your graphic description, your good, tactical use of language is what shows the reader how glamorous the place is, not highly coloured exaggeration.
Knowledge of the genre you are writing for is very important. A feature writer, for example, might decide to write an article on how to prevent malaria. The writer uses simple language that is understood by everyone, in a step-by-step way so that the message can be understood by anyone reading it, not just a health professional.
The type of writing meant for professionals in a certain field uses different language from that used by someone writing for the public. Writing for the general public needs to be simple to pass the message on to the reader, so don’t use professional jargon; only use professional jargon if your target audience consists of, for example, health practitioners, lecturers or students.
Prepare for this type of writing with thorough research and try to break professional jargon into more common, simple, everyday words. Simplifying the subject may be hard, but as a good writer, it is the only way you can gain the trust of your readers. Readers should not be having to look up words in the dictionary while reading your work.
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