What do you ask yourself before you start writing?

 

Once there were times when I faced a deadline without taking time to think about what I wanted to say, or how I would say it, I started writing. It’s a natural reflex when under pressure. I remember a journalist friend saying of another, ‘He interviews his typewriter then records its words of wisdom.’

He was, of course, being sarcastic. I had to work with the other journalist as well and I must say I agreed with my friend who always researched his articles thoroughly and interviewed the right people to get both sides of the story . . . comment and counter-comment.

I have to admit there were occasions when I also interviewed my typewriter. Sometimes the pressure called for desperate measures. However, after my friend’s comment, I vowed never to ‘write in haste’ again. I had already had occasions where I had regretted taking that approach. Mistakes happen far too easily and typewriters are not really that great at writing articles. They are better these days with Google one click away.

So what prompted me to write a blog about this somewhat distant memory?

We have been doing more work on the Style Guide™ and that always prompts me to think about its potential as well as its existing capabilities.

If we pause to think about what we want to say before we start writing, we naturally identify our argument and the tone required to put it across convincingly. We even benefit from putting down a few notes, as these clarify our thoughts and begin to establish in our minds what a suitable style for this article, essay, or assignment might be.

With time and practice, this moment of reflection becomes reflexive and requires less time.

So does style matter? Yes it does. For example advertising uses language differently to an Annual Shareholders Report. An upbeat obituary is rarely appropriate but then so is a sombre account of a wedding. The same applies for travel narratives, science fiction and any other genre.

There are appropriate styles to match the occasion just as there are appropriate clothes to meet dress codes for events - little black dresses for cocktail parties and jeans for horse riding.

I learnt that the first thing to do, before putting down a single word, was to decide how I wanted my reader to react. That moment decides the style. If we do nothing else we want to connect with our readers and we want them to react in a way that achieves our desired outcome – a nod of agreement, a howl of protest, a push of the icon to send on a posting.

So the kinds of questions I usually ask before I start writing are:

Do I want to stir the emotions? Do I want to increase a reader’s understanding of a topic?

Do I want them to nod their heads and say, ‘I get that?’

Do I want them to rush to an outlet to buy a product?

Do I want them to enter an entirely new world created by my description of scene and ambience?

Usually I am seeking to achieve one of these things, something else or a mix of them.

The Style Guide™ makes it easy to test whether or not I have achieved my aim.

When I put my writing through I want the result to be one that tells me the writing is in the quadrant that represents that general style – fact based, serious, investigative to the left; persuasive, fast-paced action packed and enjoyable to the right.

Above all I want my writing to make sense. Putting together a bunch of words is worse than interviewing my typewriter - or rather computer. Meeting a deadline is of no value if the writing does not measure up and the tone is not in line with the kind of story being told.

The Style Guide™ also guides new writers and tells them what to do if their writing needs attention. However, the Style Guide™ is not grammar or spell check. It aligns style with the writer’s intention.

It teaches students to think about their audience and how to communicate with them. That is an important lesson. All writers write to be read. Even shopping lists serve a purpose and exist to be read.

 

Comments

Writers need to engage their audience and keep them interested so they don't give up. This could be language used or story structure and style. Readers give up for a variety of reasons but writers always need to keep them in mind while converting an idea into text.
Thanks Ken. Perfect point!