Hey Writer—Handle with Care

Hey Writer: Handle with Care (jjhowe)Hey, writer! Your wordsmithing skills are strengthening. (Remember when a blank page made you sigh and stare at the ceiling? That’s less frequent now. Or if you start counting holes in ceiling tiles, you can break the pattern. Celebrate little victories!) The writing life is a challenge, but it’s also exciting. You’re crafting sentences now, and you know it. Still—there are things to think about.

It’s time to write with care.
By now you’ve got a reader in mind when you write. You know all about her, even see her face. What does your relationship feel like? Are you friends? Now write with her in mind. Choose words that communicate and connect, rather than overwhelm or confuse. If the relationship to your reader is caretaking, you might reach her with words that encourage or soothe her soul. If banter is your connection, you can still respect her stage of life, knowledge of the world, and her worldview. If she’s your nemesis, you may be crafting word weapons. (This is a challenge for me, and I do well to borrow Shakespeare’s words like I did here. It could be the difference between nuclear devastation fueled by unchecked emotion and precise targeting through borrowed words.)

Talk to your real, imaginary friend.
You’re writing to a reader, having a conversation on the page with an imaginary friend of your own invention—a clearly identified, very real reader. Now you’ve got a job to do.  Think about your work in these terms.

  • Hold her attention. If you make writing decisions centered purely on your own preference, she’ll sense that. If you’re not inviting her into the conversation or honoring her presence, it will be obvious. Invite your reader into your world of words prepared for her before she ever cracked the cover. If you’ve been thinking of her, she’ll know. She’ll feel welcome, like she belongs.
  • Move her along in your work. When she enters your writing world, be sure to gift her with a page-turner. Use language that’s easily understood, phrasing that reads naturally, and descriptions that serve her. If you choose to bog her down in difficult language, sentences that require two or three attempts, and heavy-handed details that are overwhelming or overdone, she may be done (long before you’d like!).
  • Genuinely impact her life. Leave her with all the benefits of your words. Choose well what you share—make your work a gift that keeps giving long after the final words. Has she met new friends? Visited new places? Grown in her knowledge or wisdom? Is her quality of life better for reading your words? Those are some goals.

It’s not about you.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it a hundred times (probably). A writer is an artist who births a beautiful “child” in the final draft, a child who might seem to be the darling who can do no wrong. A writer who never feels this way either has no genuine connection to the work or extreme insecurity in it (a topic for another day). The mature writer learns to love writing, wholeheartedly enjoying the process and avoiding self-indulgence for the sake of the reader. If a writer manages to balance the creativity and crafting with love for the reader, it’s a win-win. The writer writes, the reader reads, and the work’s fulfillment comes through the reader’s engagement.

Writer, handle your reader and words with care. Do that through skillful, thoughtful writing.

~Jennifer

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Hey Writer—Highs, Lows, and the Everyday Flow

The Highs, Lows, and Everday Flows, jjhoweHey, Writer! I’ve got a question for you: What is big in your mind? When you answer the first time, just assume you need to ask several times to go deeper and mine the nugget of truth waiting for you. I tossed out casual answers the first two times, but found the revealing, transforming stuff when I gave the question the time it deserved.

Answering the Question
My first answer was words and word count—those were big in my mind. A writer writes, so words are artfully crafted and tallied. Without words to count I couldn’t call myself a writer. Writing must be about the words.

On the heels of that was readers and platform. It only made sense the words must have fifteen minutes of fame in front of a reader. A writer writes for an audience; that means readers, and publishers want lots of them. It’s all about the platform, or so I thought.

My third go-round landed at message. The message soars on wings of words with the wind of a reader supporting it. The words need a guiding message to hem them in and give them significance. The reader can only understand the words in a message that connects to their mind, heart, or story. The message is large and in charge.

Then Gut-level Honesty…
When I quietly leaned into vulnerability, I had different answers, answers that changed like the weather or depended on the day.

The highs and lows registered as big. A writer can find the highest highs and the lowest lows overwhelming.

This post went viral! Viral? That’s crazy-awesome. I wrote that. I’m crazy-awesome. I can’t wait to get the next installment published!

Four thousand words today? Amazing! I wrote every one of ’em. I’m so proud. I’m amazing!

Brian says my message matters. My message matters. My message matters. My message matters! My message matters! I’m on it!

The last post went viral.  *Checks stats for the 20th time.*  Zero views? Zero? I am nothing!

A negative word count? How does that happen? Another week of this, and I quit! I suck.

Who would read this? Nothing new under the sun, they say. Why bleed on the page if it’s already been said? This is pointless. It’ll never see the light of day.

Oof! Highs and lows could kill a writer. I know them because I’ve been there and done that. I can laugh (now) because I’ve seen the other side of every high and low. Neither lasts forever, and a writer does well to remember that. Enjoy the highs and know most of us don’t live in them. Guard your heart in the lows—and know most of us don’t live in them forever either.

Keep writing on the roller coaster of the writing life. Whatever you do, don’t let a snapshot along the way define your journey. I’ve found I’m not always applauded or amazing, and I’m not always a nobody writing nothing. Be encouraged! It’s a journey with lots of learning along the way.

The Everyday Flow
As a writer generates content, sometimes the words that flow reflect the big things in life. What’s big in your life? Is it the highlight reel of your everyday life (like most Facebook statuses)? Is it the lowlights that have been endlessly chasing you? When a writer captures the everyday flow of life, it can land in the carefully constructed positive perspective or the negative one.

Writer, may I challenge you? The highlight reel is fun. The lowlight reel is tough. If we major on one or the other, we have reel life, not real life. Life ebbs and flows; we move from one moment to another. We can write life authentically including ourselves in the scenes, but it takes some effort to avoid landing in a single reel of life. A reader may like reading about the ordinary, the mundane, the good-bad-and-ugly of it all. The same reader, sensing an unrealistic, plastic life, may decline to engage. Or, sensing there is no joy to be found, may choose to find some elsewhere.

What if a writer chose to describe real life, rather than reel life? It might be interesting for your reader to know there are highs, lows, and everyday flows. Keep things real and in proportion. Give it a shot!

Hey writer, what do you think? Do your emotions ride the highs and lows? Do you write about the reel life or real life? I’m curious. Share away!

~Jennifer

Hey Writer, It’s a Jungle Out There

Graphic: It's a jungle out there! (Jennifer J Howe)

Writer, you face a challenge in this tech-savvy age. A writer seeks a unique reader, and it can feel like trekking to find Dr. Livingstone on the African continent.

Readers are inundated with messages 24-7-365. Inboxes flood with the messages they want and the junk they don’t. Hundreds of messages add up in little red circle alerts on phones everywhere.

An unknown writer is a sapling trying to grab a ray of light in the jungle. It sounds daunting or impossible.

Roughly 7 1/2 billion people call this blue marble home. If technology reached a fraction of them, there would be audiences for everyone. A handful of writers reach millions and tens of millions. Still, no one corners the market on global population. What if you believed there are enough readers for everyone? What if a community filled with encouragement helped others on their journey to the audience they’re looking for? What if we amplified others’ good words for the good of others?

A writer could do that, but it doesn’t feel natural. Language like competition, rat race, and dog-eat-dog colors our perspective. They say it’s a jungle out there. The truth is, you writerly neighbors two trees over in the jungle have messages that could reach readers near you. Writers sit in a jungle saturated with messages.

What will you do with this reality?

A few words of advice—

Connect!
Remember my post about Connection with your reader? Here’s another facet: connect with writers, even those who write in your neck of the woods. Someone writes well in your genre? Read it. Has a similar message? Read it—knowing your message, voice, and style are different and matter. Share the good words with other writers if you dare.

Grow!
Every writer must develop. A sapling in the forest may take longer to develop than the one dropped in a sunshiny meadow, granted. Be the diligent writer who grows where you’re planted.

Growth can mean many things. You might work to identify your audience and niche in the jungle. You might grow an e-mail list. You might even outgrow a generic site to your own dot com. Or try these:

  • Leverage technology to learn your craft, increase confidence, and publicize work.
  • Learn new writing techniques and genres. Stretch yourself.
  • Learn conventions in order to produce clean content.
  • Learn to become your own editing critic before sharing your work.
  • Get into encouraging learning environments (conferences).

Don’t get so comfortable you forget to grow, and don’t forget to count the baby steps you take along the way.

Clear the way!
Writer, get out your machete. There’s work to be done, and you’ll have to clear your way.

  • Cut extra words. It takes time to know good ones, but cut, cut, cut! Experienced writers write all the words and keep the good ones. Create a “Right Words, Wrong Timing” space to save the darlings you might need.
  • Be precise and remove unrelated content. I wanted to highlight this point. The scope of a writing project is genre-driven and theme-related. Keep to a specific, centered argument.
  • Be healthy! An author easily establishes and maintains an unhealthy link to the work. Friend, you are not your words, thoughts, or message. The ideas are separate and distinct from your person. Don’t get caught up in anxiety, shame, or distress. Be you—a writer—who has words, thoughts, and a message to be refined and shared.

Write!
If a tree falls in the jungle and no one hears it… Do you wonder if your efforts lead to a view on the screen? It’s natural. If a sapling had thinking, I imagine it would dream of peeking through the canopy and wonder if it could ever happen. That’s a writer’s life. The seed of a message is watered by thoughts of the need for it, desire to share it, and encouraging validation.

The writer begins the journey in obscurity. Once upon a time, even the best authors created “masterpieces” only a mother could love. But the household names we know did two things:

  • They wrote often.
  • They never gave up.

Writing in private offers the freedom to say everything. Going public invites the task of pointed criticism and sharper editing. If you are famous in the industry and your book title is in smaller font than your name, you have to live up to that. That writer sits in an InstantPot ™ but that’s another post.

Writing in a quiet corner with a few people who know your name and love you enough to speak truth and encourage you in your way, that’s a beautiful space. (There’s something satisfying about coming full circle.)

Hey Writer—connect, grow, clear the way, and—whatever you do—write!

~Jennifer