As part of The National Day On Writing, via the #WhyIWrite Twitter meme, writers express why they’re willing—even anxious—to confront empty pages. Fellow writers’ 140 –character insight into what drives them makes inspiring, thought-provoking reading.
You’ll notice that very few of the #WhyIWrite tweets mention readers—particularly not the need to attract them. Which makes me think there’s a disconnect between what motivates us to be a writer and what we actually write about.
Is there a disconnect between why you write about what you write and what made you want to write in the first place?
To succeed—whatever that may mean to each of us—experts tell us repeatedly that we need a winning concept. We also have to develop the ability to sell that concept. Which can lead us down a convoluted path of writing which has nothing whatsoever to do with what made us want to become a writer.
Why I write morphs into the more difficult to articulate, Why I write what I write.
Why I write what I write?
It’s not an easily contemplated question. Ideally, the same answer would apply to why you write, why you wanted to write in the first place, and why you write what you write.
Reality, for most of us, conjures a more complicated landscape. Many came into the field hoping to change the world with our words. We dreamed of our story taking root in hearts across the world, making it a better place, even if only infinitesimally so.
Some of us were driven by the need to create, but no one is paying for virgin creative juice. Like club soda on grocery store shelves, creative juice gets relegated to the mixer aisle instead of the main beverage aisle. Creativity’s market is dependent on bundling it with a trendier product, the ubiquitous yet damnably ethereal “winning concept.”
The problem with some of those winning concept beverages is that they’re not heart healthy. Perhaps that’s why blogging is so hard for many “emerging” authors. We’re blogging to build (or reinforce) our platform, but platform building ranks pretty low on our list of things we’re passionate about.
Even if I knew it, I couldn’t provide anyone with the right completion to ”Why I write what I write.” That answer comes from introspection. Despite all the “unleashing the stories in my head” responses that we read, it’s not usually that simple. Few of us have complete stories that are simply waiting for a romp off-leash. We’re creating, massaging, molding and editing for a reason. Perhaps it’s a personal one, such as understanding history or processing internal emotional turmoil. Perhaps it’s a need to inspire or to provide a glimpse of an alternative reality. Perhaps that reason hasn’t yet made itself clear.
But it’s a question worth asking, even if it doesn’t change anything that you do. The better we understand our inner workings, the higher the likelihood that we’ll be able to change gears if an attractive turn in the road presents itself.
You know, that road less written.
You may have noted that TRLW writers have literally been on a road less written for a few weeks. Hopefully, we’ve been conspicuous by out absence. Laura took a month to travel and John is taking a couple of months to change day-jobs and move across the country. There are, of course, stories in that, but Justin has been up to something that might be interesting for a lot of us: podcasting.
As any “emerging” or veteran author knows, you can’t do it all. Authors have to decide where to focus their energies. Writing their book, blogging, generating an income, promotion, speaking, and staring into space all vie for their time and creativity. Justin is currently focusing on podcasting (in addition to being a family man, screen writing FOR PAY, promoting his books, and the other things that we all juggle.)
Personally, I think Justin’s decision to let others literally hear his voice is a great fit. If you listen to the podcast embedded below or have heard any of his radio interviews, you’ll note that his voice has a warmth and openness that’s hard to convey in non-fiction blogging. Self-Publishing Answers (SPA) podcasts at www.writehacked.com allows him and his entertaining cohorts, Kevin Tumlinson and Nick Thacker to present helpful advice in a friendly, mentoring tone.
The podcast page is embedded below. (Scroll down to find the play button.) This one happens to be about where to focus your energy as a first-time author. Give it a listen (as you do your work) and see what you think. Could podcasting work for you?
Visualization isn’t just visual. Writers engage all the senses as well as the imagination.
The term “visualization” is a misnomer. And so is “visual aids.” Visualization isn’t just visual and visual aids aren’t just for speakers.
The more my writing life intermingles with my speaking life, the more the lines between the two skill sets blur. (See How Public Speaking Can Make You a Better Writer.) There are more similarities than differences when it comes to sparking audiences’ imaginations. And, though it sounds counter-intuitive, there’s a lot writers can apply from the concept of a visual aid.
Visualization Isn’t Just Visual
We think of ourselves as painting pictures with words. Again, the bias towards our audience’s sight obstructs the meaning. For instance, if you want readers to think of a campfire, do you want them to form a mental picture of logs arranged in a radius with orange flames licking out of them? Or would you rather them to remember sitting by a campfire with the acrid smell stinging their nostrils or eyes? The smell of something delicious cooking? The taste of s’mores? The warmth of the flame during a chilly night? The magic of being away from all the indoor pursuits and enjoying the company of family or friends? Visualization isn’t just visual.
Visualization manages readers’ expectations.
When I was known as “The Science Lady” at my kids’ elementary school, I would go in classrooms to demonstrate fun scientific principles to the kids. My favorite involved blindfolding a volunteer, cutting an orange in half, and letting them smell it. Then I’d offer them something to drink—milk. The kids would always respond with surprise or even disgust. When they were expecting an orange, most kids hated the milk.
Just as our olfactory sense prepares our taste buds for what is to come, our words to manage our readers’ expectations of what they are about to digest. Writers can present the landscape much like a screenplay, letting them see every detail or focus their “visualization” on the part of the story we want them to conjure up. Our words become precision optics.
Visualization engages the imagination.
Good visual aids, like good writing, engage the imagination. In one of my favorite books, Talk Like Ted: the 9 Public Speaking Secrets of the Worlds Top Minds, Carmine Gallo asserts that “It is all about storytelling.” Since storytelling is my passion, I didn’t need much convincing, but Gallo backs up his premise with new brain research. Through functional MRI scans, researchers have discovered that our brains are more active when we hear stories.
I believe that’s because stories activate the imagination. Readers wonder what will happen next. They wonder what they would do, or how the facts apply to their situation. That engagement is like a hook, but not just for its ability to grab. As we engage readers’ imaginations, their neurons fire, embedding that hook (in a nice, painless way) and keeping them with our stories.
Good visualization engages the emotions as well.
Engaging the imagination can engage emotions as well. Take, for instance, neuroanatomist, Dr. Jill Taylor, one of the first TED Speakers to have her talk go viral. She uses a visual aid, but it’s far from visually appealing. Dr. Taylor uses a human brain, complete with 17” on spinal cord attached. It affects listeners’ visceral sense and their emotions much more than it affects their sight. Though she disgusts her listeners, she grabs their attention as well as their emotions. Particularly with teens, it makes a memorable moment, as she holds that brain aloft and tells them, “This is your brain. This is your instrument. This is your power.” (See Dr. Taylor’s TedEx Youth talk.)
When her listeners’ emotions are involved, her words, like that brain she holds out, have power.
It goes beyond “Show Don’t Tell.”
Without question, “Show, Don’t Tell” makes writing better. In fact, Dennis G. Jerz does a great job of illustrating how showing engages not only the senses, but also readers’ emotions in his Show, Don’t (Just) Tell post
But it’s not all craft. That kind of writing comes naturally when we write with passion. That passion, like an attention grabbing prop, engages readers’ senses and their imagination. As important as all the craft of writing well is, so it the art of pouring a bit of yourself onto the page.
Words act as visual aids.
We can’t hold a human brain under our readers noses, but, through our words, we can accomplish what good visual aids do. We can engage our readers’ imaginations–and that can be quite a gift.
Try wearing one of these! If you’re like me, You’ll find that speaking can make you a better writer.
Want to become a better writer? Try speaking.
Speakers, of course, often go about things differently than writers when communicating. However, the more public speaking I do, the more insight I get into my writing. I find more parallels than differences.
In fact, I’m convinced that writers can learn a lot from speaking.
How Public Speaking Can Make You a Better Writer
1. You Practice Engaging Your Audience
Before you think “thank you, Captain Obvious,” think of the “Wonk wonk wonk wonk….” drone of Charles Schulz’ adults in Charlie Brown. That runs neck and neck with a major wardrobe malfunction as the worst fear of every speaker.
Of course, writers aim to engage, too. It’s what drives us. Yet, we sometimes lose sight of that. Schedules, due dates, and word counts obscure our view of our audience.
Speaking can make you a better writer because speakers don’t have the luxury of losing sight of their audience. They know as they speak who is paying attention and who is doodling. It sounds intimidating, but as you write for listeners that will be in the room with you, you visualize them. It’s easy to keep them in mind. You know you don’t want to see them playing with their phones and it comes through in your writing.
2. You get Better at Storytelling
Speaking is all about storytelling. In Talk Like Ted, Carmine Gallon includes “Mastering the Art of Storytelling” as one of the “9 Public speaking secrets of the world’s great minds.” (This is a great book for authors and speakers!) According to Gallon, stories break down walls. They open minds by touching hearts.
I’ve haven’t latched onto this, simply because I’m into storytelling. Whether you’re writing or speaking, storytelling works. There’s no doubt in my mind that speaking can make you a better writer by honing your storytelling skills. In fact, good storytelling drives many of the following points.
3. You Have to Speak with Passion
I wonder if Nietzsche was inspired to write this by a bad speaker….
As Friedrich Nietzsche asked, “Is not life a hundred times too short for us to bore ourselves?” Passion is, in short, what makes our writing or speech interesting. It’s what conveys emotion. Speakers do it with their voice.
Writers do it with that other voice. Public speaking can help writers make sure they don’t edit the passion out of their voice as they perfect their style. Remembering the importance of passion can also help writers choose what to write about. Both speakers and writers fall flat when they chose a topic that doesn’t interest them. Passion is a hard thing to fake.
4. You Perfect Your Hook
Bad in golf, but excellent for writers…
I recently attended a Toastmasters “live coaching event.” Speakers started their prepared speeches and were interrupted by a champion speaker who analyzed what worked and what didn’t work. The process evoked a strong sense of Déjà vu—back to the San Francisco Writer’s conference with the first page critiques.
“Your hook was 30 seconds into your speech…” Sounds familiar, right?
Lance Miller, a former Toastmaster’s world champion, didn’t just focus on grabbing listeners’ attention. Rather, he advised them to help listeners engage emotionally. Which goes back to #1, #2, and #3. Hmmm.
5. You Learn to Speak (or Write) with Confidence
A writer’s audience can’t tell if the author’s fingers shook as they wrote, but they can sense our authority on our topics. Public speaking can make you a better writer by helping you develop that authority. Your confidence will come through your voice.
6. You Have to Be Authentic
Every audience wants a reliable narrator, whether they are in the room with them or not. If readers trust you and like you, they’ll stay with you. If they understand where you’re coming from, your viewpoint is more digestible to them.
Speaking authentically also brings home the writers’ mantra of “Show, Don’t tell.” For instance, my Toastmasters colleagues will quickly catch over-abundance of drama. Emotion is great. Drama, for drama’s sake isn’t. In fact, you’ll hear member suggest a tone of voice implying that the speaker’s emotion is kept under control, but with great effort. Again, you become a better storyteller. Which brings us to #9.
7. You Become Aware of Body language
In speaking, you do show with your body language and hand movements. Speaking drives this home. You won’t tell an audience that you were mad. You’ll show them with your voice, your stance, you facial expression and your gestures. It’s good practice.
8. You Improve Your Organization
Good organization is critical in a speech. Unlike readers, listeners don’t have the luxury of referring back to previous paragraphs or looking at bullet points.
Speaking can make you a better writer. As you prepare for speaking, you become hyper-aware of your talk’s organization. You learn to make sure you audience understands where you’re headed and any turns in the road.
9. Your Become Intentional about the Appropriate Amount and Type of Detail
Authors have the luxury of making their writing as “long as it needs to be.” Within limits, through the way they weave their story, writes can provide a wealth of background and backstories.
This is more challenging for speakers. First, they usually are operating under a time limit. Secondly, due to their length, speeches seldom offer the type of structure that lends itself to much back-story. Speakers need to provide detail that will engage readers in the story or setting, but not so much details that their listeners hear “wonk wonk wonk.”
They have to pick and choose which detail to use, which isn’t easy. Many times, it comes down to the listener’s ability to visualize the situation. Other times, it goes back to engaging. Which details will engage? Add humor? Increase impact? Public speaking can make you a better writer as you become sensitive to what details you include.
10. Strong Endings are Easier
As a non-fiction blogger, myself, a strong conclusion is often the hardest part. Perhaps it’s my internal distaste with ye ole “call to action.”
Somehow, in speaking, crafting a strong ending isn’t as hard. Perhaps it’s the immediacy of my audience, but when I end a speech, I beholden to help them figure out what they can do with any edification they gained by listening to me.
See if speaking can make you a better writer. Try your hand (voice). You can take a public speaking course or join a Toastmasters club. You’ll gain great insight into your writing.