Wednesday, April 3, 2013

22 Words On How to Write Compelling Nonfiction

Here they are:

In the first draft, focus on what you have to say.

When revising, focus on how you want the audience to react.

That’s it. Really. It’s especially true of opinions articles or blog posts, but also just your run-of-the-mill reflections on life designed to get people thinking.

If, by the final draft, your writing is all about you and the commentary or wisdom you want to share, it’s going to come off as arrogant, even if that wasn’t your intention at all. There’s really no way around this.

But, if you take the time to ask, “What would make people care about this topic?” or “If someone posted this on Facebook and asked for reactions, what would the comments underneath it say?” or “Is there any way to make this old topic new and interesting again?” it’s going to be much more interesting.

This is not manipulation. It’s communication. There’s a difference between selectively disguising the truth and presenting the truth in an appealing way, kind of like the difference between a woman who covers herself with heavy makeup to hide what she really looks like and one who uses makeup to accentuate her natural beauty. And if you don’t think most people can tell which is which, you haven’t looked around lately.

The point is, communication means A. knowing how your reader will react to what you write and B. caring about that. This doesn’t mean writing only about “safe” topics that people will always agree with. Have opinions, even unpopular ones, get passionate about things most people consider nerdy or boring or stereotypical, make statements that people might not like. But don’t confuse an eloquent speech for a sales pitch. Both communicate an opinion in a persuasive way, but one makes you walk away feeling annoyed and a little bit slimy instead of inspired or at least challenged to think of something in a different way.

Selfish writing just has something to say. Unselfish writing cares enough about the audience and what it has to say to choose the right words, even if that means a lot more work.

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