By Quentin J. Schultze
I have written over a dozen nonfiction books and am working on a few more. I also lead workshops on writing nonfiction books for publication. Earlier I posted tips 1-5. Here are five more of the tips that I cover in my workshops. I hope you find them helpful.
#6 Serve a Particular Audience
Who is your reader? Imagine your audience even before you write the first chapter. Picture readers in your mind as you write. Consider what they are thinking as you write specifically for them. The best prose is written by someone in particular for others in particular. (Contrast that with the uninteresting prose in most academic textbooks, which are written by no one in particular for everyone in general; textbooks are increasingly the product of marketers, not writers.) After all, you’re not writing just for yourself. If you are, why write a book? Just keep a journal. You’ll be much happier, without the stress of trying to get your manuscript published. Most of my writing is essentially journal material that will never be published. I write in order to clarify and express my own thoughts to myself and to serve my audiences at public-speaking events. When I write for publication, however, I imagine the readers. You can journal to express yourself. Write books in order to serve a particular audience.
#7 Use Humor Carefully
“You had to be there.” That’s our excuse when our half-baked attempts at humor fall flat. Humor is one of the most difficult things to write well. Satire is probably the most difficult of all. It’s easy to arrogantly offend rather than winsomely illuminate. Never assume that what’s funny to you will be comical to others. Always try out your stories to see if others truly find them humorous.
#8 Read Proven Writers
We tend to read what we enjoy and to write like the authors that we read. Make sure you’re reading the kind of quality prose that you would like to write. I devour many contemporary books, but I savor classical nonfiction books that have stood the test of time; I read and re-read them. The latter help me to think and imagine like a proven writer; they flex my literary muscles. They feed by literary spirit. They inspire me to write wisely and well. I also need to make sure that I’m reading “up” so I don’t write “down” to readers. It’s so much easier to tickle readers’ ears than to touch their hearts and open their minds.
#9 Clarify Your Real Purpose
Why are you writing? There are many fine reasons—including to inform, persuade, and delight readers. Perhaps the many worthwhile purposes actually boil down to one: to serve others. That’s why I get a bit concerned when a writer makes statements like these: “I just want to express my opinion.” “I’ve got to tell my story.” Writing is a type of service that requires a lot of effort to do well. Many people feel called to write a book for publication. But who’s the caller? What’s the caller’s message? We don’t always hear correctly. We fool ourselves. So listen again. Question whether or not you’re merely pleasing yourself or you’re really serving others.
#10 Write with the End in Mind
One of the biggest problems especially for new writers is that they don’t know what they’re writing until after they’ve written it—and even then they’re often not so sure. They write in order to determine what to say. That’s not all bad. The process of writing always requires research and exploration, retrospection and introspection. But you need to know in advance of drafting the actual manuscript what it is that you are aiming to say. Otherwise you’ll write in circles, revising to the point of exhaustion, like a cat maniacally chasing its tail until it eventually has to give up (and then the cat pretends like nothing happened). I made this mistake once and ended up dumping my entire book manuscript in the trash and starting over from scratch. As you conduct your research, make notes, and create possible manuscript outlines, be sure to discern your conclusion. Then begin writing the manuscript. Next, revise your manuscript to make sure that you’ve said what you set out to say. Finally, revise the manuscript again, especially for style, so you say it well. Then every draft will become a less-frustrating opportunity to clarify what you have already said but could have said more lucidly, convincingly, or artfully.
Thanks for reading. I hope these suggestions serve you well. You might want to read tips 1-5 if you found these helpful.
— Quentin Schultze