Values Every Writer Should Have
New Year's resolutions versus values
At the beginning of every new year, most people either make resolutions or think about ways of improving their lives. Writers are no exception. As I go through my email, I see posts from many of the social media groups dealing with New Year's resolutions. I have made resolutions in the past and most of them didn't last longer than the first month. As last year came to a close, I decided to look at my values as a writer. I figure that if I can pin these down, then I'll resolve to do those things that will support or enhance those values.
As you know, our values, beliefs, ethics determine the way we live our lives. In the general scheme of things, a person who values himself will strive to be the best he/she can be. In the same way, the writer who values his talent, time and work will always aim to do his/her best. Below are some questions I plan to ask myself before I complete any written work this year.
Does it have reader appeal
In order for your writing to reach a wider audience, it must have reader appeal. What do people want to read about? Find out what they want and write for them. The sad truth is, it doesn't always work that way. Right now the craze might be vampires and werewolves, but will that be the craze five years from now, or even two years? Books, articles, poetry that appeal to readers at large are the ones that span the test of time - the ones that remain favorites from generation to generation, the ones that appeal to the soul of your readers, and show that you care about them.
Are you consistent
Have you heard the saying, "A rolling stone gathers no moss?" If you keep a blog, as you ought to be doing, you can't be here today and gone tomorrow. When you decide to reappear, you may find that your reader base has disappeared. People are fickle. They are always looking for the next thing that excites and satisfies their needs. If you love and value yourself as a writer, it won't be difficult to keep churning out material that appeals to your readers. The more you write, the better you get to know your fans, and the easier it will be to produce what they want. Agatha Christie wrote 66 detective novels, among other books, all of which were well received. She was able to do this because she knew her audience and gave them what they wanted. Think of other popular contemporary authors like Danielle Steel, Stephen King, Toni Morrison and others. How do they stay on the bestsellers list?
Consistency is not limited to novels alone. Think of the Chicken Soup For the Soul books that have been around since 1993 and can be found on almost every bookshelf in America and around the world. This book was first rejected by major New York publishers and later published by a small self-help publisher in Florida. Today Chicken Soup For the Soul boasts of over 200 titles and some 500 million sales. Add to Chicken Soup magazines like Time, Newsweek, Essence and others, and you get the true meaning of consistency.
Are you creative
Creativity is usually thought of as the domain of fiction writers, but the truth is you can write non-fiction in a creative way. So what does creativity mean? All it means is telling what happened in the best way possible and a way that appeals to the reader's imagination. One of the best examples of creative non-fiction that comes to mind is Angela's Ashes by now -deceased Irish author Frank Mc Court. In this memoir, Mc Court writes about his impoverished childhood in such a creative way that I found myself laughing through most of the book even though the subject was a serious one. He again shows his mastery of creativity in Teacher Man, where he looks back on his years as a teacher in New York. Like the first book, most of Teacher Man left me in stitches.
How can you make your non-fiction work creative, instead of flat and boring? Write from a story-oriented point-of-view. Use active verbs, metaphors and vivid descriptions. Help the reader see, hear and feel what you want them to. Give the facts, don't make them up, but anchor them in a true setting with real people, real problems and real solutions.
Does it have insight
In this information age, one can find a book, article or essay on almost any subject, but does it have insight? Does it teach you something new? Or does it help you gain a new perspective on a subject? What does the writer want you to take away from the piece? This does not mean spelling everything out. Instead, a good writer presents the facts in a balanced way, using a variety of sources, and allows the reader to draw his own conclusions.
In the same way, in a work of fiction, if the author is trying to prove that an amoral lifestyle is guaranteed to bring disaster, he will show that through scenes and dialog, so that by the end of the story the reader has no doubt about the point the author wants to make. This is also being creative.
Does it have quality
The term "quality" sums up the four previous headings, and then some. A writer who values his craft will never send off a piece that is packed with typos, poor grammar, spelling and poor construction. Yet, we see these all the time on sites that advertise for writing jobs. Again, if we take a look at various works, non-fiction as well as fiction, we'll see that the ones that have made the cut over the years are the ones that are impeccable in the elements mentioned above.
How can you achieve that standard? For most of us, it may just be a matter of proofreading our work. Reading it out loud always helps. For others, it may mean enlisting qualified help. And you don't have to pay for it. By joining a good critique group, you get many eyes to look at your work in a fresh and critical way. Be willing to accept constructive criticism. I have been a member of a critique group for the past twelve years. I don't know where I would be without this wonderful group of ladies.
Another way to make your work error-free is to take a writing course, online or in-person. Just look around and you'll find one. Your community college may be a good place to start.
Some final thoughts
The values of a good writer are reflected in his work. Sloppy work, low-quality content, and poor mechanics degrade the writer and show that you don't care much for the craft or for the reader. In 2015, let us all resolve to be the best we can be, even if we're only writing an email. The more you practice doing your best, the easier and more automatic it will get.
The following are some resources every writer can benefit from:
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© 2015 Angela Joseph
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