[Making the Leap] Write Like An Archaeologist

Type, backspace, type, read, reread, delete. Type some more. Sigh in frustration. Self-talk, turn off the critic. More inner chatter, something is missing. Keep going. Sound familiar? 

I am working on a nonfiction idea for a book. I’ve written a few of the obligatory rotten first chapters. They feel like a bare skeleton of how I truly want the book to read, like chicken scratches in the dirt, when what I really need is depth and substance, a personal connection with the reader. It’s all right, for now. It’s what I expect for a rough, rough—really rough—first draft. But taking the manuscript to the next level is going to require a lot more personal work and difficult examination on my part.

One of the reasons I’m not satisfied with how my writing is progressing is that I know I’m not yet delivering to a potential reader the depth of what I want her to get from the book. I have this quote wedged in the cabinet of my desk, reminding me to push a little harder and deeper for my truth:

If you want to be a writer, at some point your allegiance must shift from experiencing what is important to you, what happened to you, what you saw, to artifact—what you make of it. – Richard Hoffman

 

As writers—especially of nonfiction—we have it hammered into us fairly early on in our learning process that what we experience, the facts by themselves, just aren’t enough. The gift writers offer is our interpretation of events—what we learned, what it all means. Being able to uncover and express our truths is the take-away we give. Can readers learn something similar? Can you share your journey so they travel with you and maybe have a few insights of their own? If we can deliver this, we have them hooked. The personal unfolding of experience will happen within our readers too.

 

Nina Amir, over at her wonderful site Write Nonfiction Now, recently posted an article titled “Create Book Ideas With Reader Value”. In the article, she offers a great way to visually map questions to ask about your reader, helping writers to think specifically of their target audiences’ needs. She includes prompts to get your creative juices flowing about your readers' problems, questions, needs, wants, challenges, pains, and goals. If you can get a working idea of their concerns and respond to them through your writing, you are well on your way to composing a marketable book that will make a difference. 

 

I realize that in order to get beyond the surface of my experience, I’m going to need to dig at these kinds of questions a bit more—to understand my readers’ needs and make this a book they can’t put down, a book that resonates not only in their mind but in their hearts as well. As I work through Ms. Amir’s prompts, I expect the process to help me mine even more richly, as Richard Hoffman suggests, what I make of my experience. I need to be the archaeologist, uncover the treasures and polish them so the ideas can be fully appreciated and incorporated. Right now, my words are still just dirt-covered lumps of potential.

 

We write because we love the process of creation. But we read because it means something to us—a chance to escape, live another life in another world, experience conflict and successful resolution, discover new meaning, truths and insights we can apply in our own lives.

 

I’m OK with my work and ideas as they stand now in their very crude form, but I’m not satisfied, which is how it should be. I still have a lot of digging to do.

 

How about you? Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, how do you make sure you are keeping your readers’ needs in mind? Have you ever tried a mind map method as Nina suggests? Has it worked for you?

As writers, we are always mindful of and attentive to the reading experience. 

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Tags: readers, writing

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Comment by Julie Luek on February 24, 2014 at 8:21am

TOH Lee hong-- very very wise advice--- thank you for adding your thoughts. Much truth there. 

Comment by TOH Lee Hong on February 24, 2014 at 12:30am
Hi Julie Another interesting article. We write because we love the process of creation, so true. Also we write because we have something to say and we want to share our views. I tend to stumble upon or drawn to writings which contain passages that resonate with me. Writers and readers must somehow have a certain level of connection before they find each other so perhaps you should just write and keep writing what you want to write about and I think you are doing great . Cheers !
Comment by Sherrey Meyer on February 23, 2014 at 5:53pm

Yay, Julie! We'll get it done ... I finally printed out what I had written and decided to start reading it and thinking like a reader. Making some revisions as I go, and it's already starting to sound better. Keep writing!

Comment by Julie Luek on February 23, 2014 at 5:23pm

Sherrey, Yay-- we're not alone. I went through Nina's questions and it did help me focus my thoughts. I think I need to just write anyway, get it out there, then in my revisions focus again on the reader. Otherwise, I just freeze. 

Nancy, Oh congratulations-- going to go look up your book now! Thank you for the encouragement for all of us. 

Comment by Nancy MacMillan on February 23, 2014 at 4:25pm

Julie, I was hooked by your title and wanted to read further. I'm smiling because I've been where you are now. It took me 16 years to write my memoir, but then again, there were no such mentors as SheWrites. I self-published in Dec 2013 and it's on Amazon. Kindle offers first 11 chapters free, if anyone is interested in a hook and writing from the heart. The process is called Narrative Nonfiction. With my memoir, I learned to speak the truth about myself and others would relate. I didn't write for them, but I knew they were experiencing the same as I. My books are selling, the reviews humble me and my blog has reached 69 countries. I'll continue to stop by, if I can help in any way. Thanks for letting me share my two cents ... :) Keep on writing.

http://blogofavetswife.blogspot.com/

 

Comment by Sherrey Meyer on February 22, 2014 at 9:03pm

I'm struggling with the same problem, and I'm about 2/3 of the way through drafting a memoir. Yet I feel as if I haven't kept my reader in mind as I've written. What will engage them? What do they want from me? I know I have more than a story to tell; I have the opportunity to give hope to my readers. But how? I too read Nina's post the other day. Although I've used mind mapping in preparing for writing my book, I have never used it to visualize my readers. I've been thinking about that a lot since reading Nina's post. Thanks for letting me know someone else is traveling this road with me!

Comment by Julie Luek on February 21, 2014 at 3:57pm

Meg, I totally agree with this. But knowing what those "toeholds" are requires understanding who will probably read your book/blog/article. Yes. I think the best books/articles I read do exactly as you suggest.

Comment by Meg E Dobson on February 21, 2014 at 3:38pm
Sometimes I muse that our job is not to write to a reader's need, but to provide the toeholds for them to work their own way to resolution of their needs. The more toeholds you provide, the more readers will join with you in your own climbing journey.

Olga, loved your 'far from me but I poured myself into her.' Beautiful thought and so true.
Comment by Aidan Larson on February 21, 2014 at 2:18am

'We write because we love the process of creation. But we read because it means something to us—a chance to escape, live another life in another world, experience conflict and successful resolution, discover new meaning, truths and insights we can apply in our own lives.'

Thank you for this. I'm putting that quote on my desktop to keep me going. I also feel that I need to dig deeper, that if I just free myself more in my writing something better will come from it for the reader. I have to find a way to do that without my inner censor piping up and stopping me short of going all in.

Keep going....we need to hear your story.

Aidan

Comment by Julie Luek on February 20, 2014 at 4:37pm

Olga, I love this: What I found in my own writing and reading: for a book to be successful, a writer must open up, bare her soul. No bars, no shame, no embarrassing omissions. I think that's part of where my "digging" needs to occur.

Mardith, I just wanted to quote your whole comment. Very helpful-- thank you for sharing. I might have to just write that up on an index card and put it in my desk too. 

Virgina, I think trying to control the reaction is pointless but trying to understand who your book will be written for can really help guide the writing. At least that's what I'm sensing and got from Nina's post.  Thank you!

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