How to Write a Book Pt2: Why My Writing Used to Suck
Alternate Title: Why My Writing Used to Suck
In my first blog on writing a book I talked about Getting Equipped.
Now I want to get into the nuts and bolts of writing the manuscript. I will start with sharing the stuff I didn’t know. These are a couple of the reasons my writing used to suck.
1. I didn’t know my voice
One of the reasons my first publisher dropped me after I turned in my manuscript (see previous blogJ) was that I didn’t know my voice. I shifted back and forth between a memoir style, preaching at the reader, and giving 10 steps to a better life. God help me! I didn’t know my voice.
I don’t have a magic formula for finding your voice, but I can tell you that what helped me the most was doing writing exercises with my writing group. The general idea was that we would pick a word or topic, set a timer for 10 minutes and write without stopping or editing. We would write on our “4th grade classroom” or the word “Door”. We wouldn’t check for grammar or back up and fix or change things, we just engaged in free flow writing.
This process helped me find my voice. And every once in a while, I wrote something during the exercise that ended up in my memoir, Scars And Stilettos. Like the passage below, which started as a writing exercise on the phrase: “I am from…”
Venice, the unchanging ground beneath my feet. Dreadlocked Rastafarians drumming on bongos with thick, rough hands and sun-weathered skin. Gang bangers lined up near Windward Avenue, wearing dark blue dickeys and blue rags – standing cool and hard, watching 16-year-old girls in jeans and gold nugget earrings walk by, pushing strollers. Circles of tranced hippies on laced weed, dancing and dancing to set the sun orange and purple.
My mother was a part of Venice, too: selling crystals and hand-made jewelry to make a dollar; holding her ground with wild, strawberry, wind-blown hair and contemplating, green eyes. I can picture myself, a barefoot hippie child with beach-blonde hair and tanned skin covered in white, salty residue. Running through hot sands, I would throw myself into the polluted grey waters, splashing and diving until I was breathless and delirious.
Yes, I would miss living in Venice, where a urine-stained homeless man would tell your mama if he saw you stealing from the liquor store. Eyes always watching and knowing, without conversation or formalities.
2. I didn’t know my audience
Who are you speaking to? Is the audience Christian? Secular? Are they students? Professionals?
If you don’t know who you are talking to, it is hard to figure out what you should be saying, and equally as important, HOW you will say it.
I wanted my memoir to reach a broad audience. Even though I would love to see it benefit the Christian community, I specifically wanted to write it in such a way that someone who had never set foot in a church would be able to read it, engage in the story, and get a picture of my experience with God.
This is one of the reasons I am actually thankful that my first manuscript was never published. That draft was filled with Christianese and examples that only the churchiest of the churchy would appreciate. Not my intended audience.
When I wrote Scars and Stilettos, I thought about my audience and wrote the book for them. Here is the actual list of intended readers I sent to literary agents along with my book proposal.
- Readers who appreciate a story of redemption and hope
- Women struggling with sexual brokenness
- Women who believe that they have fallen too far from the grace of God
- Women whose past or present circumstances have left them feeling ashamed and disqualified
- People interested in learning to love others in the midst of their brokenness
- Sex industry workers and survivors
- The loved ones/advocates of sex industry workers and survivors
- Churches and leaders with a desire to reach hurting and broken people
Who are you writing for? I encourage you to make a list and think about your intended audience when writing your book.
- 3. I didn’t know my enemy
A wise person once told me that the editor is the writer’s worst enemy. I have come to believe she’s right.
Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful for Jan Greenough, the woman who edited Scars and Stilettos. But what I learned is that I cannot simultaneously wear my writer’s hat and my editor’s hat. If I tried to edit my work as I wrote it, I drove myself crazy and never got anything of substance written.
My friend called me a “mad scientist” and pointed out that I spent so much time trying to rearrange and edit my work as I went along that I lost touch with the creative process of writing. From that point on, when I sat down at the computer, I would either allow myself to write or edit, but never both.
So do yourself a favor, when you sit down to write, fire the “editor in your head” for a bit. Your writing will be better for it.
Stay Tuned for “How to Write a Book Part 3”