How to Write so that People Want to Read
Julian Treasure knows about sound. He's the chair of Sound Agency, a firm that advises businesses around the world how to arrange, organize, and design sound in their physical spaces. Treasure also gave a TED talk called "How to speak so that people want to listen." And listen, they did. To date, that talk has been viewed on the TED site over 45 million times.
The talk is meant as way of speaking powerfully, precisely, and conscientiously, using a set of defined principles - which it does, exceptionally, inspirationally well. But, the art of honing your voice so that others will want to listen has dual meaning to writers, does it not? I immediately heard its application to the literary world. Therefore, I present to you a Treasure-Loud Coffee Press mashup of "how to write so that people want to read." Although, I must admit, whether he knows it or not,* most of the credit here goes to Julian.
First, despite our best altruisms, writers want readers. We desperately want readers to find, read, and devour our books and words. To do that, we can start by following Treasure's advice against the seven deadly sins of speaking, but we're going to do it the Loud Coffee Press way. Let's make it about creativity and writing:
Gossip: One thing is for certain: there is no ceiling to the amount of good art and good books that people want to consume. Writers thrive in communities, and we should be supporting each other. Whether through our written words or actions, gossip is a deadly sin that has no place in a supportive network.
Judging: There's an audience for everyone‘s art, and what may not be your cup of tea might be someone else's soul salve. Also, judge not, lest ye be judged.
Negativity: Okay, not every story is puppies and roses. Here, I'd caution that the negativity serves to drive the narrative forward. Negativity as a fictional character? Maybe it works. Overcooked negativity in the nonfiction pile? A blog post? Perhaps put yourself in the shoes of the reader... what's your threshold for negativity before you add a read to your did-not-finish pile?
Complaining: It's verbal diarrhea whether you're writing it or spewing it. What's it's purpose? It follows the negativity channel.
Excuses: I see this one in two forms. Zoomed out from the story, it's a deadly sin of not writing. This is a butt-in-chair thing, where a writer can make all the excuses they'd like for not writing, but there's only one sure-fire way to get a story written, and that's to write it. Second, we can apply the concept of excuses to something of the deus ex machina plot device that readers seem to so dearly disengage with. If a story excuses itself the easy way out, readers are less likely to want to hear any more of what it has to say.
Exaggeration: How clearly do you want your readers to understand the point you are trying to convey? Overstating a concept, scene, or point can make visualizing the true nature of the point difficult to picture.
Dogmatism: This is where fact is confused with opinion In the written format, dogmatism can be a dangerous thing, especially in nonfiction.
Next, Treasure gifts his audience with four cornerstones for powerful speaking, which we, naturally, will turn into the 4 pillars of powerful writing. These are abbreviated with the "HAIL" acryonym, which Treasure points out coincidentally means "to greet or acclaim enthusiastically."
1. Honesty: Be true to yourself and be true with your audience.
2. Authenticity: Along the same lines, write in your truth. No one can tell your story more powerfully than you, and a lack of authenticity tends to scream louder than any of the seven deadly writing sins.
3. Integrity: Whatever you write, put your whole heart into it. There's no need to fall into the "edit to death" trap, but remember, it's worth the time and effort to give your readers the best first-read possible.
4. Love: What you do, why you do it, and who you do it for (yourself).
Finally, the talk discusses some useful tools in the speakers’ toolbox. These include register, timbre, prosody (musicality), pace, silence, pitch and volume. Each of these tools serve as excellent reminders that voice is one of the most powerful tools that writers have at their disposal. Voice is that hard-to-pinpoint essence that encompasses the mixture of word choice, tone, syntax, etc. of a particular writer. It's the variation in sentence phrasing and rhythm that keep the reader in the flow of the piece. It's when you can "hear" a writer in your head, and know when a particular work "sounds" like them. Like Treasure's speaking toolbox, writers can amplify their writing voice using sentences that rise and fall, varying the prosody of their phrases, monitoring pacing, and inserting key pauses. The effect as a whole changes the pitch and volume of the wording.
Treasure takes his audience through a vocal warm-up as a means of demonstrating that "no engine works without being warmed up." If we adapt the metaphor to the writing process, it serves as a reminder for the benefits of journaling, drafting and revision. You'll continue to get better with continued work.
In the end, avoiding the seven deadly sins, HAILing your work, and using the tools available in your toolbox are among the things you can do to make your work stand up and sing. In the process of creating, you'll be specifically designing work that others will be receptive to reading. The world wants to read your work. They just don't know it yet.
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