Thirty years ago, I began my career as a nonfiction writer. The first time I pitched the story to the weekend features editor of a local newspaper, I realized that although I’d done a ton of academic writing at that point, had written lots of unpublished essays and had a passion for writing that went back to my pre-teen years, I didn’t know that much about the fine points of magazine writing.
My background was in health science, so what did I know about writing magazine articles?
What I had was a passion for writing, a knowledge base in the content area I had proposed, a willingness to learn, lots of research experience. The first thing I had to learn was how to write a solid lead. Three decades later and that knowledge has had a chance to be practised over and over, and now I’m sharing my five favourite approaches to a lead―a bit of help for nonfiction authors, magazine writers, bloggers and copywriters.
As I reviewed these tips for leads, it also occurred to me that fiction writers might find inspiration here for opening paragraphs for short stories or even book chapters. I’m a great believer in cross-genre learning.
Here’s today’s episode of WRITE. FIX. REPEAT. with the five approaches to leads.
The concept of content creation is a construct of the digital marketing age. I suppose you could say, as Matthew Speiser suggests in his online article, “A (Brief) History of Content Marketing”: “For as long as humans have existed, people have been creating content. One could go so far as to argue that cave paintings were the first attempt at communication through content.” Yes, of course, this is true, but it doesn’t capture the modern definition of content creation or the content creators who produce that content.
Content creation is a buzz-phrase of the social-media-obsessed marketing and public relations people among us. I’m going to suggest that large numbers of people who identify themselves as writers are not―they are content creators. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with being a content creator, but it is disingenuous to suggest you are a writer if you’re not. Let’s begin with some definitions for argument’s sake.
What then is a writer? A writer writes. But you might reasonably argue, a content creator also writes. Although that may be true, that does not make that person a writer.
This week on WRITE. FIX. REPEAT., I’m talking about how we identify ourselves as writers and why it matters. The question we begin with is: How can you figure out if you’re a writer in the true sense of the word or merely a content creator?
The telltale signs of content creators:
You spend more time blogging, tweeting (or reading tweets), posting to Facebook, contributing to conversations on writers’ groups on LinkedIn etc., than you do on your private writing.
Every time you post on one of those sites mentioned above, you have a goal in mind: get more ‘likes,’ new followers, new friends, clicks through to the material you’d like them to buy/read.
You spend a lot of time thinking about how to find an idea that will ‘sell.’
You spend more time writing online reviews of other people’s books than you do on your writing in the hopes that they’ll someday review yours.
You don’t own a single reference book on the writing process (grammar, style, punctuation, syntax, word choice, editing etc.)
Please don’t tell me you’re a writer―or pretend to be one in a writers’ group―if you’re really a content creator. That’s all.
As I said in my book Permission to Write, there are myths and there are realities. It’s about the difference between how you’d like it to be and how it really is.
What exactly is a myth? It’s a story that may or may not have a basis in reality―a widely held belief that is largely unfounded or false.
In the twenty-first century, when it seems like everyone is writing a book (and publishing it), there are so many myths about writing and publishing that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for any serious writer to know what to believe. Over my 30-plus years of writing, I’ve learned more than a few realities. And what I have learned is that continuing to believe the myths eventually becomes an obstacle for anyone who aspires to write and publish successfully.
Do you know what’s real and what’s a myth in this world of writing and publishing?
I’m not sure where all of the myths about writing and the writing life come from; I only know that new writers seem to have a lot of unfounded beliefs. Here are five tips for busing those myths.
The myths you need to bust now summarized:
Talent is over rated. Anyone can be a successful writer. The sad truth is that although talent is not enough, it is necessary for success. And this is true of any field. Talent can be cultivated.
No one cares about grammar. I beg to differ. Everyone cares about grammar; it’s just that some of them don’t know about it. Get out the grammar book.
I write better than most people. Can you hear me laughing? As American writing guru William Zinsser says, “Most people have no idea how badly they write.” And if you don’t know who he is, stop reading and go immediately to Amazon and order his book On Writing Well. Then read it.
Thousands of Instagram and Twitter followers guarantee success. Now I’m grinding my teeth. If would-be writers spent as much time practicing their writing and having it edited by someone who knows what he or she is doing rather than amassing thousands of Twitter followers, success would be more likely.
My friends think my idea is great, so everyone else will, too. I just have one question for you: how did you get friends with such deep knowledge (backed up by data) about how your target readers will think at any given time? The rest of us would love to know.
You might also have other unfounded beliefs about writing success, but these are the ones I see demonstrated most often.
Get over these ones, and you’ll be able to move ahead with a clear view of the future.