What are the two questions all writers must answer?

May 8th, 2013

As a writer, I often get asked for my advice on press releases, brochures, social media and websites. In some ways, the principles of writing are the same, whether you’re writing a novel, non-fiction or an article for a magazine. They also work for websites, blogs, brochures or press releases.

There are two vital questions. Who are you writing for? What are you trying to say? Forget these two and you’re lost. The difference between novels and websites is whether you’re 100,000 words lost or just 350 words lost.

Some people may not agree with the idea that writing a novel has similarities with writing an article, press release, website or blog. But your book will be for a particular kind of reader. You may be writing for yourself and for people like you. Or you may be writing for sci-fi fanatics, Booker Prize judges, Richard and Judy or those who love happy endings.

If you’re writing an article or blog, you’re writing for the people who buy or subscribe to that magazine or newspaper. Just them. Nobody else. (And you’d better know who they are before you even suggest the article to the editor). If you’re writing a website, brochure or press release, you’re writing for people you hope will buy your product, support your charity or take your classes. It sounds obvious, but it’s so easy to forget.

I teach both creative and commercial writing. Beginner novelists often don’t want to think about who they are writing for, and there is some sense in that. Finish the first book. Then ask yourself who it is for. You may surprise yourself. You may have tried to write a crime novel and ended up with a literary work. Or the other way around. But if the answer is vague – eg ‘it’s for anyone’, think again. ‘Anyone’ is not very different from ‘no-one.’

And if you’re writing a press release, website, brochure or leaflet you really do have to know who you are writing for. Sometimes people don’t want to be too restrictive, because they ‘don’t want to put anyone off.’ Recently, a friend was handing out flyers for two different swimming classes. One flyer was very specific about the classes and levels it offered, the other said ‘fun in the water for everyone.’  Most people took the specific flyer. If they were handed ’fun for everyone’, they often gave it a puzzled glance, then handed it back or stuffed it into their bag without looking any further.

And that leads onto the other question. George Orwell’s advice to any writer who’s stuck was to ask yourself:  ’What are you trying to say?’ Books in the charts are all described in one sentence. Articles in newspapers and magazines are described in one headline on the cover. Brochures, leaflets, press releases and websites have to get their message across in a couple of sentences. Everyone who writes anything has to know exactly what they’re trying to say, even if they then take 100,000 words to say it.

If you want to know more, or you’re planning a website, press release, blog or flyer to promote your work, I’m teaching classes on Write To Sell at Creek Creative studios (1 Abbey Street, Faversham, Kent ME13 7BE). May 14th is Writing for the Internet (websites, blogs, social media) and May 21st is Writing for Print (brochures, press releases etc). Both from 6pm-8pm. Classes cost £35 for one or £60 for both. Book through Creek Creative on 01795 5353515 or info@creek-creative.org.




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