I’d like to introduce you to my first guest blogger, my colleague Vicki Weiland, a freelance developmental editor and speaker working in the San Francisco Bay area and specializing in business, fine arts, and history. In addition, Vicki serves as a board member of the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association and the Women’s National Book Association-SF/Bay Area. I asked Vicki if she could write a blog for Write Nonfiction in November about her pet editing peeves. Last year I wrote about mine, so I thought it would be nice to have another editor’s perspective. However, she told me she didn’t really have any pet editing peeves. Then this blog showed up, followed by another which dovetailed so well that rather than make you wait until tomorrow to read the second one, I’ve decided to simply run both of them together as one long blog. That way you get all Vicki’s great information at once.
You won’t have to wonder for long why I chose to feature Vicki as my first guest blogger. If any of you are perpetual “talkers” rather than writers, or if you are having a hard time getting started on your Write Nonfiction in November project — especially if it’s a book — this blog is for you. After reading Vicki’s words, you’ll have the tools you need to begin writing today. (And it’s only November 2, so you aren’t too far behind yet).
Vicki Weiland’s Four Questions to Help You Start Writing
By Vicki Weiland
Freelance Development Editor and Speaker
BAIPA and WNBA-SF/Bay Area Board Member
As with all of us who love writing and everything connected with it I also know the difficulty we all face, even daily, in actually tackling that page, rewriting that chapter, agonizing over that one word. Yet, despite this, we all know that we have no choice—we are driven by an inner reservoir that impels us to keep on going; we must get the problem resolved! We must get those words on paper! Then there are those keenly precious moments when the words flow, when all that is deep within us comes to the surface, and the result is a page or pages of sheer delight and achievement. All of the people in our lives know the signs. They are patient when they are speaking with us and it is obvious that half our brain is focused on something other than what they are saying; they are infinitely kind when we say, “I’ll only be a little while longer . . .” All of this goes with the ebb and flow of writing (and editing). It is the river of our lives.
Acknowledging all of the above, and the difficulties both internal and external that face all writers, this brings me to my pet peeve, albeit a bittersweet one. My all-the-time pet peeve is the would-be writers who talk about writing every chance they get, sometimes for years and years on end . . . but who never, ever actually take that confessed desire and do anything about it. I am referring to people who never cease to remind their listeners about “that book” they want to write, and who actually have concrete ideas and a great “pitch” for it! I get hooked every time. I catch the vision. I sit up straighter. I move closer to the edge of my chair, ready to encourage and help. I come on board, “Tell me more.” And then, it stops. I can see it in their eyes, or rather in how they avoid my eyes. It’s over for them.
I always feel sad and deflated, as much for me as for them. As a developmental editor who works in tandem with a writer, I love ideas and I love the natural enthusiasm and vitality that comes from sharing ideas. I love following a writer’s mind to see where these ideas might go. It is stimulating and enjoyable. It is creative. And, at that moment, as the dream is being shared, everything is so alive with promise.
And then, after that initial burst of euphoria and the accompanying gleam I see in their eyes once “the book” begins to take form (again), only to fizzle out (again), I can’t stop wondering, “What if . . . .”
What if they really sat down and started to write? What if they put their foot into the river?
So, because I believe there is a writing voice deep within, just yearning to grab onto something that will pull it out of the abyss of wishful thinking, I always offer to send them “Vicki’s Four Questions.”© I hope they will work like a set of pliers to pry open a valve just wide enough that some words will flow out onto the paper they are printed on. Because I know, once they do, there will be no turning back!
Do you want to start writing, but you are not sure where to begin? In all of the years I have been a nonfiction developmental editor I have discovered that all would-be writers actually do have a precise idea of what they want to say, why they want to say it, and how they would like their book to look and feel. When it comes to starting the writing process, sometimes they just need a little help getting their feet wet. I’d like to offer you that help by asking you to try your hand at answering “Vicki’s Four Questions”©:
- What is your vision of the book? (What are the three most important qualities, i.e., elegant, academic, thought-provoking, informative, authoritative, reflective, “change the world,” dramatic, etc.?)
- What is the most important thing you want readers to have learned after they have read your book?
- What would you most like readers to feel when they close your book?
- What three words would you like most for a book reviewer to say about your book?
Happily, in addition to getting your creative energy flowing, each of these questions also has an overall editorial purpose that I hope will prove helpful:
- Question number one addresses your desired “author’s voice” and the overall “tone” you would like the book to convey.
- Question number two provides the “focus” for the book, and it is also the backbone for developing an outline so as to incrementally educate and drive the reader through the content.
- Question number three is the “heart-line” that will flow throughout the book. It is your heart-line, your deeply desired outcome for writing the book.
- Question number four motivates you to think about marketing—who your readers are and what would motivate them to buy your book.
While I developed these questions for books, they can also be applied to an article or an essay. This month, as you progress in the writing of your nonfiction piece, you might consider keeping your answers nearby so that you can look back on them regularly to see if you are still “on track.” If not, you may want to begin to hone in on them again. Or you may find that your original concept has changed and is crystallizing into something new. If that is the case, then you may want to ask yourself the questions again.
Most of all, I hope they will stimulate you to move ahead with your dream and to turn that dream into reality! It is exciting to embark upon this adventure of writing, and to take what is in your head and heart and create a lasting piece of work.
Happy November . . . and “Write On!”
(If you have questions or comments for Vicki, please leave them in them by commenting on this blog. She will be checking the comments regularly and responding to them from here. Future guest bloggers may include their email address and website information to you can contact them directly.)