Don’t Let Misguided Priorities Derail Your Writing

Do you ever have times when you’re sitting at your computer, typing away, and suddenly something profound emerges on the screen, something you never would have thought of on your own?

That happened to me while writing our last blog post. The insight shook me. Over the last two weeks, I’ve reflected on it and tested it.

It’s actually changed my philosophy as a writer. Maybe it will change yours as well.

Please join me for a deep dive.

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Do You Need to Re-Align Your Priorities?

The number one mistake writers make, in my experience, is they lack a deep commitment to their audience. This can derail your writing.

Years ago, a person asked me to give him a half-day consultation on his manuscript. I agreed, and he handed me a ream of paper.

“Wow!” I remarked to him. “You put a lot of work into this manuscript.”

When we met a week later, I told him, “After reading through your manuscript, my first impression is that you’re an engineer and you included all of your research in your manuscript.”

“That’s exactly right,” he replied. “I am an engineer and I included all my research in my manuscript.”

We spent the rest of the morning discussing how to pare down his enormous document and then parted ways. He eventually found an editor who painstakingly worked with him, word-for-word, through his treatise. The finished product became a true masterpiece.

The book sold 30,000 copies.

The author, God bless him, was writing to himself and a handful of other engineers who would be interested in his massive research.

His audience, however, was parents, especially parents of homeschoolers. Parents who didn’t have time to search for gems in a mountain of research.

Here’s The Problem

Over and over, authors—even bestselling authors—fail to write to their audience. Their message or story becomes their primary focus.

To truly reach your audience, you must understand how they tick—their likes and dislikes, their interests, their reading habits.

But you need to take it one step further.

To truly reach your audience, you must love them sacrificially. You must love them so much that you’re willing to cut sections out of your manuscript appeal to you but not your audience.

It hurts so good.

So here’s the line I wrote a few weeks ago that has become my deepest belief about writing:

The best writers are more committed to their audience than they are to their message or story.

Read that again.

The Christmas Story Explains This

Since this is the holiday season, let’s take a brief Christmas digression…

Many of you know that I was a pastor for 30 years. During the Christmas season we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

About ten years ago, the thought occurred to me: Jesus was born as a baby. He looked like a normal person living in Palestine. When he grew up, he spoke Aramaic, the common language in his community.

When God sent Jesus into the world, the baby laying in a manger didn’t look superhuman, speaking the language of heaven.

In theological terms, we call this “incarnation.” Jesus was born with flesh and skin and looked like everyone else. God did this so everyone would understand him and not get freaked out by the son of God living among them.

As writers, we would do well to take our cues from the Christmas story, whether you believe it’s true or not.

The process of writing our message or story must be incarnational in nature. In other words, we must write in a way that our audience can understand it and receive it.

Despite God’s divine calling on Jesus, he didn’t hand Mary and Joseph an exhaustive instruction manual when that little baby boy was born in Bethlehem.

God was more committed to his audience—us—than he was in communicating his message. Again, please forgive me if this is a little too religious for you, but please understand what I’m saying.

Here’s What Incarnational Writing Looks Like

When you’re more committed to your audience than your message:

  • You continually ask yourself, “Does my audience care about this detail?”
  • You do everything in your power to avoid boring them
  • You write shorter chapters rather than longer chapters, so they stay engaged
  • You work hard to incorporate dialogue when appropriate
  • You search for wordy phrases that bog down your sentences
  • You gladly cut engaging stories and deep insights because they’ll distract your reader from the main point
  • You welcome constructive criticism from alpha readers and copyeditors because you know they’ll help sharpen your writing
  • You approach your reader as one of them, not someone above them.
  • You commit yourself to improving your writing skills through books, writers groups, and writers conferences

Your commitment to your audience is relentless and sacrificial.

This is what it means to be an incarnational writer. It means loving your audience more than (or at least equally to) your message or story.

It means becoming like them and communicating to them in the way they can receive it best.

This isn’t a quick fix—it’s a mindset.

Finally, it means investing yourself to releasing the highest quality book with the clearest message possible.

I’ve seen important stories marginalized by mediocre book covers and shoddy editing.

At Illumify, we’re as committed to your audience as (hopefully) you. Only when we work together, can we release a transcendent book that changes the world.

Want to learn how? Let’s talk.

Schedule a strategy session with me by clicking here.

Let’s bring your book to life!

Michael J. Klassen

President, Illumify Media