Learn about your writing by talking with people

At a recent happy hour for a departing colleague and friend (aka Trusted Reader #3), the subject of my writing came up several times. I’m at the point where I enjoy this more than I once did. Part of it is comfort, part is the practice of refining my synopsis, and part is knowing more about the story and what I’m doing as a writer.

I’ve written about the difficulties I’ve had here and here.

As stressful or scary as this might feel, it’s an important part of the writing process. Even if you never want a person to read your writing (which I consider a shame – share with us!), it will help you as a writer.

I’ve talked about the importance of developing this skill in the context of pitching your story. But there’s another benefit, and that’s to the story itself.

Think about it. Whether your story is fifty thousand words, a hundred or two fifty, you’ve got an awful lot of options when someone asks, “What’s it about?”. If you drone on describe it for ten minutes, you might not keep your audience enthralled, regardless of how good the story is. If they get bored don’t ask for more, maybe you need to evaluate whether that’s reflective of your story as a whole or just your ability to articulate the passion that you’ve put into the project.

Knowing the core of your story, and the key aspects, will help you describe it in a catchy way that gets your audience to ask for more details. In the end, you might actually speak for longer than that boring ten minutes I mentioned before, but you’ve added a level of participation to the conversation AND you’ve seen what people react to.

Perhaps you get confirmation that something which delights you also delights others (Yay!). Or perhaps you’ve been considering the removal of a plot point and your audience agrees (Thank you!) or they love it and it inspires you to take another crack at it (Also thank you!).

I know I’m getting better at this because people kept asking questions: about the story, about the process, about my routine as a writer. If I was in the office, I might describe this as “market research”, but because I was working as a writer, it’s “beers with new people”.

Before I conclude this post, let’s take a moment to celebrate in-person happy hours! We’ve done it, society! We’re able to do normal-ish things again because we worked together to help each other, friends, family, and strangers alike.

And if you’re a writer or linguist, perhaps also enjoy that the English language has changed. Society has to use modifiers like “in-person” where it had previously been assumed. Ooh, I love linguistics.

Each conversation like this is a chance to refine your pitch. I know, I know, it’s really hard to share this piece of yourself. But each time a person asks, “What’s it about?” your answer gets a little better. You deliver it smoothly. More succinct. Tighter. And hey, that’s pretty much what’s happening when we’re writing, isn’t it? We’re sanding down the rough spots. Even better? I met some new people and Trusted Reader #3 asked for an updated copy to read to her kids!

Grab some beers, grab some ears, and do a little fun research. Good luck!

–Mike


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© Michael Wallevand, August 2021

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