Clarify Your Message with a World View
Step one, clarify your message with a worldview statement. One of the things that I hear from writers every single day is, I'll get an email from somebody, and they'll say, "Hey, is this any good?" And my answer is always I don't know. Like, what does it mean to be a good writer? Like, who is your favorite writer? Who has a favorite writer, yeah?
James Baldwin, uh-huh, what else?
Ann Voskamp, I hate all those writers, (participants laugh) they're terrible. Not everybody likes James Baldwin or Ann Voskamp, but the people who love them, love them. And one of the things that professional writers do that amateurs do not do is they write for their audience, and their audience alone. And so, I can't tell you if you're writing's good. A better question is, is it effective? Have I effectively communicated the right message to the audience that I'm trying to reach? And there's no perfect way to tell this except to try it. But I d...
o have an exercise that'll help you kind of narrow it down. And so when people ask me is this good, is this great writing, I go look, let's not focus on good, 'cause good is subjective when it comes to art for the most part. I would much rather you be effective and clear. Clarity trumps perfection. It is better to be clear than it is to be good. And this is sort of counterintuitive to some of the things we hear today, which is, you gotta choose a niche, you gotta do this, you gotta do that. I don't think you should choose a niche. I think you should write with a worldview. Every great writer has a worldview. What is a worldview? It is the way that you view the world. It's your particular perspective, it is what makes you unique. How you see things, how you experience the world, is different from other people. So, every great writer has a worldview. How do we find ours? Some of us may intuitively know what it is, others may really struggle with this. I will tell you that if you don't get this right... And it's just a decision, you don't have to get it perfect. But if you don't decide, okay, this is what I'm writing about and this is who it's for, all of these other steps are gonna be a struggle. And the worst thing in the world, as somebody once said, is not to fail, but to succeed at the wrong thing. So it's important, not to freak you out, but it's important that we get this right and that we don't stay stuck at this step. We go, okay, this is my worldview right now. I'm gonna choose this, and I'm gonna keep moving. So, you need to ask yourself the question, what wrecks me, what upsets me, what frustrates me, what do I think is wrong with the world, or with this industry, or whatever, with my hometown. It can be big, it can be macro, it can be very small and micro. The worldview statement that I encourage people to kind of fill out is just filling in the blanks in this little exercise. Every blank, every person, every dog owner, every Republican, whatever, can or should blank. Floss their teeth, take care of their pets, be nice to other people, you know, whatever it is. And again, it can be very big or very small. But you need to figure this out, write down the worldview statement, put it on a post-it note, stick it on your computer. And you look at this every single day as you sit down to write, because it is your why. It is the thing that helps you clarify what it is you're trying to say and exactly who it's for. And if you don't get this right, then you're gonna try to be for everybody, right? And if you're for everybody, then you're for no one. If you're for everybody, you're for no one. So, we're talking about, what do professional writers do. Well, amateurs tend to confuse their audiences 'cause they're confused, whereas professionals write with clarity. And the way that you do that is through a worldview statement. So to be really practical, I want you to do that right now. Like, fill in the blanks, every blank can or should blank. Can we take just a minute and do that right now, and I'm gonna ask some of you guys to share your worldview statements. It doesn't have to be perfect. But whatever just kind of comes to mind right now, write it down, and you can continue to workshop this afterwards. But if I backed you into a corner and said, "What do you write about?" Don't, like, this is the thing where people go, what do you write about? You go well, you know, I write about apples, and people, and, you know, the weather. Nobody cares what you write about. That's not what they're really asking. Just like when they say, well, you wrote a book, what is it about, that's not what they're asking. They're saying, "Why should I read what you've written?" Does it matter to me? And it's okay if the answer is no. Like, it's not for you, right? 'Cause there's a lot of books out there, there's a lot of authors, there's a lot of writers, and we don't all need to be reading. But we need to understand, is this for me, or is this not for me. And so a worldview statement is just a little line in the sand that says this is what I stand for, these are my values, beliefs, ideas about whatever, and if you're with me you can come over here, if you're not, like, stay over there. Like, I don't want you to waste your time. And so when somebody asks you what do you write about, this is basically what you would say. You would say, you know, I believe that every writer shouldn't have to starve, and so I help other writers succeed through proven principles. So, what do you got? What's your worldview statement? Yeah? Okay?
Hey Jeff, as you know, I've been immersed in your world for a while, so when I first did this exercise some time ago, it was every leader can be peaceful.
And over time it's now evolved to, given the state of the world, I've changed it to every human can make peace inside themselves and for the world.
I like it.
As I said, I write fiction, so I was thinking every reader should be thrilled or happy. And I write, you know, thrilling type, funny humor.
I think, it's great, good job. And it can be, like, as fun as that, there doesn't have to be gravitas to it, it can just be I want my readers to be happy and entertained. But I love the word thrilled. And what's important about a worldview statement, and I want you to think about this, is it has to be something that people can disagree with. Right, if you go, I just want everybody to love bunnies, I mean, like, who doesn't love bunnies? You know what I'm saying? And it doesn't have to be controversial, but it needs to be something where it makes, it positions you a little bit unique. So I like that word thrilled because not every reader wants to be thrilled, you know? They might just wanna, like, read something very placid and just enjoyable. Like, I don't know, a very slow-paced romance novel or something. Yeah, Caroline.
So, I have been working on this statement for a long time and I still struggle with it. And I guess one thing I wanna ask you about is, can the first blank, the every, can it be something other than a person? So here, I'll tell you what I have. Every cross-cultural encounter should open our minds and hearts.
Yeah, I think that works. That's a good question.
I mean, we're writing for people, so I wasn't sure if you were gonna say dogs or something. (Caroline laughs) I just, I mean, just a smaller market in terms of dogs that can read.
There's lots of dogs, of course. No, I think that works. 'Cause there's sort of the, like, the implication is every cross-cultural encounter, I mean, that's between people, and you are working to facilitate better connection between two groups of people. So, I like that, I think that works, yeah. And again, like, this is an exercise. Why do we do exercises? So that we get in better shape, right? So you can keep doing it, you can keep honing it, but pick something that works, and if it's 80% there, you're like, yeah, this is pretty much what I think right now about the world. It's good enough, put it on a post-it note and start writing. One of the things that I believe is that clarity comes with action. We all want clarity, we wanna know exactly what we should do, who we should be, and then we'll act. And the reality is, we act our way into clarity. And this worldview statement is just some initial action to get you moving, to get you some more clarity. Now you need to go write and articulate this argument. Get feedback on it. And as it starts to resonate with other people you'll go, wow, I'm really onto something. Or it won't resonate and you'll have to try something else. We can't get too married to one particular piece of the process. What we're trying to do is throw stuff against the wall, see what resonates, and if we are writing something that we're passionate about, that we believe in, that resonates with us, and it also resonates with other people, now we've found our voice, now we have a connection.