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Take Your Writing From Good to Great

Lesson 5 of 7

Get Into Your Reader’s Head

Jennie Nash

Take Your Writing From Good to Great

Jennie Nash

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Lesson Info

5. Get Into Your Reader’s Head

Lesson Info

Get Into Your Reader’s Head

Skill number three is, okay we took off our writer's hat, now we want to get into our reader's head. I say we are gonna come back to this because there's so much work to be done around this, and you really want to know who your reader is. We talked about this with that letter before. What is their burden of knowledge, right? So we have a burden of knowledge as the writer, what's your reader's burden of knowledge? What did they not know? What did they not get? What do you know that they don't know? That's a hugely important question, and by the way, fiction writers have to do this for their characters. What's your character's burden of knowledge? That's a best way to get a 3D, fully dimensional character, is to know, how do they see the world. We talked about this with the minister, but if you have a character for example, who's sick, really sick, let's say terminally ill, there is no moment when they don't know that they're terminally ill. They can't not know that they're terminally il...

l. So if you have a scene where that doesn't come into play in some way, shape, or form, you've just got a cardboard character. So you've gotta know what their burden of knowledge is. You've gotta know what their agenda is. We talked about this a bit with dialog. In every dialog, everybody has an agenda, even in that dumb text chain I shared (laughing) with my husband, right. My agenda was, I wanted him to get dinner, and so I was like, can't you do that from your car. I don't even want to stop and call. That's what I was really saying, that was my agenda. I don't even have two minutes to call Tender Greens and order my chicken salad, which is ridiculous, but that's what my agenda was. Everybody has an agenda all the time, and if you have a scene in a nonfiction memoir or fiction, anything, where you don't know your character's agenda, that scene is not gonna be as strong as it needs to be, and guess what, every character has an agenda. You're usually following your main character, but every character has an agenda. What might your reader's objections or questions be? What are they gonna ask? What are they gonna not know? You want to really know that, and how can you make it easy for them to follow what you're saying? This is just huge, it's huge. You want them to get what you're doing. So good writing is accessible to the reader on the page. That's that getting it out of your head and onto the page thing. So I'm gonna show a fiction example. This is from a memoir. The weak example is: I turned my car back to the closest police station, which happened to be in the Western Addition, one of the last few parts of town where there were projects and low-income housing. So this was a phrase that I read in a work in progress from a memoir, and as the editor, thinking about the reader, it's like, okay, the reader has no idea why you're telling us about projects and low-income housing, like why is that even on the page. It means nothing, it's just sitting there. It's just totally flat. Like, so what? So to get in the reader's head, I reflected back to her, your reader has no idea what you're saying here. You clearly mean something, but it's not on the page. So she went back and ... Oh, I'm sorry, this is the slide where I'm asking that. She's driving through a poor neighborhood. So my question was, so what? So what? Why are you even taking the time to tell us that? It doesn't mean anything. This is what she wrote: I turned my car back to the closest police station, which happened to be in the Western Addition, one of the last few parts of town where there were projects and low-income housing. The short drive from my home to this part of town was like a metaphor for my shiny, perfect life colliding with the grittier truth screaming to emerge. There it was on display right before my eyes. The universe was yelling at me to wake up. Isn't that beautiful? I mean, it's so beautiful. We went from something, when it ended here, it was just sort of like, okay. Like, so? And then she adds why she put it there, the truth, the why, and it's like oh wow, that's amazing. Usually, it's adding words. It's usually adding words, getting into your reader's head is telling them what they don't know. I could talk for days about show don't tell and how wrong people get it. Show don't tell is not literal. Somebody could easily say, well you're just telling here. It's like yes, that is exactly what the writer is doing, telling the reader why it matters, and we need that. What showing really means is show the meaning. Show it unfolding on the page. That's what it really means. It's not describe the scene, it's show us. Show us why that matters to that person, let us inside. Good writing does that because it keeps that reader's perspective in their head. The reader has no idea what that was about if the writer didn't put this down.

Class Description

For most professionals, writing is a major part of their work. Every day they write emails, cover letters, presentations, proposals, speeches and memos—all of which are needed to accomplish a specific goal. But if the writing is flat, fuzzy and unfocused, chances are the piece won’t have the desired impact.

What makes writing truly effective? It’s not about the grammar, word choices or sentence structure. It’s about being able to step back from the work and think like an editor. In this class, book and writing coach Jennie Nash will teach you the five key self-editing skills you need to take any piece of writing from good to great.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Figure out why your writing is falling flat.
  • Build revision into your writing process.
  • Take off your writer’s hat to assess the big picture.
  • Get into your reader’s head.
  • Test the logic of your argument.
  • Consider issues of voice, pacing and authority.
  • Listen to your words as if they were a song on the radio.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

How to Get Perspective Handout

Words Are a Renewable Resource

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

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Tomas Verver

Thanks Jennie for the great online course. It helped me improved my communcation and writing skills. It's helps make the proces of writing also more fun. I also read the books Made to Stick and some other referenced material. I agree we need to write from the perspective of the reader. I liked that your discussed different text purposes.


Great class! Jennie gave helpful, specific tips to elevate your writing. She showed several examples of weak writing and how to make them shine. I loved how she said, "Let yourself be a practicer." This idea that good writing takes tons of practice and we have to be okay throwing words out. I also loved the tips of getting into the reader's head as well as our character's head. We have to always be thinking and asking did we get our point onto the page? How can we make it clear to the reader.

Irina Aristarkhova

Jennie Nash is a great speaker, and I really liked the Q&A part of this class. I wish even more time could be left for questions, because the audience members seemed as a very advanced group of writers and their questions were helping to clarify the lessons. This class would be very helpful to those who have arguments and points to make and not just write for the sake of writing (for themselves and their narrow community of writer-friends). There was also a moment when Nash mentioned her dislike of "writing groups." I would love to hear more about that. I wish this training would be given to students of writing BEFORE they are asked to write anything as these are "higher order" type of lessons that the professional writing community often shuns to raise because they are actually very hard to address.