What happens when you break your back over a book or a blog post and someone shreds it to bits in their review?
Tears, rage, confusion, self-doubt, depression… and that’s just the beginning. A mad dash back to the computer to check on the manuscript again often follows.
Every writer has gone through this at least once unless you happen to be an extremely fortunate genius. I am not either let alone both and over time, one just learns to accept the bad with the good. I accept that I have a lot to learn and that I can’t please every reader and that’s okay too. But when it is another writer who pokes holes into your writing, it just hurts a little more!
A while ago, a writer reviewed my book and expressed displeasure over the many misspelt words. Wrong spelling!!! But I had checked a hundred times! And I went through the book yet again but didn’t find anything. The review itself wasn’t bad. However, if any book has typos, it deserves displeasure and I desperately needed to find and correct my mistakes. One usually can’t ask a reader, but in this case, it was a writer who was somewhat of an acquaintance so I decided to ask anyway, whether it looked horrible on my part or not. The need to know was burning me up. The reply made my jaw drop! The writer was American and I am from India where we use British English. Every single spelling mistake mentioned was not a mistake. It was a version of spelling that the writer just wasn’t aware of. The review was already written, the damage was done, and of course, I wasn’t going to ask for any changes. But I was happy that I had managed to make at least one person aware of the existence of worlds other than their own.
The internet and digital books have fulfilled the dreams of millions of writers. It has opened up so many new markets at the click of a mouse. Self-publishing is a revolution and we all love it but like every good thing, this too has its own pitfalls. I just mentioned one. We cannot write or read as we used to twenty years ago. Not if we want to take advantage of having the world at our fingertips, literally. We need to evolve to keep up with the changing face of communication and the literary world. Do you want to be a successful writer in today’s world? Here’s how.
Be Aware of Your Readers and Markets
A writer always needs to write with the reader in mind. We are not writing only for our city or country now. Many of us have readers in several countries and we must make sure they understand what they read. If they don’t, we fail as writers.
One of the biggest issues I have had to deal with is American versus British English. It is not just a matter of favourite over favorite, it is much more than that. Whether you ride up in a lift or elevator or walk on the pavement or sidewalk, it all depends on where you are. But this decision might not always be easy to make.
Master The Art of Writing Specifics
If you are writing specific things like instructions or recipes, you can make your writing specific to the reader. For example, if you are writing a product manual, it will probably go to different countries and be translated into different languages. You write it according to where it is going to be read. For multiple markets and languages, you will probably need to get it translated by a translator or by the online translator at the reader’s end. This means you must write in a way as to be understood by someone with a basic knowledge of English as well as make your text easy and precise to translate. For example, a “how-to” post on a blog will be read by many people with just a working knowledge of English. They might not be able to appreciate a phrase like “you don’t have a hope in hell of getting this thing going unless you have the correct plugs installed”. Just imagine how it would read if someone is using an online translation to make better sense of your words! It would make a lot more sense to write “you can’t get this thing going unless you have the correct plugs installed”.
- Write simple and short sentences.
- Avoid embellished writing bearing in mind that mannerisms cannot be translated literally.
- Avoid negative sentences.
- Do not write more than is required. This is not an essay, all you need to give is precise instruction or knowledge to the reader.
- Use active voice as far as possible.
- Try to give alternative words or use them according to the audience, like football/soccer and coriander leaves/cilantro.
- Do not use abbreviations unless you have to. Clarity is a priority.
Excel at Literary Writing
Stories and poems need to be treated differently. Your writing must be true to the character irrespective of you or your reader. But that said, you also need to write in a way that someone who doesn’t know anything about the setting still gets it. Explain in a subtle way. Don’t expect someone in a small town in Asia to necessarily understand what a Texan accent is like. Or, don’t say, “why would someone want to wear a bikini on Christmas?” Someone on an island near the equator definitely would. They don’t have a winter. So would someone in New Zealand whose Christmas coincides with mid-summer. Saying “why would someone in New York want to wear a bikini on Christmas” would be easier to understand for anyone who can at least Google the New York weather if they don’t know what it is like.
There can be many such things that we would take for granted but not so for someone halfway across the world. You might have noticed that I said earlier- “The writer was American and I am from India“. I didn’t say I am Indian because I learnt the hard way not to. Once I told an old American guy on social media that I am an Indian. It took me a few months to realise that he thought I was Native American. He had no idea that I am Indian because I am a native and citizen of India. I had to spend quite a while explaining the whole situation to him.
- Write from your heart, the readers can sense it. The rest is for editing.
- Be true to your character in language and mannerisms, whether in poetry or in prose. If you are writing as a narrator who is you, just be true to yourself.
- Within the limitations of the character, write simply and strongly. Avoid superfluous words.
- Explain your context subtly. The reader who knows should not feel that you think him stupid and the reader who does not know should understand without feeling patronised.
- Maintain continuity. Use one style and stick to it.
- Write for your ideal reader. You can’t please everyone so you might as well please someone!
- Proofreading is essential. Nobody likes a shoddy piece of writing, whatever part of the world they belong to.
We learn as we go along, from our mistakes and from others. There can be guidelines but no hard rules where creative writing is involved. Now back to the question of American versus British English. For a long while, I agonised over what I should or shouldn’t be doing about my spelling which is British. Well, technically Indian because Indian English is now a legitimate choice to make. I wondered if I should begin to write American spelling to make things easier but two things went against it.
Firstly, I know that just relying on spell check in Word set to American English might not always work. Sooner or later I would write a British spelling out of habit and mixing up the two would be even worse and true to none. As it is, I think my English has been corrupted by the crazy world of online reading.
Secondly, even though forty per cent of my readers are Americans, the ones in India and UK make up about thirty per cent. And the rest could be more familiar with either of the two variations of English. I can’t choose one over the other, not unless it is something like a 90-10 per cent split. I even asked people online what they thought. Most respondents, a majority of them being writers, suggested I should focus on satisfying my creativity. I chose to go with their infinite wisdom except where the situation clearly demanded otherwise. So, I still write acknowledgements instead of acknowledgments and try not to agonise (rather than agonize) too much over how I will be perceived because today’s readers are smart and cosmopolitan. A lot of them are probably aware of the many kinds of English and won’t judge me harshly because I differ.
I am sure you too must have encountered several issues as a writer and/or a reader at some point in time. What have they been?
How did you solve the problems you encountered as a reader or writer?
Is there something that you want to say to the writers so they can provide you with a better reading experience?
Is there something that always makes you cringe as a reader?
Let us hear it… Add your wisdom to the creation of a learning curve. The world is going to thank you for it! Besides, that is a wonderful way to support indie authors. (Read about more ways to support writers without spending any money) Every writer loves constructive criticism. It makes him or her a better writer. Yes, hit the nail on the head, but softly! We hurt and break easily.