12 Questions for Writers

[found on 12most.com by Kelly Belmonte]

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” ~ Stephen King, On Writing

I cannot disagree with King on this point. I have been reading a lot and writing a lot my entire life. But only recently have I gotten “serious” about being a writer. To be clear, what I mean by “serious” is really “published” — someone whose written words are read a lot by folks who are not otherwise obligated to do so.

A big shift for me occurred when I realized I could apply my years of accumulated project management experience to my writing. I found that if I treated each written thing (whether a poem, a blog post, a technical document, or any other piece of writing) just as I would a project for a client, I’d get more traction on meeting realistic publishing goals.

This post offers a list of 12 questions that, when answered, will provide a workable project management framework for the “serious” (!) writer.

1. Who is the ideal reader (“end user”) of my piece?

If I want my words to be published, the assumption is I want someone else to read them. Communication 101: speak the same language as your audience. Even if you are thinking, “I want to write things that I want to read,” you still want to identify the key elements of what makes you tick so you can know how to find more people like you to read your stuff.

2. Who is my client?

The client is the person, group, or organization that will compensate you for your efforts, whether through money, copies, publicity, recognition, validation, connections, or something else of value to you as a writer. This is also who is going to connect you with your ideal reader. Unless you’re self-published (in which case you have a direct compensation relationship with your reader), this is usually going to be a publisher with a specific agenda, format, or type of writing they promote. It’s important to know what’s important to them. If you have a fantastic collection of sonnets, you probably don’t want to submit your chapbook to a publisher of haiku, right?

3. Who is on my team?

Writing is never just writing. There’s research. There’s first and second drafts. There’s proofreading, copy editing, content editing, and fact checking. There’s formatting, graphic design, and packaging. There’s marketing and distribution. Are you good at all of these things and (here’s the clincher) do you have the time to do them all? Do you seriously think you can edit your own words? (Guess what I think about that…) Figure out who can help you, whether for pay, barter, or goodwill. It will be worth it in the end.

4. What is the purpose of the piece?

Do you want to inspire, connect, challenge, relate, instruct, change behavior, anger, illustrate, or simply tell a darn good story? Or some combination? This is both your roadmap and your test in writing. Your purpose keeps you on track.

5. What is the scope?

This is where you describe what you think is being asked of you by your client and what you want to create for your ideal reader. Get a handle on whether you’re writing the entire history of the Great American Experiment or a day in the life of a 21st century Bostonian. Articulate for yourself (and confirm with your client, if possible) the number of words, lines, chapters, pages, required thematic and stylistic elements, and formatting constraints. Only then can you begin to map out a plan for completing your writing project.

6. What is your end state for this piece?

“As a result of my words being read, _________________ [fill in the blank].” This may be easily confused with number 4, the purpose. They are connected — one should lead to the other — but not the same. For example, if my purpose in a piece is to provide instructions for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the desired end state will be “As a result… the reader will be able to make a pb&j sandwich.” If my purpose is to inspire, my end state may be, “… the reader has an ‘Ah ha’ moment.”

7. How much time will it take?

Your scope (and to some degree, your team) will provide you with a good guideline for the amount of time required (the “level of effort”) for each element. While there are some standard estimates for pages per hour, different types of writing require different levels of effort. Get to know your own pace, tracking the amount of time you spend on each project, so that estimating your time gets easier as you go along.

8. When does it need to be finished?

Even if there is no deadline or entry date, make up due dates for yourself. It will give you some basic math to work out the answer to the next question. (Due date – today’s date = number of days left to work on project.) Don’t forget to take into account time for review and editing.

9. When will I work on it?

Many writers like me have day jobs, families, friends, other interests, and need to work our writing in around an already full schedule. If I am going to be “serious” about my writing, I have to answer this in a real and manageable way. I have to recognize my priorities, logistical challenges, and areas I’m willing to sacrifice for the words. This, too, is clarifying.

10. When will I know it’s done?

This isn’t as easy to answer as it may appear on first glance, especially given the independent nature of many writing projects and the varying schedules of publishers. But this is the million-dollar “ship it” question. It can be crazy-making — there’s always just one more tweak, another review, an alternative viewpoint, a bit more white space perhaps. Will that tweak make the difference between rejection and acceptance, between runner-up and winner? You may never know. But one thing you can know for sure: if you never submit your work, you will never be published. Decide what “good enough” looks like for you.

11. How did it go?

Conduct an “after action review,” looking at your original purpose, scope, end state, and deadline. If possible (and if appropriate), engage a reader and the client in evaluating if your piece (and the process for completing it) met expectations. Listen, and learn from the gap between what you said you would do and what you actually did. This is a great opportunity to get better or to pat yourself on the back for hitting it out of the park. It’s also a constructive way to handle the inevitable disappointments that will come with writing, whether it’s negative feedback from your ideal readers, a missed deadline, or a rejection slip. Use those disappointments as fuel for the next project rather than a reason to give up.

12. Would I do it again?

Ah, there’s the rub. Would you go back to that well, that publisher, client, magazine, meta-blog site again for another opportunity to be published? It’s certainly ideal when you’ve found your niche, the exact right space where your words connect with ideal reader and are supported by an influential client-champion. But usually there’s some middle ground between lousy experience and ideal. Know your limits and your ideals. Find the opportunity in that middle ground where the good outweighs the bad.

And here’s my bonus question: Do you take yourself seriously as a writer? If the answer is yes, how many of these questions do you regularly ask yourself, and are there others that keep you moving forward on your own publishing goals?”

[found on http://12most.com/2013/05/27/12-getserious-questions-for-writers]
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