A Dave Coverly cartoon in Parade showed an editor holding a manuscript, sitting across a desk from a writer and saying: “We love all the words in your manuscript, but we were wondering if you could maybe put them in a completely different order.”
Isn’t arranging the right words in the right order the essence of writing? The craving to create beauty, meaning, and order is part of what makes us human. But one person’s order is another person’s chaos.
Dick Cavett once had the surrealist painter Salvador Dali on his prime-time interview show. Dali answered Cavett’s questions with simple words. But they were strung together in a way that made them incomprehensible. He talked like a man from another planet with an English vocabulary. To get your words in the right order, follow these three steps:
- Read like writer.
Be a devoted fan of the kind of book you’re writing by reading as many of them as you can. Your favorite books inspire you to write and enable you to establish criteria for your books. But you also need to read like a writer: to read between the lines. Analyze what combination of content, structure, and writing makes them effective. Look for what they don’t contain that might present opportunities for you.
- Write like a reader.
Write with a book buyer’s mindset. Balance what you want to write with what book buyers want to read. As a fan of books like yours, would you be excited enough about your book to buy it, despite all of the past, present, and future competition it will face?
- Let your early readers assure you your work is ready to submit.
As the proud parent of a bouncing new proposal or manuscript, you’re going to be too close to your work to judge it objectively. You need a community of early readers to tell you it’s ready to submit. Being in a critique group to get feedback as you write is helpful, but you also need feedback on the finished document before you submit it.
When your book is published, you want to be confident that, with the help of your readers, you and your book are primed for prime time.