The Journey

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We’ll spend a lot of time this month talking about your journey as a writer. Today let’s think a bit about your reader’s journey.

Yesterday you chose your topic but that’s not enough. I’ll give you an example. I’m writing a book on Cocoa (writing applications for Mac OS X). So is Tim Isted. Our books aren’t anything alike even though the topic is the same. We each have different readers in mind and we each have clear ideas of the journey our readers will take over the course of our respective books.

My book is for experienced programmers who are new to writing applications for the Mac or the iPhone. Tim’s is for people who’ve never really programmed before. They need to learn how to program the Mac but they also need to learn how to program. I assume my readers know some C-style language like Java, Ruby, or C/C++. They know about variables and methods (or functions) and conditionals. My readers just need to understand how to take all they know and apply it to the Cocoa world like a native. Tim needs to start at a different point.

Different readers. Different journeys.

So who are you writing your book for? At the Prags we view our readers as the heros of our books. If the reader is the hero of the story we're telling, then we need to understand that reader pretty well. Take a look at your topic and decide who you are writing for. What is their experience? What do you know about the context they’ll be reading your book in? What do they want to be able to do when they’re done with your book?

You’re not just writing words. Many people can put together a bunch of facts on your topic. What makes you special is the journey you are going to take people on. You are the tour guide, the Merlin, the Dumbledore, the teacher that will lead your readers on a journey that will interest, engage, and inform them.

As Andy Hunt says in his advice on writing: it’s not the words.

"That’s nonsense," you say. "You’re writing. Of course it’s the words."

Check out his article and if you don’t have the time or attention span to read all of it, page down to the section headed "Map it out". He links to Dave Thomas’ post on the Hero’s Journey and suggests that you map out the journey you’re going to take the reader on.

Andy asks you to think of the landmarks you’ll see along the way and then understand what the reader will feel along the way. You don’t need to make an outline for this journey — you need a map.

Today’s challenge is for you to identify your reader and the journey you are taking them on. Tomorrow we’ll look at some of the nuts and bolts mechanics for this month of writing ahead.

This post originally appeared in the Pragmatic Life blog.