What They Want,
What You Need
In the park where I take my child after work, I have a dad-friend who’s looking for a new job. When I arrived the other day, he was asking a different friend—she fixes resumes and helps people get into business school—how to twist his grad paper into a writing sample for an upcoming application. He had about a thousand reasons why it was what they wanted without them knowing it, why it was already “just about” what they were looking for, and he was probably right. It was just about right.
Which is…well, wrong. (Lightning and lightning bug, if you know what I mean.)
I think back to my college writing teacher, who said you should never be afraid to throw away what you wrote, never fear to start over; the words themselves aren’t sacred. But this goes beyond that. This is a symptom of laziness—and there’s not many of us who aren’t guilty of wanting to repurpose to save time and energy. But, in job seeking and writing books, I come back to the same refrain: Don’t ask for any favors.
Never waste time explaining (to anyone, but especially not editors) why a reader will—if they understand where you’re coming from—cut you some slack. Writing is communication. That’s talking to someone. When you’re talking to someone, you don’t—or shouldn’t—have a hard and fast script you read whenever a topic arises. If you do, you’re not paying attention to them; you just want to get across your point. Which everyone wants to do. And which of us listens for very long to someone who’s not showing they have some interest in what we’re saying, thinking, wanting? Who we are?
As a job seeker, you find parameters in the help-wanted ad. As an author, you should find them as a fan. Things you hate—don’t do them to your readers. Not even if you have an amazing story “they’d love if they just looked past the flaws.” If you have an amazing idea that you love more than your current WIP, don’t save it for your sequel. Trust me, we won’t get there. Every moment is crunch time. So, do research and think. Figure out exactly what your audience wants before you even begin. Give it to them. Then give them more of the same. Then give them what you think they should want, after you’ve won their hearts and minds. After you’ve done it their way to begin.
I met up with my job-seeking friend again. He said he’d lost the thumb drive with his college paper and would probably have to write something original.
I said, “Good.”
It’s what everyone needs.