A little bit of context about my writing career before the last six months. It was nothing remarkable and I exclusively wrote in private. I thought long and hard before starting this blog and I went ahead thinking I will figure it out along the way. Knowing your niche is one of the biggest breakthroughs one can make as a writer, and that doesn’t happen easily. Of course, it helps to know what you want to write about, from the very many things you can write about. And, it certainly helps to know what people want to read about but more on that later.
I started this blog as an outlet for my need to write. I read extensively and indiscriminately – from all things random to the relatively mainstream. I sincerely believe that ‘one reads to collect the dots and writes to connect them’. Connecting the dots publicly was always going to be a challenge for someone who is wired the way I am and one that would push me to the edge of my comforts. When I started this blog earlier this year, I had no clue what I wanted to write about. I started out rehashing an earlier piece I wrote with a descriptive disclaimer, and I was on my way.
In the first couple of months, and after some flapping for structure, I developed a process that forced me to build the discipline to write frequently. And that helped me write about a range of subjects without any inhibition. To some extent, not defining my niche was useful for me to explore diverse topics. I wrote about evolution, human attention, modern society, economic structures, climate change, and technology. I also interspersed them with personal reflections from time to time. I have described my writing process and how I ship a post every week in my first reflection. I realised that writing a lot helps you to better know what you want to write about.
Understanding what you want to write about only gets you up to a certain point. When you get into topical subjects like climate change or technology, there are a couple of other dimensions that you have to keep in mind. The biggest of them all is that you have to pick out themes and argue positions that are consistent. Especially with something as complex as climate change, you want to have informed positions on some of the policy levers and climate action currently deployed across the world. While the general rule is it is best to stick to what you know well, I would say stray from that rule at a subject-level, but stick to a familiar lens or approach to view these subjects and write your commentary.
The near-final step to what I have learned about writing is to make it as readable as possible. And readability comes from staying true to your underlying motivation to write about something and reproduce it it with reasonable fidelity. Keep honest with what you write and it will read well.
Knowing how much to write contributes equally to better readability. You write too much – you get carried away and end up writing for yourself. You write too little – it’s incoherent and you lose the reader.
(See how little I wrote here =P)
Arithmetically, it is just 0.01% but, in my opinion, this is by far the greatest focusing device you can develop for your writing. It is to find your ideal reader.
It helps you to talk to that person as you write. It helps you cut the fluff and only use the bells and whistles to explain better. It allows you to think about what his/ her reaction is likely to be and edit what you wrote.
You derive the greatest value in your writing process by understanding the specifics of your ideal reader. It helps if it is a friend or partner or someone you know well, but I understand it may not always work out that way. In such situations, it helps to build a mental profile of an ideal reader so that you can run simulations yourself once you have a first draft ready.
I am still in the process of finding my ideal reader. It is a lot easier when you are writing about a subject that is self-contained or there is a transactional element that usually comes with the territory of content marketing. You can define your audience easily there.
When what you write about is directed at a general audience, there is no single ideal reader. At least, that’s my thinking currently. In such cases, you are better off finding and refining your voice, writing style, and trying to establish a connection with your readers. I am very curious to understand this well for myself.
And that is why I have decided to start a dedicated Substack newsletter. It is called Living In a Greenhouse and it explains the good and the bad of global climate response, without the usual politicking and end-of-days subtext that is all too common with the current coverage.
I am going to do things differently this time compared to six months ago. I am going to actively talk to people about my newsletter and request comments and feedback on what worked for them and what did not.
It’ll be great if you can check out Living In A Greenhouse and subscribe should it appeal to your sensibilities. And please do let me know what you think.
Good vibes and happiness all around =)
P.S. I will continue to write here on ThisIsWater, and I will know more about how I want to divide my time between the two outlets in the coming weeks