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Writing Skillz

Posted by on Nov 5, 2010 | 7 Comments

Okay, this post is going to deviate from my normal topics more so than usual.  Since many of my readers are also bloggers (or at least spend lots of time on forums and Facebook), it may be relevant.

Donald of the excellent Running and Rambling blog recently reviewed the second edition of my book.  I chuckled toward the end of the review when Donald noted the disjointed nature of the second half of the book.

He is the first to actually comment on this… and I’ve been waiting. 🙂

When I first started writing, I was very self-conscious about sounding professional.  I went to great lengths to endlessly edit my writing.  I didn’t want to sound like an idiot.  I sterilized my writing.

At some point, I had an epiphany.  I hate reading sterilized writing.  It feels robotic.  Too clean.  Pretentious.

The first edition of my book was rough.  It was created from a series of blog posts that were glued together in an attempt to create a barefoot running guide. The second edition added lots of content and some added polish.

Just how much polish I should add was a difficult decision.  I had a team of professional editors at my disposal.  They worked in the publishing industry.  My primary editor owned a publishing house for years.  This book could have been polished more than the chrome bumper of a ’67 Corvair.

Disclosure statement: I have no idea if they actually made a ’67 Corvair.  Or who actually manufactured the Corvair.  It was a real car, right?

Anyway, I made a conscious decision to leave some of the imperfections in the book.  It made the material more accessible.  The added accessibility meant it was a better teaching tool.  THAT was my ultimate goal… not to produce a work of literary art that would impress professional writers.

Interestingly, the ebook version of the first edition of my book continues outsell the ebook version of the second edition.  Part of this is simplicity- the first edition is very short and direct… just the basics.  The second edition has more information which appeals to a slightly different demographic… notably more experienced barefoot runners.

The other element- the first edition wasn’t as polished.  The professionals tore the first edition apart (read some of the Amazon reviews).  However, the people that actually use it to learn to run barefoot found it to be very useful.  The book resonated with the audience that mattered.

Retaining that element in the second edition was a conscious decision.  Yeah, it tends to irk the great writers, but I want my readers to feel as if I were talking to them, not at them.  People learn better when there’s a personal connection. 😉

I applied a lesson I learned a long time ago… write like you speak.  The book contains bits of stupid humor.  I sprinkle stupid humor in my conversations.  The book does jump from one topic to the next at times.  I jump from topic to topic sometimes.  Essentially, the book is a reflection of how I think and talk.

As writers, I think this idea is exceedingly important.  The more your writing appeals to people “in the industry”, the less it will resonate with your audience… unless your audience is a bunch of professional writers and editors.

Be yourself.  Edit sparingly.  Let people know you’re human.  Your audiences will appreciate you more.

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  1. Olly Hermon-Taylor
    November 9, 2010

    Finding a unique and interesting voice that truly represents you is so tough. I’m fairly new to blogging and am still experimenting and struggling to find the ‘real me’.

    Running is much easier!

  2. Jason
    November 5, 2010

    Thanks for the comments, everyone!
    Steve- Caballo Blanco has pointed out my choice of color schemes several times. 🙂 My second edition cover designer did it without inspiration from BTR, so it was coincidental (he’s not a runner). I love the cover, but don’t like that it looks similar to BTR. If I make a third edition, I will be going with something much different.

    James- I’ll look into it. This is my first extensive use of WordPress… I’m still learning. 🙂

    Richard- agreed. My editors were great in that they edited when and where they should, but still maintained my voice. My penchant for unorthodox sentence structure tends to rub editors the wrong way, as does my addiction to commas. They were able to make enough correction to create better flow. Also, I agree about criticism… it can be invaluable. I’d love to get some feedback on the second edition. 😉

    Angie- I think I need to work on limiting my rambling. A 20,000 word race report may be a bit excessive…

  3. Angie Bishop
    November 5, 2010

    I entirely agree. I write the same way I speak as well. I go back and take care of glaring spelling errors and take out some of the ramblings when it gets too winded but other than that its just me.

    If I edit too much its forced and foreign to my own eyes and that leads to me second guessing myself and then that leads to not even posting since I lost the “feel” of it I started with.

    The first edition of your book seems more campy 🙂 I like them both and can see my own progression as a barefoot runner in them.

  4. Richard
    November 5, 2010

    Are you trying to put me out of a job, Jason? ;-D

    I will agree with you up to a point…although a good editor will allow the author’s voice, and personality, to shine through; they’ll just structure the work better and make it more readable (at least they should!). People may have great ideas, but may not be able to express themselves well. A decent editor will understand both the writer and his/her audience. If they change things too much, they are changing the nature of the work. That isn’t good editing. I also feel that a lot of writers (myself included in the past) underestimate the role that editors play, and the skills they have. Too many writers are precious about their work and don’t respond well to criticism, no matter how constructive or well-intentioned.

    I haven’t seen the second edition of your book yet, so I’ll reserve my comments for when I do!

  5. JamesBrett
    November 5, 2010

    off-subject, i know — but do you purposely have this new blog set to post partial feeds in readers? i was pretty sure i was able to read full posts with the last one…?

    what are the chances of you giving us a full feed?

  6. Steve
    November 5, 2010

    I think many people appreciate the conciseness of the first edition. For example… Michael Sandler’s book is too long in my opinion. Since the first edition outsell’s the second… Does your observation diminish the idea that these book have to be colored similarly to Born to Run in order to sell them? Again, Michael Sandler’s book seemed to be the first to do it, but your second edition followed suit.

    Please don’t take these as cheap shots… It may be a poor attempt at constructive criticism. My moral of the story is… be your own writer. You seem good at it. 🙂

  7. Frances aka "Barefoot Fresca"
    November 5, 2010

    It’s almost like writing polished is like running in shoes — motion-controlled and unnaturaly position — and writing rough is like running in bare feet — more freedom of movement.

    I believe there’s a way to speak in one’s writing like you talk, but in a sneaky polished way, where you refine the voice you want to speak in, and achieve the effect you want without anyone knowing how much work you did to clean it up.

    That being said, I own both your books, and I enjoyed reading both of them AND this blog. I think you do a good job conveying your message and getting your point across.