Why Authors Must Write With A Purpose In Mind
Do not write until you know why you are writing. What are your goals? Are you trying to make readers laugh? Are you trying to persuade them to buy a product? Are you trying to advise them? …
If you cannot answer the question “Why am I writing this?” then you cannot wisely choose words, provide facts, include or exclude humor. You must know what job you want done before you can pick the tools to do it.
—Gary Provost, 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing
One of the first things you need to determine before putting pencil to paper or fingers to keyboard is why you’re writing and the audience you’re writing for.
- First, ask yourself what your book’s overall purpose is. Is it to explain? To educate? To entertain?
- Next, ask yourself who you’re writing for. Children ages 5–8? Adults preparing for retirement? Teenagers ready to embark on their college journey?
- How much education do your readers likely have, and how much knowledge about your book’s main topic?
After considering these questions, think of one statement that expresses your purpose in writing the book. Write it down. This is the basis of the master page, which you will use to guide you through writing with purpose.
Your purpose statement must (1) include the audience, (2) contain only one main idea, and (3) be expressed clearly and concisely. For example, if you are writing a book to help young children with toilet training, your purpose statement may be “To help two- to three-year-old children overcome their anxiety about using toilets that are not their own.”
Next, create your thesis statement. This is the overall argument of the book. Your thesis statement can be more than one sentence, but I recommend no more than two or three. As with the purpose statement, a strong thesis statement:
- focuses on one main idea,
- is clear,
- is concise, and
- helps you remember what should and should not be included in your book.
Write the thesis statement on your master page, under the purpose statement. Continuing with our earlier toilet-training example, we can develop this thesis statement: “Using a toilet away from home doesn’t need to be scary; with a bit of imagination, children can think of unfamiliar toilets as ‘friends’ helping them on their journey toward staying dry and clean, even when away from home.”
Now you can begin to sketch out how best to accomplish the book’s purpose—specifically what topics you are going to cover, along with their main points. If you are writing fiction, these will likely be key plot points. If you are writing nonfiction, the topics and main points should form the backbone of your outline and will likely become the basis for your table of contents, with each main topic/point becoming a separate chapter.
As you craft your outline and begin writing, keep in mind that every chapter in the book should support the book’s overall purpose. Likewise, every paragraph that appears in a chapter should support that chapter’s overall purpose, so as you plan and write, be sure to consider carefully the purpose of each chapter and how to accomplish that purpose. (I suggest also writing down the purpose and thesis statements for every chapter so you can refer back to them as you write.)
Finally, as you are writing, look at your master page often, as this can help keep you focused and on target—it may even help you overcome writer’s block.
As you continue the writing process, you may find that one of your main points or supporting arguments has changed and no longer matches your original plan. If this happens, write what you need to write instead of what you planned to write—just be sure to make any necessary changes to your master page.
Of course, as every writing teacher I’ve ever had has stressed, your work is not complete just because you’ve written all your thoughts down. Next come the processes of revising and self-editing. Your master page is important during these stages, too.
Once you have finished your first draft, it is time to go back to the very beginning of the writing process and review your master page. Ask yourself these questions:
- Have I fulfilled my original purpose?
- Does each chapter support the book’s purpose?
- Does each paragraph support the purpose of the chapter it is in?
If you answered no to any of these questions, you need to cut excess text and to revise any sentences and paragraphs that don’t fulfill their intended functions.
Especially while revising, remember the readers you are writing for. In his book Style, Joseph M. Williams writes, “[O]nce we have made clear to ourselves what ideas, points, and arguments might be available, we then have to reshape that first draft to provide what our readers need. We write a first draft for ourselves; the drafts thereafter [are] increasingly for the reader” (p. x, 1995 ed). As you think of your readers and their needs, ask yourself these two key questions:
- Have I written anything my readers likely already know?
- Have I left out explanations that are key to understanding my main points?
Writing with a purpose can be challenging. Revisions can sometimes feel pointless and even tiring, but keeping your purpose in mind at all stages of the process helps you create a strong manuscript that people will understand and will enjoy reading—the mark of a truly professional text.