How Readers Can Help Write A Book

Back when the Internet was a hidden playground for researchers (developing things that go boom against Soviet forces), writers scribbled in notebooks, on tissue paper (Roald Dahl used lipstick), and typewriters, incubating opuses written between the leather covers of spiral bound books, with spidery writing and yesterday’s tea stains. I hear the click click click of my keyboard as i’m typing out the next chapter … and i admit that i don’t like it.

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Writing is a lonely task. You sit facing your computer screen/ typewriter/ tissue paper, and then input the words to craft places and people that exist only in your imagination. It is you and your art, be it ideas, or a romance, or an autobiography.

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Once we transfer our writing to an interactive medium things open up to us. Readers read and experience your book in ‘real time’, as what you are posting up is a work in progress. It becomes harder for you to stop because what you write is out there, exposed on the web, and gosh! people are actually enjoying it! Should you ever have the misfortune of coming over a troll (nasty internet users who go out of their way to annoy other internet users), ignore him/her/it. Everyone has to start somewhere. And the internet (or the blogosphere, if you want to use that word) is just one of those places.

A few thoughts on involving your readers with your writing:

Comments

Commenting is a major part of blogging. While it may sound absolutely stupid to treat your readers as sheep, tell them to comment. The majority of readers don’t usually comment on blogs they read – don’t be disheartened, this doesn’t mean they don’t like you. I’ve read somewhere (source lost) that a good way to pull comments in is to force make them to do so. Publicly declare that you won’t post another chapter until you get one comment. 2 comments, 2 chapters. And so on.

There are, of course, downsides to this technique. The first being your work being so new or so hard to read that nobody actually cares if you post a new chapter. But i still remember a particular blook posted on Blogger (while the National Novel Blogging Month – NaNoBloMo – still existed) about a female vampire and her first love that utterly gripped me from the get go. Only two chapters were posted, and even though us readers posted comments the blog eventually died away. It was thrilling, beautiful, and very, very addictive. So this technique might work if you write something amazing – but what if you’re still learning?

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A better way of asking your readers to comment is to post critiques of your own work, and then asking readers to help out. This is involving them in the writing process, and while not everything they recommend is worth applying, it is a good exercise to develop your prose. Plus you’re making sure that your story means something more to your readers, because there now exists a personal connection between the both of you.This works both ways. If your reader takes the time to comment in your blog, then pay them back by visiting their blog and dropping a line or two. This is standard advice for new bloggers, and there are loads of other help blogs out there that are better qualified than I am in talking about commenting in the blogosphere.

Ask Questions

Ask your readers everytime you post up a new episode – and not just on superficial topics like what do you think your main character’s clothes should look like. Involve them in the character building process. Do you think so and so is capable of acting like this? Is so and so believable when she does this, or acts in another particular manner? Now don’t treat this as free advice and apply everything your readers tell you. You determine the experiences that your characters, and also your readers, go through. Interaction is key, but remember you’re asking your readers to help you write a book, and not write one collaboratively themselves. Things get very messy if you try to please everyone – have a firm grip on what your vision of the story is, and balance it out with feedback from readers.

In his book Break From The Pack, Oren Hararri suggested something that struck a deep chord with me:

Users (or readers, in this particular case) don’t know what they want. Your job is to bring them to an Impossible Place, a place where they themselves never imagined existed. And then they’ll love you for it.

My main point is this: Ask questions to see if you’re giving them what they want. See if they’re surprised, delighted, and engrossed with your work. And continue asking questions till you figure it out, and then give it to them.

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I’m still typing at my computer, watching words appear as my fingers hit the buttons of my keyboard. They go click click click, and somehow it no longer sounds so annoying. It may never replace the scratching of my pen on paper, but it’ll do for now. For there are people reading, thinking, enjoying out there, and I can ask them how my writing fares.

Care to comment, anyone?

Possibly Related Posts:

Category: Writing · Writing Web Fiction
  • http://obtrusive.blogspot.com Sebatinsky

    Oh dear. This is an unfortunate post to find completely devoid of comments.

    Well, I think the ideas you brought up were very interesting, and I’d never thought of requiring a certain number of comments before continuing with the next chapter – I’ll definitely mention that to my blooking friends.

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    Seb,

    I found that this is generally a bad idea. Personal experience speaking here: once bitten, twice shy.

  • http://criticalmass.crazydreams.org/ CrazyDreamer

    As I’ve stated in the comments to a previous entry, demanding (rather than just requesting) comments is going to annoy more people than it pleases and probably not get any more comments than a friendly request.

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    Yeap. I’ve DEFINITELY got to do something about my old posts.

    I’ve learnt a lot since then. This is one bad, bad idea. Sorry, Crazydreamer.