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Write with Intent

by Angel Leigh McCoy

No two writers are alike, nor are any two writing careers.

If you’re interested in building a career as a writer, then learning how to write with intent will take you there. No matter what kind of writing you want to do (journalism, fiction, games, freelance, corporate, comic, etc.), you will advance more quickly if you approach everything you write with one goal in mind: it has to be good enough to publish.

When you actively pursue this goal, you push yourself toward professionalism in all your writing. There’s no greater motivator for improving your craft than the thought that someone will be evaluating it and thereby evaluating you. Scary, yes, but also motivating in a good way.

Writing with intent means that you take your craft seriously. You study and practice, and put your best effort into everything you produce.

Know Your Field

In order to write for a particular field (see the list above), you need to know the requirements of that medium. Journalism requires different formatting and styles than comic book writing. The game writer must understand the boundaries imposed by game mechanics and good design philosophy. The fiction writer must understand the needs of the publisher as they relate to layout and word count.

You can get away with long paragraphs and complex sentences in a newspaper article much more easily than you can in a comic book or a game. A poet writes by a different set of rules from the one used by someone writing a corporate newsletter. The Internet has bloomed into an amazing source of information for whatever field you want to go into, so don’t be shy about Googling and reading. A little knowledge goes a long way, and a lot of knowledge will get you there quicker.

In addition, different fields use a variety of different tools and reference materials. The journalist must show solid non-fiction sources for anything she writes, whereas the fiction author can make it up as she goes.

All fields have their own needs and restrictions.

Know Your Medium

Whether your material will appear in a paper product or on the web influences many aspects of how you will write it. When writing for the web, use shorter paragraphs and sentences, and take full advantage of bulleted lists. People tend to skim when reading on the web, whereas a person reading a book over a cup of tea is more likely to dive deeply into it.

If you’re writing for an audio medium, such as game dialogue, screenplays, fiction readings, plays, or radio journalism, then you need to consider that someone has to say what you write. Your message has to be tight and clear, and not a tongue-twister. Read everything you write aloud yourself or ask a friend to read it to you. If they stumble, chances are it’s too complex a sentence for la bouche.

Know Your Audience

Perhaps the most important aspect of writing with intent–knowing your audience–allows you to write directly to them, in their own language. You wouldn’t use the same terminology and slang with gamers as you would with corporate managers or veterinarians.

You almost always want to speak to people in their own lingo, as if you were one of them. Assuming that your chosen field reflects your own interests and personality, you’ll have no problem with this. If you’re writing for an unfamiliar audience, then you study up on how they speak before you write for them. That’s one of the many skills a writer learns over the years: how to be a chameleon.

The most skilled writers can always sound smarter or cooler than they actually are!

Your greatest chance of reaching your audience is to follow your passions. Write about the things you love for other people who also love them. Writing is all about love. Nobody writes in a vacuum. We need our readers. Without readers, a writer isn’t a writer at all.