Monday, April 26, 2010

Building the Author’s Ethos: Writing Philosophy

It is important to write a great book. It is important to study the craft of writing in order to edit, revise, and rewrite that great book. But the work of a writer doesn’t stop with crafting a great book. The writer must think about his or her career as an author – in regards to what he or she writes and, just as important (if not more), what his or her audience wants.

Ethos, in general, is a distinguishing character of a person—what he or she stands for. In rhetoric, ethos is something a speaker must develop in his or her repertoire in order to affect his or her audience. In addition to the distinguishing character, the person needs to also establish expertise and knowledge.

What does this mean for a writer looking to develop his or her ethos?
For one thing, it means a writer needs to know what his or her writing philosophy is. Why do you write (aside from the love of it)? What do you hope to illustrate in your writing? What themes, narratives do you find yourself drawn to in your writing? Do these themes, narratives connect with you outside of your role as writer? Who is your audience? What do you want your audience to receive from your work? Where do you see your work going? How?

It is important to know what your “distinguishing character” as a writer is. Knowing this will help you develop the next part of your ethos: the marketing plan. Once you know who are you as a writer, what you bring to the table, and how what you bring is important to your audience, you have to develop a plan to market your wares—your expertise, knowledge…your BOOKS—to your audience.

First, the writing philosophy.

When I first started teaching, I was asked, “What is your teaching philosophy?” I didn’t have an answer initially. I wasn’t sure what a teaching philosophy was. I just knew I loved teaching.
And many writers just know they love writing.

A writing philosophy is much like a teaching philosophy. In a teaching philosophy, you are answering questions, such as:
  1. What are your objectives as a teacher? What do you, ultimately want to accomplish?
  2. What will you do accomplish these objectives?
  3. How will measure your effectiveness?
  4. What is so great about teaching? Why is it important? How will you make the institution of teaching better?
Essentially, in that teaching philosophy, we want to know the basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes—the philosophy—of the teacher.

We want the same things for the author.

Remember the italicized questions I wrote at the beginning of this article?
  1. Why do you write (aside from the love of it)? What do you hope to illustrate in your writing?
  2. What themes, narratives do you find yourself drawn to in your writing? Do these themes, narratives connect with you outside of your role as writer?
  3. Where do you see your work going?
  4. What will you do to accomplish these goals? How will you determine success, effectiveness?
  5. Who is your audience? What do you want your audience to receive from your work?
Each of these questions should be thought about and answered to develop an effective writing philosophy.

Now, don’t worry if you can’t write this quickly. There is no set word count to it either. It takes time—and as many words as you need—to write your philosophy. One book written does not a writing philosophy make. Your writing philosophy will no doubt change as you move through your newness as a writer and develop yourself.

The point is to know who you are and what you bring to the literary table so that you can effectively articulate these things with anyone who asks…especially your audience.

Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and academically, and her debut solo novel, Death at the Double Inkwell, will be released June 2010; you can read an excerpt here. Shon also interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy editing, promoting her debut project, writing screenplays, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

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  1. Great post! I haven't written anything down, but I ask myself these questions whenever I come up with an idea for a book. In the end, it's what shapes my story. :)

  2. At what point during a person's writing career should they begin answering these questions? Personally I think that a writing philosophy is different than a teaching philosophy in that teachers *can* (but don't always) walk into their careers with a philosophy in mind. Writers, however, need time to play with their work in order to figure out what they like and what they want. I just started writing and I know that if I were to even try to answer some of those questions, I would just be forcing answers.

    And even once I begin to clue in to what I want and like, I'm sure I'll edit those attitudes along the line. I think that writers, more so than teachers, will change their minds about their philosophies.

  3. Perhaps some writers know where they're going before they first put their fingers to the keyboard, but I didn't have a clue. I still don't know the answer to those questions, even after publication of my two mysteries. That's probably why I have three other manuscripts in different genres (suspense and historical women's fiction) and am now exploring ideas for contemporary women's fiction.

    You've given me something to think about, Shon. I admit, it would be nice to see a clear path ahead.

  4. It's something to consider. I would have to post these questions and look at them each day until I began to formulate an answer.

    Straight From Hel

  5. Dooblabox...

    It's true there are differences between teacher and writer philosophies, and having been (and still being) both, I can say that both of my philosophies are in constant flux. I would be worried if they stayed the same. The culture, the atmosphere, the technology, the needs, etc. help to change those things.

    The main "thing" to get out of it is that at some point it's important to reflect on these questions and be able to articulate them--for self and for others.

    And on a personal note (like all of this isn't personal - lol), I had a sense of the type of writer I wanted to be before I even wrote my first story, just like I had an idea of the type of teacher I wanted to be before I ever stepped into a classroom. Those ideas grew into a philosophy with experience and further thought. :-)

  6. Maybe because I'm working on a pilot study regarding romance readers I'm thinking about Nora Roberts right now. She is a prolific writer, having written in several genres, but I would argue that despite the myriad of genres she write in, there is a Robertsesque essence that carries through all those books. There is a reason to why she writes beyond the money and the love, and that THING, whatever it is, is important to know as a writer, I think.

    I mention this because I don't think having a philosophy means you have to write in one genre or write one type of book. I, for example, have a thing for the broken woman who learns to heal herself and be better for the healing. This "thing" has grown into part of my philosophy and it resonates in my stories, no matter the genre or form of writing.

  7. Interesting post. We need to stop and take stock of why we write beyond the quick answers and this is a good reminder. Thanks Shon.

  8. Thank you for your advice Shon. I will copy your words into my head and remember to use them next time I am composing a storyline.

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