Guest Bloggers

The Three Questions

Guest Blogger Shawn Langwell shares smart writing tips, focusing on three important questions.

Octavia E. Butler said, “You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.”

Writing and leadership have a lot in common. Both require creativity, passion, and persistence. Both are conversations. And every good author as well as effective leaders know their audience. Each requires a level of confidence and humility to listen. To listen to the suggestions of an editor. To listen to the inner voice that says you need to sit your butt down on a regular basis and write. Or, upon awakening to listen and follow the conviction of a dream so vivid and powerful that the story just unfolds and becomes a book and a short memoir entitled: “Cathartic Writing: The Healing Power of a Story Now Told,” included in The Write Spot: Writing as a Path to Healing, by editor Marlene Cullen.

I am still very much a rookie when it comes to writing and, like many people, tend to overthink the entire process before I even write the first word. For me, focus is a key to establishing a successful plan for any endeavor. Sure, there’s a lot more to writing than focus but I have found that lack of focus tends to lead to overthinking, which is a result of fear about not knowing where you want to go or believing enough in your abilities that one becomes consumed with analysis paralysis.

Not everyone wakes up from a dream with a crystal-clear vision of what they want to write. Sometimes you need to kick that doubt to the curb and sit your butt down in front of your computer and write. Don’t worry about the results, yet. And certainly, don’t try and edit as you go. Some may be able to do this, but I find it messes with my flow and I get back onto the perfectionism merry go round and lose any emotion or momentum I may have finally gained.

Writing is messy and not many like being messy. Writing also means you must become vulnerable. You are putting your thoughts and ideas out there for the world to see and some people may not like them.

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head.” ― Anne Lamott

I’ve been in sales and marketing for over twenty-eight years and, like authors, occasionally feel stuck. A few years ago, I went to a colleague to get input on a big proposal I was working on. He stopped me before I even got started and asked me if I had done a needs assessment.

“What do you mean? Yes, I know they need to increase their business.” I said.

“No. Have you asked them the three questions?”

“The three questions?”

“Before you can give a business presentation or any type of communication you need to ask these three questions:

One: Who do you want to reach?

Two: What do you want to say to them?

Three: What do you want them to do?”

Before they write or submit for publication these same three questions need to be decided by every author or speaker.  In other words, who is your audience or what genre do you want to write?

Are you writing fiction or non-fiction? Each of these will dictate the voice, narrative and theme of your work.

Lastly, What’s the purpose of your writing? Is it to entertain (Fiction)?

Or, is it to inform? Persuade?  Or share a unique experience? (Non-fiction).

Taking time to focus on these three questions has dramatically helped me increase my success rate in sales and made it easier to get started with writing. I have learned that answering these questions up front and not worrying about writing crap at first takes the pressure off. My persistence in practicing these steps has enabled me to finish three years of creative writing at the junior college, write and submit to three additional anthologies, give six speeches for Toast masters, and be asked to share a few words about the process with other writers like you.

I look forward to meeting you on August 5th when we explore this a little more in depth at a Writers Forum Zoom Event.

Be well, Shawn Langwell

Note from Marlene: Shawn leads the parade in a series of Zoom talks based on the anthology, The Write Spot: Writing as a Path to Healing. Please join us for these free Writers Forum events.

Shawn Langwell is a graduate of San Francisco State University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Marketing and Advertising. He earned certificates from Dominican University, Barowsky School of Business Executive Education Leadership Program, and the San Rafael Chamber of Commerce Leadership Institute.

He is President of Redwood Writers, a branch of the California Writers Club, and immediate past President of Toast of Petaluma.

Shawn’s personal mission is to add value to people and businesses everywhere. He is a sought-after speaker for recovery and has over 33 years of continuous sobriety. He lives in Petaluma, CA with his wife, three adult children, and a Maine Coon cat, Cleo.

Shawn is the author of the memoir, Beyond Recovery: A Journey of Grace, Love, and Forgiveness.

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