June 25, 2024

5 Ways to Make Your Prescriptive Writing Shine

1. Use subheads.

Subheads tell your reader what to expect, and they can help you stay on point, too, by functioning as content containers. Think of the content that falls under any given subhead as a substance going into a bucket. Maybe you have water, cornmeal, flour, etc., and goal is not to mix or have your substance spill out or flow over. These ingredients are your content. If you’re writing about dating, for instance, you might have a chapter about getting back into the scene after divorce or a dry spell. Two subheads in that chapter might cover the emotional challenges and the celebrations around successes. You would know not to write about a dating failure in the success section, and a reader wouldn’t expect to see anything about the hard parts of dating there either. Too often prescriptive writers either fail to give their reader subheads or don’t do it properly, veering off every which way instead of staying on message. Remember that you’re guiding your reader through a process, or teaching them something. A little hand-holding goes a long way!


2. Get comfortable in the role of expert, teacher, or guide.

Writing a book makes you an expert, so if you’re not feeling it, fake it till you make it. Try asserting your authority if you don’t feel comfortable doing so. Express some opinions and offer some solid direction to your reader. People buy how-to books because they want to learn something. And the value of reading prescriptive work is that we’re going to feel like we’re better equipped to do something—whether that’s understand ourselves better or know how to make a quilt—than we were before we started reading. Remember that being the authority engenders trust.


3. Be relatable.

This one is big. Even if you’re writing something that’s very specific to your industry and your readership is specific, you still need to be able to deliver content that doesn’t make your reader’s head spin. Tell stories. Offer anecdotes and case studies. Be the authority, yes, but don’t make your writing so complex that an average person can’t follow what you’re trying to articulate. Some writers think that the more big words they use the more educated they sound. I assure you this is not the case. Mostly this makes a reader feel like they have to try too hard, or feel that you’re trying too hard, which is even worse.


4. Write like you talk.

This dovetails with the above point, but it’s a point that will help your book sell better. Most prescriptive writers are on the road speaking, or get invited to share their expertise or lessons or insights with groups of people. If someone likes what you have to say, they buy your book. But if your book is so far afield from the voice they heard onstage, it’s a letdown, and confusing. Let who you are shine in your words. Your readers will appreciate it and you will feel solid that your speaking voice and your writing voice are aligned.


5. Encourage your reader.

Give your reader a little pep here and there. They’re hanging with you on this ride through 70,000 words or more, so remember that they’re there. When you write fiction or a novel, this is not the case. Readers are observing as if they’re watching a movie. In prescriptive work, the opposite is the case. Think of your readers as an interactive audience. You’re talking to them, telling them things, sharing stories. So don’t forget the occasional pat on the back. It goes a long way.

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