Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Poking the "I" Out

And the Interminable Edit continues... Every day, I swear it will all be over. The holes -- serious gaps in information -- I mentioned earlier riddle the entire project. Writing the text to fill them is not a horrible undertaking. It just makes it impossible to accurately gauge how long the edit will take. Some days I'll finish 90 pages. Other days, I'm lucky to get through 20 -- because all 20 have to be written from scratch.

Holes aside, one part of the edit that I am perversely enjoying is poking the "I's" out of it. Though the information in it is good, reputable, and actionable, the manuscript suffers greatly from "I" trouble.

Modesty is not a defining characteristic of HWWNC. The manuscript is rife with "I's," "me's," and "my's." They're everywhere. They distract from the information presented, because they constantly push the author in front of the content.

Too much first person writing -- especially in a how-to project -- can cause your audience to distance themselves from your content. I'll be the first to agree that relating first person experiences can help illustrate key concepts in the real world, and make the writer more accessible to the readers. But if your project is primarily in the first person, then chances are you are focusing too much on yourself and not enough on your reader.

Remember: your reader is the only reason you exist as a writer.

A good exercise is to go over a manuscript in the editing phase, and change every "I" and "me" to "you." Change every "my" to "your." Every "mine" becomes "yours." You get the point.

You will find that some "I's" must remain. The personal anecdotes, the introspective musings, and the telling vignettes are generally most effective when told in first person.

But you will also find that most "I's" can (and should) go. Write to the reader rather than about yourself and you'll rarely go wrong.