This is the first article in a series on writing. We will begin by outlining some general tips that should apply to every kind of writing. In future articles, b’ezras Hashem, we’ll build on these ideas and be more specific about how to write speeches, newsletters, fundraising letters, and divrei Torah for publication — which all require different techniques.
The first thing you need to ask yourself is: Who is your audience?
Your readership will be the deciding factor on the style and complexity of what you write. For example, if you are a kiruv rabbi teaching young professionals, the content, stories and messages should be relevant to their stage of life and Jewish background. Similarly, if you are reaching out to high school students, or writing an essay for Jewish doctors on medical ethics, the writing needs to vary according to the sophistication and Jewish background of your audience.
Secondly, you need to ask yourself: Why are you writing this?
What message are you trying to get across? One of the biggest problems of writers is to stay focused on the issue at hand. Ask yourself: Is this line adding or detracting from the message I’m trying to express? A classic example would be someone writing a dvar Torah. Often, within one dvar Torah, the author will be tempted to include a shtickle Torah that is relevant to what was just said, but not pertinent to the overall dvar Torah. This can leave readers confused; even if they are following overall, the end message will be diluted.
Thirdly, you need to decide how you are going to write this.
This would include the length and structure. It would require creating strategy of how you’re going to get your point across. For instance, are you going to include a story? A parable? Is it going to be humorous? Casual? Formal? The answers to these questions will really depend on the above two points — who is your audience and why you’re writing.
All this preparation is even before you’ve picked up a pen (or turned on a computer), but it’s essential to have a clear idea of where you’re going and why BEFORE you begin. All too often, a writer (or speaker) decides that he wants to tell the audience something, but he doesn’t consider that his audience is not interested in the topic at hand, or they’re not willing to read a long essay. Despite all the author’s efforts, the end result will be that his piece is not read — however good it is!
In summary, the first steps in effective composition are to clarify for whom and why you are writing, strategize what you’re going to write, and determine how to get your message across. In future articles, we’ll discuss how to garner material and present it in a compelling and cogent manner.
Rabbi Moshe Kormornick is the CEO and Chief Editor of Adir Press. He is also an alumnus of Rav Yitzchak Berkovits’ Jerusalem Kollel, and Ner LeElef. To see what some of Adir Press’ authors have had to say about their experience, click here. To submit your manuscript to Adir Press, click here. To contact Rabbi Kormornick: email: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also purchase Rabbi Kormornick’s top-selling book, Short Vort: Short and inspiring divrei Torah for every parsha, yom tov and special occasion for only $9.99 in every good Jewish bookstore, and subscribe to his weekly dvar Torah by visiting www.shortvort.com