Reading a book should be like floating gently down a river towards an ocean of possibilities. To keep our reader receptive to our ideas, we want them to be ‘in the zone’, effortlessly connecting with what we say, and gliding from one idea to the next. Yes, we want them to be excited, and busting to get to the end of the journey. But we want the ride to go without a hitch.
How do we, as authors, achieve this smooth ride? Most people think the answer lies in having a quality boat, meaning we must improve our capacity as writers to lull our readers with persuasive prose. I’m afraid I have to disagree. Even a rickety old boat can afford a lovely ride if it is skilfully captained away from snags, whirlpools and rocks. Our focus needs to be on the river and steering our course. How? By making elegant links between all our ideas.
Jerky connections between ideas snag our readers’ attention. Snags distract them from thinking about a problem they have, a mistake they have made, or an exciting course of action that we recommend. Instead, they think, “Huh? What happened there?” If we are lucky, they push on and keep going down the river. More often, they disembark, flinging our book onto the couch with a sigh and thinking, “I must empty the dishwasher! No excuse now!”
But here is the good news! You are already a master of the elegant link, the segue, the smooth transition between one idea and the next. You use them in conversation all the time. Here’s some you might recognise:
“Enough about you, let’s talk about me!”
“Talking of which …”
“I am not a racist, but …” (Yes, links can be used for evil as well as good).
We link ideas in conversation without much effort. We are also alert to breaches: You say hello to someone, and they don’t reply, or they launch into a topic without introduction – that is a breach. It can be offensive at worst, and off-putting at best.
A mysterious problem with writing down ideas (and how to solve it)
Strangely, many authors struggle to conjure up this natural ability when they write their thoughts down. Instead, their ideas hop about like a cat on a hot tin roof. They become anxious about how to convey their ideas and link them all together.
Solving this struggle, then, is as simple as tuning into your “conversational mind”. What do I mean by that? I mean that authors need to imagine they are talking with their readers. You might have noticed my conversational style in this blog. How do I link my ideas? I ask questions, tell stories, and I use humour and repetition. In my blogs, I want to have an informal conversation with you, my reader. But you can write more formally, and still make it conversational enough to link your ideas. Just use the linking phrases and techniques, such as humour, repetition, questions or stories.
However, the links between our ideas need to be strong. A weak link is as bad as no link. If you cannot yet take to the page without a flutter of anxiety and you like to walk before you fly (an excellent idea), I have a suggestion: you use a technique to help you actively link ideas. I call the method, “Because of this, then that”.
Because of this, then that
You can test the strength of the links between your ideas in a chapter, or chapters in a book as a cohesive whole by asking yourself a simple question: Because of this, then what? First, set your overall topics. (Mine is “links”.) Then decide your subtopics. These are all the components that make up your topic. Now test the strength of the links between your ideas.
Here’s how my ideas link in this blog.
Because your reader is “in the flow”, they absorb your ideas.
Because your ideas are linked, your readers are in the flow.
Because your ideas are not linked, they are jerky.
Because they are jerky, the reader gets snagged and stops reading.
Because you are talking, you know how to link ideas effortlessly.
Because you are writing, you forget how to link ideas.
Because you remember to have a conversation with your reader as you write, your links come effortlessly.
Because you must practice to remember, start with an artifice.
Because you use an artifice, you can link written ideas.
Because your link your written ideas, your reader will get in the flow, and absorb your ideas.
How long is a chain?
You can link one idea to another forever, by the way. However, we have a deadline, don’t we, and have to get our book published and out to our readers. If you want your readers to be in the flow and ready to absorb your ideas, learn to link your thoughts as you write. Use the same links you use effortlessly in conversation – questions, humour, repetition and stories. Until you get terrific at that, use the “Because of this, then that” technique to link your ideas.
PS Want more? You may like: When, why and how to approach ‘traditional’ publisher with your business book manuscript.