“Write for your readers, rather than yourself.”
This is a famous piece of writing advice, but I think it’s only half right.
It’s definitely helpful to remember that readers don’t know everything you know about your subject or story. And if you write as though they do, they won’t like it.
That means not opening your novel or short story with a dull ‘day in the life’ scene about a character you know intimately, but readers don’t know or care about…
…or peppering an otherwise informative blog post with ‘insider’ jargon that’s indecipherable to the people you’re trying to reach.
But to really engage others, you also need to engage yourself. If you don’t feel enthused by your writing, then readers won’t relax properly into your words, because something about them won’t quite fit.
So, whatever else you do, try to make friends with your writing.
(Genuine friends; the kind you tell everything to. Not those friends you see with a slightly heavy heart, because you’ve known each-other for so long that you’ll never be rid of them).
But aside from injecting personal enthusiasm into your words, there are other things you can do to help engage readers. Such as:
Start With The Action
One of the best writing tips I ever heard came from the thriller writer James Scott Bell. He advised aspiring novelists to ditch their first chapters, and start with the second one instead.
The reason? First chapters are usually filled with scene-setting, in the style of that dull ‘day in the life’ scene I mentioned earlier.
If you take all that dreary scene-setting away, and transport your readers straight to the action in Chapter Two, you’re more likely to hook them.
The exact same goes for blog posts, short stories… and just about anything you might care to write.
Ditch the waffly opening paragraph, and take your readers straight to the point.
Be Brave… Ask For Honest Feedback
Readers who can tell you honestly what they liked and didn’t like about your writing will help you make it better.
That doesn’t mean you should take every last comment on board (particularly snarky online ones, from people you’ve never met. I speak from experience).
But how do you know what feedback you should listen to, and what to ignore?
The bestselling writer Stephen King says he asks five trusted people to read his completed manuscripts, then he watches for consistency.
So, if all five of his readers say that something needs to be changed, he changes it. But if they all say something different, it’s just their opinion.
(This rule seems to have served him well over the years).
If you’d like to learn how to write engaging content, my six-week Bodacious Blogging Course starts on Wednesday 16th September.
You’ll be part of a deliberately small and supportive group, and you’ll write at least one piece of content for everyone to feedback on (privately) in each session.
If you’d like to join the fun, just drop me a line at [email protected]
I'm a friendly and professional writer, reviewer and editor who works with warmth, humour and flexibility.
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