Writing is very easy. All you do is sit in front of a typewriter [computer] keyboard until little drops of blood appear on your forehead. – Walter W. “Red” Smith
Consider how we interact today: no doubt our days include emails, text messages, Twitter updates, blog feeds, news feeds, Facebook status updates–clicking and typing. Nibble fingers indeed. Our interactions are professional and personal; our voices change from formal to informal. What I find most interesting in this new age correspondence is the confined space in which we communicate.
I can tell my friend that yes, “I’ll see you for lunch at noon.” Quick and easy via text. But I can also tell the Twittersphere that once Robert Frost wrote “no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” Maybe I’d even tack on: “Put yourself in danger.” The latter statement is incredibly powerful. I will add that since numbers do matter: both messages are under 140 characters.
We may have many modes of communication–many spaces, but the space itself is rather small. What this means is, to be most efficient, everyone needs to know how to write, how to produce content that is worthy of readership.Otherwise, as a community of businesses, of interactions, of personalities, we are doomed. I hate to be pessimistic, but without understanding the power behind language, the conciseness it requires, we will not achieve anything.
The thinking process of a skilled communicator reflects how she/he conceives the writing situation. To reverse that statement, writing situations–all writing– is communication. However, writing (the act of putting something “on the page”) hopes to go further. It hopes to make the reader react in certain ways– an “lol,” an “omg” (ah, inefficiency)– it hopes for pleased smiles, nods of affirmation, stabs to the heart–whatever. As author of Writing with Style, John Trimble discusses, “writing is the art of creating desired effects.”
In any public sphere (because writing is permanent and therefore, public), we buy from people what we like and trust. I’m using the term “buy” loosely: we buy products, advice, suggestions, news. That’s how our culture works.
So, how do we win readers?
1. Have something important to say. Know what your purpose is and know why it’s important.
2. Be sold on its validity so you can pitch it with conviction.
3. Give some concrete proof: provide a link, a statistic, etc.
4. Use confident language– use active verbs, assertive phrasing, use a branding lexicon.
We must serve people, satisfy their needs. If we are going to ask people for their attention, we are in their debt. Yes, be courteous, pleasing in your phrasing, dress everything in an aura of reasonableness. I think we often understand manners when we’re out to dinner (no elbows on the table, chew with your mouth closed), but as writers, they are often neglected.
Writing often sounds as the writer were talking to a wall; the reader hears a gentle echo of mumbling. If your intention is to “sell” and have the reader “buy,” we obviously do not want that. Thus, to make your writing lucid and powerful, I suggest you envision yourself at that dinner table.
At the dinner table, on the page
- Cultivate a psychological sense: sensitize yourself to what wins you over. Think of your own experiences– how and why do you respond to writing? As you sit down to write, bring that awareness to your reader.
- Anticipate your readers’ responses: If I move this way, you move which way? Are you treating the reader like an idiot? Has the reader zoned out? Where do you need to include a bit of humor? What do you want the reader to really take away from this piece?