Many writing books will tell you to write every day. Without fail. It’s a question of getting those writing muscles toned, of breaking the fear of the blank page, of opening up the channels between brain and hand so that the words flow smoothly and uninterruptedly. And to do so even when no one’s reading. Even if you throw it all away, it’s served a purpose…
No doubt that works well for many writers. It’s the principle behind all secret diaries: writing when no one’s looking. But that’s never worked for me. When I look back at the diaries I kept earlier in my life, all I can see is emotional self-indulgence. There’s no real craft to the writing — it’s just a verbal record of whatever occupied my mind that week. Usually problems in love, or in work, and definitely not intended to be shared.
It’s only when I know that others will be reading that I begin to think about not only the words I use, but their sequence, their power, their impact. Writing as a dance with the reader, a dialogue; writing with a purpose, whether that’s to entertain, raise awareness, inform, educate, or persuade.
So these days, whatever I write is intended to be shared, whether it’s a brief post on social media, a magazine article, story about a translator or interpreter going about their work somewhere in the world, a report about a dying language, or indeed a piece for one of my clients from the worlds of culture or business.
And that brings into play a whole series of reflections that lie dormant when writing for yourself. Because rather than mere self-expression to vent your feelings or air your thoughts, the key issue now becomes engagement.
How to get the reader involved, and keep them reading till the end? That involves a whole series of decisions about how you begin (crucial) and how to end (no less so), but also about how to sequence your thoughts so that they don’t confuse or puzzle your reader — a sure turn-off. What to put in and, crucially in this age of short attention spans, what to leave out.
How do you know that you’ll keep your reader engaged? It’s impossible to guarantee, but you can at least be fairly sure that if you’re interested in the subject and engaged by it, and you follow the basic rules of not expounding ad infinitum on the topic, then you’re fairly likely to take your readers with you on a journey, and not lose them along the way.
If you’ve read this far, you’ve just proved my point.