By: Michelle Gunnin
“…Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss.” ―
When Did My Reading Habits Change?
My reading has changed, and I resent it. For a few years, I have resisted the admonitions to shorten my writing. To put in bullet points, pictures, and headings. I felt all these things interrupted the flow of the piece and kind of dumbed it down.
I knew the general public had a short attention span, but I felt the real readers could appreciate a piece which delved deeper and had more than a thousand words.
Turns out I was wrong.
The other day my husband shared an article with me. I read through the first couple of paragraphs before I found myself scrolling to see how long it was. In the end, I decided it wasn’t worth my time. I never finished it because it was too long. My mind took note of my behavior.
The next day, I was tagged in another article, and I found it quite interesting. I read several pages, but got bored and swiped it away before I finished. My mind made a second tally mark.
A few days later, I was reading the newspaper. I scanned the headlines before choosing an article. In the whole paper, I only read 3 articles, and only 2 of those to completion. All this in one week. My mind decided to point out my behavior.
Have I lost the ability to focus? Am I a lazy reader now? Do I avoid longer pieces because I can’t handle the content? Why am I suddenly so uninterested in the topics that I used to find fascinating? Most of all, how does this new revelation of how I’m reading change my writing?
Reading Changed the Way I Wrote
Here are a few ways that my reading spilled over into my writing.
• The title is more important than ever.
The title has always been the first introduction to your reader, but now they might never get past it. What good does it do to have a marvelous hook if no one ever reads it? For me, catchy titles are difficult. I tend to want to make my title a simple identifier rather than peak the reader’s curiosity. However, the old saying, ‘You only get one chance to make a first impression’ rings in my head. The title is the first impression and finding the right one is going to change the way I write.
• The hook is critical.
It must draw the reader into whatever you are trying to convey, be it a story or an article. The hook has to catch the curious reader and draw them in. This is probably the one thing about writing that hasn’t changed. A good hook is the key to keeping readers.
• The first paragraph has to get straight to the point.
No more building up to a main idea in the last sentence. No more baiting the reader. In fiction, starting with some exciting action has replaced introducing the characters. They have to be introduced within the action of the story now. Think video game. Think movie. In non-fiction, if it isn’t clear what the article is about in the first paragraph, the reader will move on to the next link.
• The body cannot ramble, even a little.
If one point doesn’t go with the others, or if it is less important than the others, leaving it out it is the best course of action. In a story, there is no need for superfluous characters. Every part of the writing needs to be tight and have something to lead the reader further into the piece, which really requires the writing to be concise.
• Short paragraphs are better than long ones.
This has always been true for child readers. They are intimidated by a page of text with no breaks. Now it is also true of adult readers. Shorter paragraphs trick the eye into thinking this is an easy read, whether it is or not. Same with bullet points or lists. As you can see, my bullet points are really just short paragraphs, but the first sentence of each tells directly what the point is, which is what the modern reader is looking for.
• Pictures break up the text and illustrate the point.
I don’t like adding pictures to my writing. Since I’m not a photographer, I don’t have pictures on my laptop, and I don’t have time to go hunting for just the right picture. However, in today’s world, pictures are expected. With so much visual stimulation around us all the time, people expect pictures and writers have to add some to keep the attention of the reader. It takes longer to write a piece and then find pictures to go with it, but if you don’t, you lose your readers.
• Headings and subheadings make scanning easy.
For the modern reader who doesn’t have time to read the whole piece, headings and subheadings can at least keep them engaged in the information they are seeking. While they may not read the whole article, they can easily find the section they are most interested in.
• The word count can make or break your readership.
If writers are long-winded and ramble the article becomes too long to hold the interest of the reader, especially blogs, and other digital formats. Keep your piece short and to the point.
Lessons from my New Reading Habits
In the end, this new revelation about my changing reading habits has taught me an important lesson about today’s readers. They are discriminating.
They are pressured for time, so they limit how much time they take on any given task, including reading. If they feel they are wasting time, they will move on to something else.
As a writer, I have to adjust my writing if I want to gain their readership. If I want them to trust me as an author, I have to try to understand their reading habits and behaviors.
As a reader, I am now paying attention to how my habits have changed, and as much as I resent the changes, I have a better understanding of why readers so easily move along.
It is not all laziness or lack of attention span, much of it is time pressure and not enough hours in the day. The importance of reading has taken a back seat, but with a few adjustments in how we write, we can win back the readers.
Are your reading habits changing? Is your writing influenced by how people read today? Have you got some pointers for making a blog better? Do you have a way to entertain us with humor? Does your poetry move us? Does your short memoir piece make us reflect or remember?
Then you’ll find an audience here at Two Drops of Ink. You should consider a guest submission.