By: Marilyn L. Davis
“People are afraid to write books because they fear people will read them and find them worthless. Write as if nobody is going to read it and throw your work into the public dustbin. Somebody may find it and consider it a treasure.” ― Bangambiki Habyarimana, The Great Pearl of Wisdom
Do the Readers Like What We Write?
Writing is such a revealing profession. Our thoughts, feelings, and opinions are out there for public scrutiny. We feel vulnerable and question why we’re doing this.
We’ve labored over the topic, titles, and typos. We’ve revised, rewritten, and taken the reader into account – all this while baring our souls. We hope it’s entertaining, educating, or enchanting; however, before we torment ourselves with the whole, many of us agonize over each word during the creation of the piece.
- Is it the right word?
- Have I conveyed my intent with these words?
- Will readers understand the vocabulary?
- Will they like what they are reading?
Conflicts: Writing and Publishing
Writing for me, is sometimes conflicting. On the one hand, I want to be authentic and give readers a piece of myself in each post. However, I don’t want to expose myself so much that a critique of the grammar or syntax sends me scurrying into the corner while I lick my wounds and soothe my tattered ego.
In discussing this dilemma with another writer, she asked me, “Marilyn, what is your greatest fear in writing? I could come up with about four reasons. She then asked me pointed questions.
- Is it the view numbers that scare you?
- Do you have something to say about the subject but are afraid of your opinion getting criticized?
- Are you afraid of success or failure as a writer?
- Does criticism read like an attack on you, not your writing?
Could your fears be any of these?
Each of these questions gave me pause because there was a kernel of truth in every one of her questions.
Just in case you’re like me and hesitant or even terrified to post a new article, let’s dissect four elements that contribute to our fears.
1. Is It the Right Word?
“The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”― Mark Twain, The Wit, and Wisdom of Mark Twain
Language is common but distinctive. By that, I mean that each of us has a particular word we’ll use even though there are others with similar or comparable meaning. We each have an idea of how best to frame our pieces, but some of us want to make sure that we’ve conveyed the obvious and then include the subtle.
For the most part, we write in blogs and short articles using conversational words. If we’re writing a technical paper, we use language that expresses our expertise in the field, and while it may not come across as stilted, it is often precise, and its meaning is specific to the industry.
But we can become careless in our choice of words. When I wrote my recovery curriculum, Therapeutic Integrated Educational Recovery System, I wrote the Facilitator Manual, assuming clinicians would know the terminology. However, the Participant Manual was in everyday language, or I explained vocabulary for the client’s understanding of early recovery.
My editor questioned the choice of words in a passage. I justified my use of the terms, saying, “Everyone who facilitates groups will know those words.”
She informed me that she was quite intelligent, and she was struggling, even after looking the word up in both a dictionary and a Thesaurus. Well, that caught me off guard. She is intelligent, exacting, and an excellent editor.
2. Have I Conveyed My Intent?
I needed to take her criticism into account and focus on my intent in a passage and how well or poorly I was communicating it. Because I respected my editor, I reconsidered my choice of words and changed several passages. Although I revised many paragraphs in one section, I didn’t change the meaning or objective of the passage; I just used a word that better communicated my intent.
“The word is only a representation of the meaning; even at its best, writing almost always falls short of full meaning. Given that, why in God’s name would you want to make things worse by choosing a word which is only the cousin of the one you really wanted to use?” ― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
We sometimes get complacent in our choice of words. If you look at the word, “brass,” it has a minimum of seven definitions:
- An alloy consisting mostly of copper and zinc in variable proportions
- The brass instruments of an orchestra or band —often used in the plural
- Metal fittings, utensils, or ornaments
- Empty cartridge shells
- Brazen self-assurance
- High-ranking members of the military
- Persons in high positions (as in a business or the government)
If you’re not 100% certain of a word’s definition, take the time to look it up, find synonyms and insert them into your sentence and see if one adds more nuances or further clarifies your passage.
3. Will Readers Understand?
There’s a fine line between writing concisely and succinctly so that readers aren’t left wondering about your intent and dumbing something down and offending the readers.
On the other hand, are you just writing to impress your reader with your vocabulary? Consider: “Spy is such a short, ugly word. I prefer ‘espionage.’ Those extra three syllables really say something.” Howard Tayler, Emperor Pius Dei
Think of Thomas Pynchon and James Joyce. I made it through Ulysses, but I’ve strongly considered hurling Gravity’s Rainbow across the room more than once.
“Keep a dictionary handy, and maybe a desk encyclopedia if you get hooked.”
If something baffles you, read on to the next moment of searingly bright light, and don’t worry about it. With time and re-readings, everything (well, many things) will be made clear.”
If you must have closure, you may be SOL with Pynchon. As far as background material goes, just be willing to let yourself not know any of it, but be willing to go out and do a little research when a topic seems interesting to you.”
I used these approaches when I had to take biology, calculus, and physics; I am not willing to do this for pleasure; however, I do realize that their words speak to a far greater audience than I have, so I will concede that these writers and their books have fans and loyal readers.
4. Will They Like What They Are Reading?
Since I don’t have a fan page dedicated to my writing, I’ve got to go elsewhere to determine if my newest piece has merit. I’m fortunate that I have a group of trusted friends, other writers, and editors that can tell me if I’m bordering on Pynchon, or if the piece needs tweaking and revising.
But it’s more than the craft of writing that people need help with; it’s a pleasure or educational value they get when they read the piece. I’ll write my best post and then ask those friends to read it and give me a candid assessment of the writing, and hopefully, I won’t receive my piece back all highlighted.
“How many words are you having trouble with, sir?”
“Just the ones that I’ve highlighted.”
“I count at least a dozen, and I haven’t gotten out of the first paragraph.”
“That’s as far as I got, too. I’m not sure you and I speak the same language.”― Howard Tayler, Emperor Pius Dei
Even if there’s a lot of highlighting, I expect them to be honest, letting me know if there are unclear passages, if it added to their understanding of the subject, and, above all, was it entertaining or educating.
This last review is critical, in my opinion. It lets me know if my trusted audience reacted favorably or if they just read it to be loyal.
Then I know that all the risks I took in exposing my writing achieved my unstated goal – make them think and make them feel.
And how was your writing today?
Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home of Collaborative Writing
When you’re ready to bare your soul, or just help us improve our writing, consider a guest post.