A helpful pre-publish question for anyone who wants people to read what they write, ever.
Pals, if you don’t care if anyone on earth ever reads your work, for heaven’s sake don’t feel compelled to read this. I’m speaking specifically to writers who would strongly prefer that after they publish something on the internet, other people actually read it. Dare I say they’d enjoy other people sharing it as well? I’m going to give you a very simple and implementable piece of writing advice that you can use any time you write something and post it anywhere. I bet you thought I was going to give you Medium-specific writing advice, didn’t you? No, no kids, you can apply this shit to tweets too. You’re welcome.
When you write, the words are coming out of your brain, a brain you own. I mean it’s not like you paid for the brain or anything but you certainly paid for the subconscious soup of memories and embarrassments and life experiences inside it, so I think assuming ownership is fair. Anyway it’s yours, and therefore the words that come out of it will matter very much to you. But what I think is happening, pretty often actually, is that writers aren’t asking themselves if the words they’re writing will matter very much to anyone else.
Words, unfortunately, don’t have brilliance in the order that you’ve arranged them simply because you want them to. Life is unfair for many reasons, and this is one of them. As a writer, you have to ask yourself why someone would read your work. What’s in it for them? What are they getting out of it? What will they have when they’re done that they didn’t have before they started reading? If you’re not offering some sort of compelling reason for them to read your work, they won’t, and you’ll be sad.
It’s not just about writing well, or writing beautifully. It’s about giving something to the reader, and incentivizing them to spend a piece of their time consuming something you created, in a world where there are endless bits and bobs on the internet vying for the time you’re trying to claim. Writing can be a very personal thing, and it’s certainly okay to tell personal stories, but if you want your work to have legs, you have to ask yourself why someone would read it, and that someone has to be someone other than you.
I see a lot of writing that reads like journal entries. These are only interesting to ourselves and maybe the little brothers stealing our diaries. The shitty bit is, most of the mundane thoughts in our heads aren’t meant to be written down and read by other people. The exceptional thoughts however, might be. Weeding out the exceptional from among the meh is your responsibility as a writer who is interested in someone else reading their work. One way to get good at this is by actually reading the work of other people, and finding out for yourself what you find interesting. The other way is to ask yourself the hard question: Why would someone read this?
Really ask. Take a second to work through your answer, and try to completely remove your own arrogance (I said it) from the equation. Pretend you don’t know you. Would you read it? Why would you read it? The bonus in asking yourself this question and answering it honestly is that a really solid headline for your work might be hiding somewhere inside the answer.
People aren’t going to care about your writing simply because you do. You can still write whatever you want, it is a (far too free) internet, just know that if you want other people to read what you have to say, you have to make it worth their while. They’re giving you time, what are you giving them back? Valuable information counts. Entertainment counts. Inspiration counts. As long as it’s really there, and really being delivered, you can find all sorts of value in all kinds of writing. But assuming someone else will find your thoughts and words interesting just because it’s you who wrote them is going to be a very steep climb up a concerning angle, honestly.
Why would someone read this? I don’t say this to you to get you to dramatically crumple up your laptop and throw it in a metal waste basket sitting just to the left of your desk. I say it to hopefully inspire better writing that’s infused with a bit more value and incentive. The world should absolutely read what you have to say. As long as you’ve made it a point remember why they’d want to.
Shani Silver is a humor essayist and podcaster. You can read all her Medium essays here.