We writers, as sometimes reclusive as we can be, do not write in a bubble. We toil, we create, we size up words, select the best and arrange them carefully into organized thoughts.
And then we send them out into the vortex.
Who captures these words? Spends time with them, swirls them on their palette and tastes each concept for validity and usefulness?
The Readers Define Your Success
The reader. The audience. That pool of human beings we strive to grow, drop by drop.
Being successful at writing can be defined by one parameter: How well we know and resonate with our audience.
“What is writing? Writing is telepathy.”
― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
When I first began blogging, I began on Wordpress. I quickly came to the conclusion that while it was inherently satisfying to place my words in a background of serene blacks, whites and grays, with graphics I loved — getting followership was difficult.
What was harder than followership was getting feedback. And feedback is gold. Without it we are spinning in our bubbles, writing for ourselves.
Medium solved both problems for me and it is as easy as reviewing two things: increased followership and individual story stats. Engagement is key.
What does your reader want from you?
I’ve been asking myself this question more critically recently and approaching each interaction with my readers with this crucial question in mind. And if you want to be successful as a writer, however you define it, you will need to examine this for yourself as well.
The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has outlined a few questions to help their students cater their papers correctly to their audience. College writing centers are often peer-to-peer experiences but don’t discredit these interactions — beta readers are beta readers and remember — feedback.
UNC suggests that we should ask ourselves a few questions (yes, you will want to jot these down or make a quick list of your answers — add these to your writer's journal) along with my commentary parenthesized:
- WHO is my audience? (This seems obvious, but have you really tried to define this?) (Also, you may have more than one audience if you write in different fields/styles/genres)
- What does my audience need? Want? Value? (If you find yourself struggling with this — how can you expect to write material that resonates with your readers? Content that moves them?)
- What is most important to your reader? (What moves them the most? What gets them going and inspires interaction with you and your work?)
A few questions of my own to add:
- When you interact with your audience — what do they tell you about your writing? Listening to them is valuable. Do not underestimate the weight of their input or discredit their voice. Your words affect people.
Knowing how your work affects people can help you to hone your voice and make sure you are producing the type of content that gets the response you most desire.
- What content of yours truly hit home with your readers? Know this. Shannon Ashley has learned to do this very well — hence her astounding success.
I have been asking myself these questions and I encourage you to do the same and make lists similar to mine (Then save them — bookmark them — edit them as you move along your career path.):
Who Are My Readers?
They are dreamers, reachers, doers, feelers, climbers, and fighters.
They are strong and they are smart.
They are men and women usually over 30.
They have responsibilities but desire deep emotional connection.
What My Readers Want From Me
My readers want my poetry. This has been the most shocking to me but brings me the greatest sense of satisfaction. I look over my stats and the numbers do not lie — my poetry is outperforming all but a few of my articles. I have met some wonderful encouraging poets here and they push me to grow, to learn, and to write my best poetry — Guérin Asante, Anna Rozwadowska, Giovanni Sonier to name a few.
My readers want me to be brave. When I get angry over injustice, when I analyze the wrongs of the world, when I speak my mind with reckless abandon — my readers respond with “hell yeahs” and fist pumps.
My readers want to learn about writing skills. These articles do well nearly every time. This speaks to my ability to produce this material but also directly to the needs of my audience. Brian Rowe is a good example of doing this well.
My readers want authentic vulnerability. This is the hardest thing for me to write — but my readers resonate with this place of openness in my writing. Daphelba DeBeauvoir has given me great feedback that encourages me in this way. When I want to be inspired by vulnerability in writing I look to Jason Weiland, who does this remarkably well.
My readers want poetic use of language in all of my writing. I appreciate this in my audience. When I am poetic in all the genres I write in — I feel like I am being my truest. Leslie Wibberley has been very encouraging to me in this regard.
My readers want relationship and parenting advice. I am not the master of these topics, but my voice matters on these issues and my readers tell me this by their response.
My readers want my writing about nature and the environment. And since I am on a mission to help people connect to nature — this is a beautiful thing.
Take some time today to connect with your readers and really listen to what they have to say. They will answer these questions for you. They will also tell you by their absence, by their lack of interaction, and by their limited engagement what they do not want to read from you as well.
All you have to do is listen.
Honorable mention of an article worth reading:
Christina Ward is a poet, writer, and columnist from a little ‘ol town in North Carolina.