Your Life Is Fascinating to You and Boring to Other People
Assume no one cares about you.
No one cares what you’re writing about, about what you have to say, about what you care about. If you write from the premise that nobody cares, it’ll be clear that your question is, “how do I make them care?”
Your readers — unless they’re your mom and grandma — don’t care about the esoteric personal details of your life. Save that for your diary.
Does that make them horrible people for not caring?
No! They don’t know you. You’re a total stranger to them. Your mission is to make these strangers from across the world relate to what you’re saying. There’s a reason that great works of fiction touch readers of all different backgrounds.
Yes, you have great stories to tell and personal anecdotes worth sharing, but the devil is in the details. How are you going to make the readers care?
Remember: The Article is Smarter Than You
You don’t know the first sentence of your story until you know the last. I heard that on a Tim Ferriss podcast. I think it’s true.
Good stories go somewhere that a writer never expected. They’re a raging bull and the writer can only pray he hangs on.
Let the story guide you. Don’t be afraid of where it might go, or where it doesn’t go. Sometimes a topic isn’t interesting enough to fill out an entire book. Maybe it just needs a 3-minute article instead.
The more interesting the topic, the further it can go. I know survivors of sexual abuse that could fill several books with their experiences. They might not ever do that, but it’s definitely worth more than a 3-minute article.
Before you forget …
Your reader can feel the passion of a story with you. They can feel the tears you held back. They can tell that you didn’t know how this story would turn out. This creates something the reader can’t look away from. We have to know what happens next.
Do you have this kind of story in you? If not, then you have more life to experience first.
Always Kill Your Babies
Lee Gutkind, author of “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction” once said the art of writing is revising.
“Almost anybody can sit down and write something — once. But the real writer, the committed and potentially successful writer will write and revise and write and revise until whatever she is writing…works.”
Revising to a writer is what practice is to Lebron James. Professional writers — and basketball players too — scrutinize their work to the tiniest detail. In an interview for the Paris Review, Ernest Hemingway was asked how much rewriting he does…
“It depends. I rewrote the last page of A Farewell to Arms thirty-nine times before I was satisfied.”
“Was there some technical problem there,” the interviewer asked. “What was it that had stumped you?”
“Getting the words right,” Hemingway replied.
His answer echoes what every successful writer knows.
Before you forget …
Speaking as a full-time journalist, I hate revising. I don’t want to kill my babies. When I don’t, however, I make big mistakes. If your reader trips over one sentence it could be the mine that blows up the entire story.
Unfortunately, a lot of people like to throw the baby out with the bathwater. So before they get the chance, kill the baby instead.
Hatred Is a Sign of Good Work
The Chief Marketing Officer of Boxed Water™ once told me that if a brand doesn’t stand for something, then they stand for nothing.
Nike stands for something.
Patagonia stands for something
Harley Davidson stands for something
They all get hate because of it.
Conversely, some people will die for these brands. They get tattoos of their logos; they go to every event. They even take personal offense when someone speaks ill of them. Nobody, however, takes offense when someone speaks negatively of a company like Hyatt or United Airlines.
Riding the middle of the social spectrum will give you great initial success, but it’s a dead-end for companies. It’s an even bigger dead-end for writers. Our voice is everything.
A stong negative response to your work also means that someone could have had a strong positive one.
My best stories had plenty of haters in the comments telling me why I was wrong. Others nitpicked one small detail of the article. They threw out the baby with the bathwater just to argue with me.
Standing for something isolates you from people who aren’t with you. That’s alright. Some people will say you’re not doing enough. Others will say you’re wrong. It doesn’t matter. Someone will be there right with you — believing in you.
Before you forget …
What’s the worst that can happen from taking a stand? Someone might get offended? Who cares — seriously. Sam Harris once said your capacity to be offended doesn’t matter, it should not matter.
Conversely, this doesn’t mean you need to scorch the Earth. It means you need to go where some writers wouldn’t dare go. Write about something that will give you, and the reader, meaning.
That’s All Folks
Everyone makes these mistakes on Medium, even the top writers. I used to make them all the time and will continue to make them (and I’m no pro. Heck, I misspelled your for you’re once and couldn’t go to sleep for the next few days).
It’s hard to know when you’re being too esoteric and no one is going to relate to what you’re writing about. This is where experience helps. Write more. Write every day. That doesn’t mean you need to publish every day.
Filter your writing. Buy a diary if you like writing about your personal problems. Ask for a second opinion — maybe an editor — if your writing isn’t connecting the way you want on Medium.
Be persistent, even if you think you’re on the right track but aren’t getting enough eyeballs on your work. Breathe life into your best stories. Release them to the world without shame. Change our lives.
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