Every actor wants to play Hamlet—Carl Sandburg even wrote a poem about it. A lauded portrayal of the great Dane can be career-defining. Actors and writers are similar in this manner as both practice a craft in which success depends on audience approval. How important, though, should the audience be to the writer?
The biggest responsibility you have to a reader is increased accessibility. Cumbersome sentences, confusing clauses, or grammatical errors can alienate. In On Writing Well, William Zinsser suggests that writers ask themselves questions such as “what am I trying to say?” or “is it clear to someone encountering the subject for the first time?” (2006, p.9).
Answering these questions adds clarity to writing (Zinsser, 2006). Thus, writers who empathize with the audience when building structure more successfully capture and keep attention.
But what about the need to have the reader like what you write? Zinsser (2006) says to ignore it. This advice may sound paradoxical in conversation with the previous advice, but it isn’t if you understand the difference between structure and creative attitude.
The latter encompasses the writer’s voice, opinion, and style, with which some readers will always disagree. The right reader will find the right writer. You must stop worrying and trust this will happen—to do otherwise is to risk editing out uniqueness and authenticity. Make the bones of a piece solid, then relax and let passion fill in the rest.
One exception to this rule is social media writing. Being liked by a reader is the point in this medium—so much so that there are dedicated buttons for it. Social media marketers who ignore the preferences of readers do so at the peril of negative brand equity.
These channels are marketing opportunities for which traditional marketing language is ineffective. Instead, you must perform a value trade with readers by providing content they desire in exchange for engagement (Vaynerchuk, 2013).
Just as an actor’s proper line memorization improves the experience of a play, a writer’s dedication to structure can improve a reading experience. 400 years of Hamlets, though, and audiences have yet to agree on a definitive interpretation.
Even when catering to readers on social media, universal approval is impossible. Being a writer takes courage—courage to make choices that some readers will appreciate, and some readers won’t (Zinsser, 2006).
Vaynerchuk, G. (2013). Jab, jab, jab, right hook: how to tell your story in a noisy social world. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Zinsser, W. (2006). On writing well. New York, NY: HarperCollins.