I’ve been working at Writers for 6 months, and the best lesson I’ve learned so far is this: every piece of writing needs an imagined audience.
This may seem obvious, and you’d think I’d have learned this during my writing degree. But as soon as I imagined a real person (or even my dog) on the other end of the line, my writing improved dramatically. A writing degree will teach you to focus on your voice, to dig deep into your own point of view and see what emerges. And having a clear voice is important, but what’s the use of a unique tone of voice, if no one is listening?
Sometimes as writers we forget that the invisible force that makes or breaks our work is the connection it creates. Writing is relational, and it’s in the space between you and I, between reader and writer, that the magic happens.
So where do we go wrong?
Most of the time, we focus on the information that we are trying to get across, and we lose sight of the most important question: who are we talking to, and why do they care?
Whether you’re writing an informative guide, updating a website, or writing persuasive sales copy, this general rule holds true. You need to imagine someone on the other side, reading the lines on the page or screen. Otherwise your words will miss their mark.
In one of my first projects, a well-established school’s website, I got sidetracked by all the extra-curricular programs and impressive facilities. I wasn’t writing to anyone particular – just doing my best to include a long laundry list of features. But what’s worth saying isn’t that there’s a rugby AND a soccer oval. It’s that two teams can play at once, because there’s more space.
The details only matter in so far as their effect.
And how do you figure out their effect? By knowing who you’re talking to. The writing came to life when I started seeing things through the eyes of the audience. I asked myself, how would a parent experience this place? What does life look like here, for the student? What do they need to know?
A simple trick is to use the word ’you’. The word ‘you’ is soaked in empathy. Inherent in those three letters is a sense of recognition – a signal that you have been acknowledged as a reader.
So much writing today gets lost in the ether. Readers have no time, and competition for attention is savage. In this context, the best way to be ignored is by writing to the void, with no imagined reader on the other side. Writing to no one is a self-fulfilling prophecy, because no one will read it.