In a previous post, I talked about why formal education doesn't make you a better writer. But that doesn't mean writing is a rare talent that only a few people are bestowed upon from birth. Like any skill, you need to put in hours of deliberate practice to get good at it.
Here are some tips to help you figure out what you need to pay attention to when writing for an audience.
Know who your (potential) readers are
Defining your audience as you sit down to write is a key step towards becoming a better writer.
'Writing' is a broad term that represents so many different things. You have to keep in mind that not all writing is the same. Defining who your audience is will help narrow down the focus of your writing.
Based on who the reader is or in which context they read your piece, you will have to adjust the way you write. Knowing your audience will allow you to :
- Empathise better with them
- Choose better topics
- Set the right tone for your writing
- Stay close to the function your writing serves
Provide Value to your readers
People read either for entertainment or information. Your job is to provide your readers with work that bring value into their life.
The idea of value changes from reader to reader. But that is why you set your potential reader first and then write about things they care about.
It doesn't matter what new ideas you have in your mind. Package it in a way that your reader will find useful. Value is anything that can have an effect on a reader's life, whether they know it or not.
An easy way to give people the value they seek is by answering the questions they have in their minds.
Message first, Rules second
You don't become good at writing by following textbook rules.
Your reader isn't mesmerized by your use of the Oxford comma. Instead, put your focus on getting your point across as clear as you can.
Writing is the medium through which you communicate your best ideas! Your readers read your stuff for the value it will give them. Make it easier for them to extract that value out.
Communicate without complexity. Use rules when they are useful to get the point across. Break them, when they hinder your delivery.
No matter how groundbreaking or cutting edge your idea might be, for a reader to stick around you have to be engaging.
People are distracted now more than ever. Give them reasons to read through your whole piece; convince them. Embed the reasons in every other paragraph. A good narrative and well-designed aha-moments can take your piece to a whole different level.
To put it plainly, "Don't be boring".
Always remember people's attention span is limited. Don't overload their cognition with unnecessarily complex sentences.
Bonus tip: There is always an "It depends" clause
Take every writing advice (including this one) with a pinch of salt.
At the end of the day what you are trying to do is to communicate well with your reader. And no amount of general advice can help you right off the bat. Understand the context in which the writing advice is given.
Depending on the context writing advice will have to change. There is always an "it depends" clause to every doubt you have as a writer. For example, you can ask should I avoid long sentences?.. And the answer will be, "it depends on who you are writing to and why".
The best way to get better is to write more and observe the feedback from your readers. Treat every advice as a hypothesis and test it out in the real world to see what works and what doesn't!
You grow as writer as you write more and understand your reader better.