More about Writing for an Audience

Last week I offered some useful advice about writing for an audience. Here’s a recap:

  1. Put yourself in your readers’ shoes.
  2. Think about a living person you know who’s similar to your imaginary audience. Write for that person.
  3. Figure out what your audience already knows about your topic. Be prepared to fill in the rest of the background they’ll need, and do it early.
  4. When you get to the editing stage, reread your piece slowly, looking for any words your readers might not understand. Delete them (or insert clues to their meaning).
  5. Ask a friend or family member outside your field to read your piece and give you feedback.

But let’s say you’re already well versed in these principles. Is there anything else you need to know about writing for an audience?

Yes. What sets truly great writers apart is their ability to touch a reader’s mind, heart, and soul. Please don’t dismiss that as a platitude! It’s much harder than it sounds.

Every good writer I know is a great observer of human nature and human behavior. Good writers are good listeners, and they have an inexhaustible curiosity about other people (a trait that’s quite different from ordinary noisiness, by the way.)

My husband is a huge fan of Georges Simenon (1903-1989), a Belgian novelist who is still one of the world’s bestselling writers. True story: A prestigious writing organization once selected Simenon to receive its highest award. The award dinner was held at a fancy hotel, and of course Simenon was the center of attention.

But when the time came for the award presentation, he was nowhere to be found. A search committee was hastily rounded up to bring him back to the banquet room.

They found Simenon sitting in a quiet corner in the lobby where he could watch the hotel guests coming and going. When they asked why he wasn’t at the banquet, he explained that he liked to observe people and had learned a lot that way. His people-watching habit was more important to him than the award.

Can you learn a lesson from this story? Answer: we all can. How do I know that? Because I often think about this story, and I’m still learning from Simenon’s example. Try it!

             Georges Simenon

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