Saturday, 23 January 2010

Respect Your Readers

I read a blog post today that made me angry. I came dangerously close to going full-out grumpy old woman, shaking my fist at nobody in particular and screaming, 'That's exactly what's wrong with all these so-called writers on the Internet today.'
So here's today's piece of web writing advice: Respect your readers, don't waste their time.

I will neither link to the post nor quote any passages (I'm happy to link to people who deserve more exposure and I won't give it to people who are best ignored). I'll paraphrase the main points instead:

1. Writing shouldn't be hard work.
2. Don't force yourself into writing.
3. Don't write stuff that is irrelevant.
4. Will-power is overrated, you don't need it.

Point #1 was emphasized by the writer's lax attitude towards spelling, grammar rules and tendency to throw in information which didn't have any relation to the topic of the post. To me, it looked like it hadn't been edited at all. In addition to the mistakes and unnecessary info, the sentences were long and rambling. Two of the arguments directly contradict each other - don't put pressure on yourself but only write things that are relevant - no pressure, though. The thing about will-power - either you want to write or you don't want to write. If you want to write, you sometimes have to be tough on yourself in order to get things written. Telling people otherwise is wilfully misleading them, if you ask me.

Reading the post was a waste of time - the worst offence a writer can commit. I read the whole thing because it was a guest post on a blog that is usually worth reading. If I'd come from a Google search, I would have been back to the search results about half-way through the first paragraph. But since I trusted the blog, I kept on reading, expecting to find at least a few comments which would talk about the post's shortcomings. There weren't any negative comments, though. They all thanked the poster for dispensing with the "good writing is work" myth etc.

Now see, here's where reality might be a bit harsh. Good writing is work. It'll get easier the more you write, but it is still work. If you want random people to give up some of their time to read what you wrote, you'd better give them the best you got. Correct spelling and grammar shouldn't even need to be mentioned here. If you struggle with those, you might want to reconsider your career choice.

Writing the first draft, you can write whatever you want. The less your inner editor interferes, the better. Get the entire piece on paper. That's the easy part. Editing your writing, honing it into what you want it to be, that's where it gets tough. Present your argument in a logical order and don't contradict yourself. Cut out all the weedy words that flourish in first draft land, trim the sentences and paragraphs that contain more than one thought.

How do you know you've put enough effort into your writing? Try to look at it with readers' eyes: If you found your piece, would you read the entire blog post (or article etc.)? Would you find it useful, would you come back to read more by the same writer? If your answer to any of these questions is no, your work is not done yet. Make it better, make it the best it can be.

Writing isn't about you - not if you want to make it as a freelance writer. It's about what you have to give to your readers, be it information, unique insights, interesting anecdotes. You write for other people and you need to respect them. If you piss your readers off, who is going to read your work?

No comments:

Post a Comment