Good writers get personal

“Many who have spent a lifetime in it can tell us less of love than the child that lost a dog yesterday.” Thornton Wilder, writer (1897-1975)

Feeling is critical to effective writing. Before you roll your eyes assuming this is going to be a ‘woman’s’ article, know any effective salesman recognizes the need to identify with his prospects.

Everyone’s idea of a magical find is a bit different. Figuring out a way to express yourself so each reader thinks you’re talking to them is life-changing. Photo courtesy of Jaquan via flickr.

All written messages are selling something – whether it’s a product or service promotional piece, a charity cause, a media article designed to have people react, a personal letter, a speech, a book or any document designed to get someone to do something (even if it’s simply to finish reading what you wrote). Understand this and you’ll begin to master the art of creating compelling copy.

It’s not about you. Features and benefits are fun to expound, but they won’t grab your reader. Showing you care enough about the one (it’s always the individual you must reach first) you are addressing to demonstrate you understand his perspective is the key to effective writing. This requires taking the time to research (a term that can be defined in so many ways) the pressing issues affecting your audience.

All the secondary research in the world won’t give the valuable clues you get from primary research (having a conversation).  Of course, crafting a message that really reaches your audience requires a bit of creativity in drawing out the issues and solutions, but listening is an easy first step.

So often, writers strive to tell, or show, or instruct, or influence without recognizing what it is the reader seeks. It’s not that hard to figure out if you’ve spent the time getting to know the person or people you are talking (writing) to.

That’s the real reason focusing on niches works so well. It’s not so much about targeting a message as it is identifying with your audience in such a way each reader feels like you’re talking to them, personally.

It’s a bit of an art, but not so much if you get smart about asking the right questions and taking the time to really identify with the perspectives you’re hearing.  It’s a different kind of listening than what most people do. Instead of letting your head focus on your rebuttal or on how the comments relate to you, try to let go and get immersed in the mindset of another.

Do this as you write armed with the information you’ve gathered, and you’ll be amazed at how much more convincing you are to your reader. Of course, sincerity is important too, but to coin a Jim Rohn phrase “you can be sincerely wrong.” What you think matters less than your reader’s needs, if your aim is to move them to embrace what you’re trying to say.

On a personal note, I chose the above quote today due to its relevance to this post (perspective is everything – especially when it comes to effective writing), but also because I made the tough decision to euthanize my dear, sweet Gatsby today. He’s been a canine friend, remarkable assistant horse trainer, super protector and awesome farm hand who (sic – live with it – he’s been more humanistic than some people I’ve known) has served as a fixture by my side for fifteen years. I feel like a child with the level of grief I’m experiencing over this loss. Maybe that’s not a bad thing.

8 responses to “Good writers get personal”

  1. Blessings to you during this time. Our dog was just diagnosed with diabetes and has cataracts (poor thing). I’m dreading the day we have to be faced with that decision.

    I love writing but sometimes I have a hard time understanding how to feel what my reader wants. I guess it will come with time – sometimes when I write, it is for financial reasons which catches me pushing stuff at people which I hate.

    How do you suggest one go about suggesting something but also identify with the reader as a person with feelings and intelligence?

    • Hi Sara. Thanks for your kind words. My vet calls Gatsby cat-like. He probably burned through more than 9 lives in his 15 years here (ancient for a big dog). Never seems to have a moment when he wasn’t happy until this week. It’s hard, but I’m lucky to have had him in my life. Sorry to hear about your dog challenges.

      On writing, don’t try to sell. That’s a problem many make. When I’m writing copy that’s designed to ultimately lead people to a purchasing decision, I try to figure out what the reader may find interesting. For example, even though the goal may be to have someone buy a product, perhaps the company owner’s struggle with manufacturing challenges to ensure it’s right would be a more compelling story leading to more purchases than a list of product benefits and testimonials. It makes him real while illustrating his determination to keep going until he creates something that’s he’s proud to call his design. Now the reader can identify with him and draw their own conclusions about his character and the value of his product. Pitches are kind of insulting and the conversion rate with most of these style approaches is 1-3% when it’s considered a resounding success. Most small business owners can’t afford to reach the numbers necessary for ROI through this method. Hope this helps.

  2. I’m feeling for you, Nanette. Don’t you find that writing helps at times like this?

    ‘Drawing out issues and solutions’. That’s so important too in the work I do – helping businesses to manage achievement. Very often, I find myself working with people whose jobs I only dimly understand at the beginning. The task is to get them talking, to find out what’s important to them, listen to the terms they use, understand the nuances and undercurrents of the conversation – so that a few minutes later I’m talking their language, and they trust my understanding of their situation. It’s only then that I can begin to lead.

    It gets easier as time goes on – as I carry knowledge from one client into a meeting with another … but I still love the challenge of finding out what people really do in their jobs.

    • Oh, yes, Alan. In some of my darkest moments writing has helped to calm me and put things into perspective. It’s a creative pursuit for me (even though my focus and client activities are all non-fiction) so there are some spiritual components there too. I imagine you find that as well, especially with your poetry.

      Yes, it’s so invigorating to be able to quickly change your language to communicate effectively with another. Listening is so critical – not just being quiet and hearing what people say, but more often, reading between the lines in what they don’t say. So glad to meet another who so enjoys the rush of learning something new with each client that comes in.

  3. So sorry about the loss of your dear companion, Gatsby. I have recently lost one too. I really appreciate what you have to say in this post. Sometimes I guess wrong which posts my followers will respond to most. I now realize they love the ones that flow naturally and that come forward quickly. My best work happens in minutes. The other ones, take much longer.

    I don’t consider myself a writer, but I write to share. People respond well and sometimes feel I am writing just for them. That is when I know I hit the mark that you are talking about in this post. Thank you for putting into words for me so that I can understand.

    • I’m sorry to hear of your loss too, Linda. It’s amazing how much a part of our life an animal can become.

      Yep – I’m certainly guilty of putting something out there I think is brilliant only to have it fall on deaf ears while another that seems silly practically goes viral. So, I switch it up to keep it interesting for me – and others. Never have mastered the art of producing a piece of writing I feel comfortable with in minutes. Good for you to have conquered this skill. It is a wonderful feeling, though, when you create something that resonates so deeply with others the reader feels you wrote a personal message to them, isn’t it?

  4. Great post, and great writing, in spite of the grief you’re feeling. Thank you for sharing and inspiring. I think sales tips must be on the mind, as my blog today was ‘top 10 tips for non-sales professionals’ – I’m glad to see I’m not way off, as you’ve shared some similar insights. But your perspective has definitely got me thinking about it in a different light, and I love to be challenged so thank you. Hannah

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Hannah. I checked out your referenced post and especially appreciated your point about having fun (and commented on your blog with a note regarding this). So glad to hear the post triggered some grey cells (Agatha Christie was one of my favorite authors as a kid).

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