Here’s a sure way to test the quality of your writing: would YOU read it?
Writing anything, whether it’s an informative article or a novel, is tough work. And a lot of your fellow writers will tell you to write with an audience in mind. This is the same psychological premise that gives us the customer avatar in the marketing world, and it’s a reasonable premise; after all, you wouldn’t want to write a childrens’ book with words no child could reasonable comprehend. You also probably wouldn’t want to write a crime thriller for readers at a 3rd grade reading level.
What I’m suggesting is much simpler than that, and it comes with a confession as well. What I’m suggesting is that you step back from your work and ask yourself honestly if what you’re writing is something you would read. If not, why not?
I’m guilty of writing plenty of stuff that I wouldn’t want to read. Hopefully, most of the stuff that falls into that category never makes it past the editing phase, but some of it probably has. For that, dear reader, I’m sorry. But here’s a few things that I’ve learned along the way about writing stuff you’d want to read that may surprise you.
Writing for your own readership means you don’t follow a lot of the recommendations out there
Time for another true confession: I like reading listicles. Not all listicles, and not all the time, but more than the writing professionals say is good for me. If something catches my eye as I’m browsing Medium, I’ll read it. Sorry to report, clickbait sometimes works. So if I’m writing for myself, it’s ok sometimes to write listicles and other clickbaity type stuff.
Writing for myself also means that sometimes I don’t write what the experts say I should write. I frequently scroll right past the highest rated stories on Medium, because they don’t look interesting to me. Same reason why I don’t watch all the movies that come out of Tribeca or Cannes: I don’t get them, and they don’t resonate with me. Not my thing. I also know for a fact that if I tried to write the kind of deep, crafted, frankly brilliant pieces that I read, it wouldn’t sound like me. Which brings up another point.
Writing for yourself is like talking to yourself — You sound more authentic
Writing things that you would enjoy reading is also a matter of style as well as content. In this, I’ve found myself to be a lot more varied and random than I expected. Sometimes I read satire, sometimes I read dark philosophical works, sometimes I read political commentary and sometimes I read Buzzfeed. Each one, in their own way, appeals to a different part of my mind. And so, if you look through my published articles, you’ll see things written from a variety of styles as well, from formal to informal. And that’s ok. I don’t have the exact same conversations with my friends every day, so why should I write articles in the exact same tone or style each time?
Writing for yourself is a sanity check
Stepping back from my work and asking myself, “if I stumbled on this article, would I read it?” is the ultimate way of quieting down the voices of every other well-intentioned writer and guru out there, all of whom have their own well-thought-out systems and ideas of writing. If you’re writing stuff you yourself wouldn’t read, it will be apparent in the quality of your writing. Consequently, your readership will probably suffer.
Writing for yourself is the best way to grow your audience
It might sound backwards, but it’s not. I’m not saying you should write for an audience of one, but similar to the customer avatar model I mentioned earlier, using yourself as an avatar, even if it’s only one of many avatars you write towards, will help ensure that your writing is attracting the right kind of readers. I know quite a few writers who began to write in a way that would attract a certain kind of people, and then they felt pigeonholed into only being able to write about that one thing, in that one way. Breaking out of that box cost them readership. Whereas, if you’re able to honestly say that you would read your own stuff, then the people who also read your stuff are more likely to stick around. If you find it interesting, and you’re attracting a like minded audience, then they will find it interesting. Or, to paraphrase Simon Sinek “the goal is to attract those who believe what you believe.” Having a few hundred raving lunatic fans is always better than having 10,000 random readers who are only interested in that one story you wrote that one time, about the thing you never wrote about again.