Writing tip – Talk with your readers

Good morning, fellow scribblers.

Your relationship with your readers can be as fragile as friendship.
Think of your readers as friends.
Get to know them, their joys and sorrows.

How do you do that?
They are your neighbors.
People you meet standing in line.
Listen to them wherever you meet them.

My bride sometimes gets frustrated with me.
I will stop and talk with anyone.
I interview servers, clerks, cashiers.
I ask about what they do and if they like doing it.
I ask why they do it.
What they else they might do in their busy lives.

Almost everyone you talk with feels complimented.
Here is someone who even cares to ask about them.
So few people receive appreciation or recognition in life.
Then you come along and show an interest in them.
Of course, they are pleased.

When we started publishing small newspapers, I sold advertising.
My journalistic experience came in handy.
I was used to interviewing people.
I started interviewing advertising prospects.
“How did you get into this business?” I would ask.
They were good for at least 20 minutes on this.
The next question was, “What do you love about it?”

Small town editors sit on the cutting edge.
Anyone can walk into their office or call them.
If they are smart, they are receptive to this.
That’s how you find out what’s on their minds.
It’s how you find out what people are talking about.
What matters to them. Plus the latest gossip.

Big city editors are protected by security guards and assistants.
They live in gated suburban communities far from readers.
They send their kids to private schools.
They associate with others like themselves.
They have become elites with little notion of their readers’ lives.

Living in a small town is like living in a fishbowl.
As an editor, people watch what I do.
It keeps me honest.
It also tells me what no pollster could ever know.
My readers are in my mind when I write.
What will each story mean to them?
How I can tell it to be clear to them, relate to them.
Storytelling and journalism come together.

Talk with, not at, your readers.
Help them see what you see.
Help them hear what you hear.
Help them feel what you feel.

Here is an example of what I mean:

Imagine you are a long-haul trucker hundreds of miles from home.
Bleary-eyed, you pull into a truck stop.
You need a break, coffee and something to eat.
Rested you return to your rig.
An attractive young woman walks up and makes you an offer.
Chances are she didn’t do it because you’re a hunk.
She’s being human trafficked by a pimp sitting in a nearby car.
He lives on the illegal dollars she brings him.

You get the idea. Try it yourself.

Have a writing problem you struggle with?
Please let me know. We’ll solve it together.