June 20, 2018

Can writers connect with readers just like musicians do?

Posted in Connecting with readers, music and writing, performance, publication, self-evaluation, Success tagged , , , , , , , at 5:24 am by Rebecca Hein

Unlike musicians performing live, writers must wait for audience response, except in public readings. Given the long delay between publication and reader feedback, how can we establish a sparkling connection? This delay makes our job harder than the musician’s, but it’s still possible to gain energy from a successful essay or book, and to build on this energy for our next round of work.

I learned this writing columns for five and a half years for my local newspaper, the Casper [Wyoming] Star-Tribune. Initial response was positive. This fueled my confidence and in turn sparked ideas for future columns. When I encountered pleased readers at the bank, grocery store, or public library, they almost always thanked me for what I’d written—sometimes six months ago or more—and mentioned the way in which a particular column had helped them.

Because of this, I began to sense a live connection between what I wrote and how readers responded.

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May 29, 2018

You can’t contrive a creative success

Posted in Connecting with readers, Creativity, Ideas, music and writing, performance, publication, self-evaluation, Success tagged , , , , , , at 6:35 am by Rebecca Hein

The success of “Compose Yourself” was spontaneous. Beforehand, I had no idea it would elicit so much more appreciation than did my other columns, which were nearly as good—as far as I could tell. This spontaneity was what I temporarily lost during the months I spent trying to equal the impressive effects of “Compose Yourself.” Now I know why.

Rather than writing from my deepest passions, I was trying to play to the crowd. It was a subtle change in direction, and when it didn’t work, I abandoned the effort and accepted the obvious fact that I couldn’t predict the effects of my writing.

However, in music performance, there’s nothing wrong with playing to the audience, in a certain form, and I’m sure we as writers can learn from this phenomenon.

May 22, 2018

If writers are really the worst judges of their own work, how can we be sure of engaging readers?

Posted in Connecting with readers, Depth, Ideas, performance, publication, self-evaluation, Success tagged , , , , , , at 7:50 am by Rebecca Hein

When I finally quit trying to replicate one successful column, I settled back into writing-as-usual. For me that means getting in touch with my best ideas, developing them, and eventually producing finished pieces from them.

In this process, I’m not thinking about what will please readers, although I aim for clarity, simplicity, and good organization. My motive power is the passion I feel for the idea. With my very first column, I’d discovered that if I wrote from my deepest convictions, this reached to an equally deep place within a significant number of readers.

Thus, in the aftermath of “Compose Yourself,” I rediscovered what engages readers. However, the mystery of that episode remained with me because while writing “Compose Yourself,” I hadn’t been aware that its central idea came from an unusual level of depth or passion.

So I still haven’t figured out why that column succeeded, but recently I saw a possible reason why the next few columns didn’t reach as high.

May 15, 2018

A success I couldn’t replicate

Posted in Connecting with readers, performance, publication, self-evaluation, Success tagged , , , , , at 7:01 am by Rebecca Hein

After a long silence from readers, the morning one of my best columns was published, titled “Compose Yourself,” I received three emails about it. These readers all thanked me, and said the same things about the column: it was wise, sensible, and encouraging.

If one letter represents another 99 people who also appreciated a piece of writing, my batting average had just soared. I wondered how I could get this to happen again, and for the next six months worked diligently to write even better columns, full of what I hoped was more encouragement and inspiration.

Nothing happened beyond the normal, regular but infrequent, level of compliments that emerged in various conversations and interactions with people in my community. That was when I told my mentor that I was bewildered because I hadn’t been able to repeat my success, even after careful study of “Compose Yourself.”

After he told me that writers are the worst judges of their own work, I wondered, therefore, how can we figure out what will engage readers?

August 15, 2012

Evaluating Your Own Work, Part Seven

Posted in Saturation, self-evaluation tagged , at 2:53 pm by Rebecca Hein

In cello practice, when I play through a piece to determine how close to performance level it is, I can usually get all the way through without the distractions that trouble me when reading through my writing.

What’s the difference? In music, I practice and play through a piece dozens or sometimes hundreds of times to prepare for a performance. In writing, I seldom read a piece that many times.

However, there’s no doubt that the more I do read one of my chapters or a larger section of my book, the less I’m bothered by details. When I do detect a minor error, I mark it and resume my read-through.

In this way I hone my writer’s listening skills, and because I’m “hearing” the bumps and rough spots, I’m also attuned to the details, so the saturation of reading the same piece many times is quite productive.

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