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 8, 2018

The newspaper column that rose above the others—and I still don’t know why

Posted in Connecting with readers, publication, Success tagged , , , , at 6:15 am by Rebecca Hein

“Writers are the worst judges of their own work.” When a mentor and friend said this to me years ago about a recent episode in my writing life, I was forced to conclude that he was probably right.

I had just discovered that I couldn’t predict reader response to my monthly newspaper columns, even though I’d tried hard to analyze and repeat one of my successes. I’d been writing arts columns for my local paper, the Casper [Wyoming] Star-Tribune, for 5 ½ years, and had progressed through several stages in attracting a readership.

At first, many people thanked me for my unique perspective as a cellist and my new role as arts commentator. One of my best-educated, and most jaded, readers told me that he sensed a freshness in my ideas that he hadn’t seen in a long time.

Gradually, people stopped calling and writing to thank me for a column they’d especially enjoyed, but I was always running into salespeople, bank tellers, neighbors, and associates who commented on recent columns or on my work in general.

Eventually this latter phenomenon died down to a low murmur and I began to feel that readers were taking me for granted. Then I wrote a winner.

March 7, 2012

Advice vs. Experience

Posted in Creativity, Fiction Writing, flow in writing, writing techniques tagged , , , , , , at 1:26 pm by Rebecca Hein

When I was younger, I dutifully read books on writing, and still remember those passages about observation and detail: “Go out into the rain. Notice everything. Notice how the puddles look on the sidewalk with the raindrops spattering into them. Notice the people with their umbrellas, hurrying home.” And so forth.

Fifteen years later, my reaction was identical when one of my cello teachers said, “Listen to your playing and try to get a better tone.”

I froze. Shut down in both cases by direct instructions, I could hardly move or think.

But why? I certainly needed the information. Writers do need to observe and note details; musicians have to develop their tone.

My problem was in the way the advice was delivered. It was too direct. Trying to do what I was told, rather than immersing myself in the experience, removed me several steps from the very sensations that could have helped me progress.

Now I know how to deal with direct advice: take it in, do nothing about it, and let it float to the back of my mind, where it mixes with other information to ultimately produce ideas I can work with.

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