I’ve been waiting for this all day. I did the breakfast thing, the making-the-kids-lunch thing. My coffee has long been drained. I’ve been playing with my toddler for hours. I even went for a walk. But now, for two short hours, the house is quiet, and it’s my time. It’s time to write.
I straighten my notebooks and organize my pens. I shove everyone else’s crap from my desk to the floor and put on the sweatshirt that’s draped over the chair. (Am I the only one who gets freezing cold when I’m writing? Seriously, it’s a disability.) I sit down, fingers poised over the keyboard, blank document open on the screen.
I have precious little time. But where do I start?
The answer to that question is another question — the essential question for anyone who writes blog posts, personal essays, or anything else people want to read.
What am I struggling with right now?
Well, hold on a second. What is that about? Why does something have to be going wrong in my life for me to write? Can’t I just write a quick story about how things are mostly fine for me at the moment?
I could. It’s just that nobody would want to read it.
This is really irritating for some writers. Many of us read through submission requirements with a scowl. “What do you mean I need to be helping the reader solve a problem? This is a beautifully written story about the time I went snowshoeing in the Adirondacks.” And it probably is very well-written. I bet your descriptions paint a picture of the landscape and convey what you saw and maybe even how you were feeling at the time. I bet it sings to you.
But writing on the internet isn’t about you. When you put something on the web, you’re putting it there so someone will read it. Otherwise, why put it there? And, when you’re writing for an audience, even your most gorgeous, lyrical writing won’t be seen, much less read, unless you’re answering a question or solving a problem for the reader — something that someone might type into a search bar and click the first couple links that appear.
I’ll be candid: That’s why I don’t often put my short stories on the internet. Even if you enjoy a good work of fiction, when was the last time you typed, “short story,” into Google? Never? Thought so. And if you happened upon a short story about a girl and her pet chicken while looking for the answer to, “How to tell which of my hens isn’t laying eggs,” you’d bounce out and look for something relevant.
Writing on the information superhighway has everything to do with the reader and very little to do with the writer
The second you decided you wanted to publish your words alongside everyone else’s words, you gave in to the singular premise that, if you want to be read, if you want to make money, if you want people to know your name and pass along your work to their friends, family, and colleagues — you can’t just tell cool stories.
Sure, if you infuse yourself in such a way that people can see themselves in your writing, they’ll enjoy it more. If you showcase your sense of humor, they’ll be entertained. But if you don’t help them with something in their life while you’re at it, you might as well be writing in your journal.
Instead of typing up amusing anecdotes and sending them off into the black hole that is the blogosphere, and then wondering why people aren’t knocking down your door for more, you’re going to want to change your approach just a hair.
How? With another question, of course.
Why should anybody care about this?
You don’t need to throw up your hands and hit delete on all your cool stories quite yet. Instead, take a look at the story and try and figure out why it’s important to you.
The story could be — as some of mine are — something that was really funny in the moment to someone who knows all the players, but would require too much background for the reader to make writing the story worth it.
Or, maybe during the course of the story, you learned something about yourself or the world — something you can generalize in a way that will help others experiencing the same dilemma. Maybe you learned something about your relationship with your grandmother, or the meaning of life, or why seltzer is so satisfying.
If your answer is the latter, then it might be that your story just needs a new ending, one that makes a connection between you and your reader in a way that benefits them.
Other questions you can ask: