In my early twenties, I spent a couple years in a writing group. During this time I was writing a lot of short stories. But there was one I wrote that got the attention of other group members.
Two people came up to me after it had been critiqued in our latest meeting, and they asked me if they could show it to a friend or family member who they thought would enjoy it.
Those interactions changed everything for me.
I had been writing for several years at that point, experimenting with prose, discovering my voice, and writing long entries of brain dumping whatever was in my head. I had always written for myself, but for the first time, it occurred to me that I could write for other people.
It doesn’t seem all that hard to believe. I was a quiet kid, who escaped into books, because in books, authors said, “I see you. I hear you, and you are not alone.”
By sharing my work with others, my writing friends taught me that I could do the same for others.
Science backs me up here. Studies show that reading fiction builds empathy. No surprise there. On the surface reading a story or a short piece is about, “I like that story,” or “I learned something new.” But on a deeper level, it’s about making a human connection.
When you write, you are connecting with another human being on an intimate level.
Just as you do in a one-on-one conversation, so too when you write – fiction, an email, a blog post, Facebook comment, anything – you make a personal connection.
A big part of my job is understanding my audience. It’s about using that empathy that I built up as a bookish seven-year-old and trying to understand those who read my work.
I talk to them with their interests at heart, their pain, their fears, and the questions that keep them up at night. I may not always hit the mark, and when I do, it’s on a small scale. It comes in the form of one or two friends saying, “I really liked what you posted this week.”
It may not be the kind of viral effect that every writer dreams of when they hit “Publish” or send in that query letter. But that’s not my purpose, nor is it what drives or inspires me. What drives me is making that personal connection.
So I don’t minimize those comments from my friends. I let them in and treasure those moments when I connect with another person.
It’s so easy to be careless in your words. It’s so easy to stay on the surface, to shy away from vulnerability, to be afraid of asking the deeper questions. It’s too easy to want to be liked by the crowd rather than deeply connect with the one person, who will treasure that connection as I do.
That is how writers get careless and lazy in their work. Being liked by the audience requires pleasing far too many people. One criticism or poor opinion will make you doubt yourself more than you already do. The Little Fuckers love it when you entertain those thoughts.
But when you write for the one person – about writing fiction, failing, designing websites, or the hardship in your local community – then nobody else’s opinion matters. When you write for the one person, you write from the heart.
It is much harder to write for that one person, to be open and authentic, and to express your doubts, fears, and uncertainty. It’s much harder to open yourself up and show the one person what you’re made up of on the inside.
But that’s what makes writing worth it.
Photo from Unsplash, by Nasa