How Far is Too Far to Go For Your Readers?

Lately I have been tossing around ideas for my book, short stories, blog posts, and various other uses of the written word. I imagine that those of you who are writers, which is most of you, have been in this situation as well. I invite you to share your experiences and opinions.

To start with, I am not an NVC (Nonviolent Communication) expert. In all actuality, I have only used it minimally in my life. So if anyone knows more about it than me and wants to shine light on this situation with their knowledge, please, feel free. The language of “needs” is one that I am going to use here.

The Deal:

The way I see it, there are multiple purposes for each thing I write.

1. It is some kind of release for me (my emotional needs).

2. It may also have a financial component (my financial needs).

3. It is serving some purpose for others (the needs of others)

4. It is serving the purpose I want it to serve for others (my desire to meet their needs)

All of these things matter as I think about what to write, how to write it, and how to pitch it to the world in a way that meets my needs and theirs.

What if there is a giant gap between your emotional needs (what you want to release) and other people’s needs or desires? This is where I get confused.

Keeping It Simple & Meeting The Needs

Do you make your brilliant idea into a “Seven Great Reasons To Use Lists” blog post or article? Does that feel like turning a garden of your slowly grown wheat into a packet of Easy Mac for some spoiled fifteen-year-old that watches it bubble in the microwave?

Or do you let it become a wordy book hardly anyone will read? Turning your precious wheat into some type of fancy fermented tabouli salad that nobody wants to eat because it is only sold in elitist stores and takes too long to digest?

To listen well, is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well, and is as essential to all true conversation — Chinese Proverb

One of my supportive proof-reading friends had a response when I first told her that I might publish my book, The Blessings of a Meandering Misfit, as a series of short stories instead of one continuous story. Her immediate reaction was that such a choice was taking the easy way out. (She also happens to be a fabulous singer, you can even listen to her here).

I had to ask myself if that was true. Was it the easy way out, or was it transforming the story into a form that was easier to digest for my readers while still meeting my needs of sharing my experience?

Ultimately, if sharing my experience is what I want to be doing in order to help people find inspiration, see the crazy coincidences, and learn about other ways of life than their own, then my ideal situation is one in which people are reading my book, regardless of how it is presented. As long as the main point comes across and I feel good while writing it.

The Conversation You Have With The World

Whether you are writing, singing, dancing, or working at a retail store or telemarketing office, you are having a conversation with the world. You are inviting a response, even if you never get to hear it. People seek you out, avoid you, or pay excessive amounts of cash for you because of the response you elicit from them with your ability to listen and share.

You have to realize this. I have to realize this. There are several components at work- My feelings, my needs, your feelings, your needs. They all come together and sometimes create a win-win situation for everyone. Other times, there are rejection letters and scowled eyes, confused at the words on the screen.

When is it Too Much for Blogging?

If I have a fabulous idea for a post about what triggers our inner defenses to ignore certain blog posts while soaking in every word of others, and I want to combine that with statistics about book sales, ad sales and nonviolent communication and the psychology of defense mechanisms, how many people are going to stomach it? How many people will even give it a chance, based on my perhaps-poorer-than-ideal skills at presenting such a complex topic skillfully?

If I can write it as “The Top 3 Ways To Snag A Reader With A Simple Title,” well, you can imagine how much easier it will be to attract people.

When Is Too Much Lost?

My question is: How far is too far? At what point is your writing being made too reader-friendly and losing some of the spice that made it what it was to begin with? And how can you measure your needs compared with your hopes for how your writing is received?

Is the writing still making you feel good and satiated if you write it with the reader in mind more than your own emotional process? Do you perhaps feel even better if you write it in an easily-digestible way because you can get more feedback, even if you can’t get the instantly-relieving feeling of just spouting out your feelings, unedited?

These are the things I wonder about, and I would love to know how others work with them.

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51 thoughts on “How Far is Too Far to Go For Your Readers?

  1. Personally, I write more for others than for my own personal release, though that is necessary from time to time as well. I write to inform people about my culture, one which is as ancient as time but unknown to most of the world. I bring to light amazing achievements, personas, history and present details. I write because I love to and because for many years in university, I was pulled away from that special hobby I loved so dearly. :D

    • Ah, yes! Indeed! I am happy that you write. It seems like for your cause and purpose, writing is such a wonderful way to go; a powerful tool! A long time ago, someone asked me if I was Armenian. I didn’t really know what they meant, and I forgot that they had even asked, until now. Good work, keep going, and thank you so much for being a part of this!

  2. I write to release and process what I am feeling or thinking. I try to make it also relevant to a larger audience and not get too superfluously personal. I spout, unedited, and then in the process of editing, really figure out what I am feeling, and what I am just rambling about.
    I think shorter, more concise entries are more easily digested and more accessible.

    • That sounds similar to what I do! Your comment draws attention to the aspect of editing that may help us get closer to how we actually feel, while it makes the writing to digest as well. Win-win, really, when you put it like that!

  3. This is such a valid question. I find a two-step process actually works for me – to write from the heart and right-side of the brain: to write for myself, like no one would ever read it. And later, come back to it after a day or so to edit from the left-brain. Writing directly for an audience tends to make things watered down for me.

    • writing the passionate first draft then coming back to make it less extreme is a common method for me, although having worked in law for many years I have also been criticised for making my work too balanced and mellow.

      Overall I incline more and more toward emulating Aristotle’s Golden Mean: write the piece you want to write, make it accessible, then extract a third draft that pushes the reader just a little.

  4. Jennifer, you are making me think too much and hurting my brain! Keep doing that, please. I find the posts and articles I write that are most satisfying for me to write and evidently for others to read are the ones where I don’t consciously shape something for this or that person or audience, but just let myself be me and let others take it or leave it. Which essentially means me being free to have fun with words and ideas. Sounds a bit narcissistic, but it seems to work

  5. You ask very good questions, and write very thought out pieces of writing. I don’t know if the answer I have orchestrated has anything to do with your question but here goes. Personally, yes, writing for your audience is great because you are attracting them – but are you changing yourself in the process? My view? Don’t change. Do not conform to a belief that society has concocted just because you wish to be a part of the social normality or gain the attention of certain groups of people. In reality, would you succumb to peer pressure? That is what I think it’s like in the writing world. If you are not being you, and are not writing what is true to you then you are not writing the way you would write, which in turn makes your writing fake. Fakeness stands out, and is not only off putting, but will keep you from writing the great pieces that you truly can. In my view, when you write something that is you, it can be controversial, it can be unkind and it can be your emotional experiences, and people will respect this. People will see the honesty. The scars. The pain. The real in-depth focus. Uniqueness is what people want to read, well, I do at least, and it is pieces like these that are the most interesting. So, how far is too far? I think the second you step over the line from being you to being what you think the readers want, is too far. Just my opinion.

    • Thank you for sharing, it helps me so much. I agree with what you are saying; I think my main struggle is to learn what it is I’m trying to say, so that I can keep that nugget in tact while I may alter the words to make it so that the nugget is understandable. But yes, I do not ever want society’s “normal” to creep into my writing or my brain and swap places with my ideals, ever ever!! :)

  6. I do consider my audience when I write my blog posts. I am conscious of treading on toes. Ironically, when I loosened my grip on toe stepping and wrote slightly more controversially and more about what I actually felt, my readership increased and so did my confidence to accept criticism and debate. I think writing that has integrity and is honest to it’s source is the best writing. Writing that is too rigid and too formulaic is very hard to read I find.

    • Ah, yes! I feel like more and more writing I read is INCREDIBLY formulaic! My brain fibers just end up glazing over while reading those pieces. I am happy that you are finding a good balance of toe-stepping!

  7. I write to make sense of this world and be heard. The idea that good writing will not be appreciated is not true. Where the art of fiction is concerned, good story-telling trumps all! The audience is the decider, if you will. Writing without an audience is journaling. You never truly know how far is too far until you’re there. You’ll never recognize the edge of the abyss until you look over it.

    • :) “Writing without an audience is journaling.” Yes. That says a lot, thank you for sharing. Perhaps I need to explore the area around the abyss and at least get close enough to smell it, so that I can make a little writer’s hangout there.

  8. I write to sort out my thoughts and feelings. This current blog is especially more for me than for others. However, I have noticed a lack of personal sites focusing on items like Social Anxiety, so I also felt I might be able to help people understand more about it and maybe even discover that it’s something they suffer from and just never had a name for it! Also, another personal reason I do this blog, is because I am very out of the habit of writing and I want to write more. So I thought this was a good place to start again and have set myself a schedule and everything. Someday I hope it evolves into more than my random thoughts about my own psychological issues, but, until it does I will be happy with just babbling :) I also believe I can be to wordy. I have to attempt to reduce fluff sometimes!

    • I’m so happy your blog exists! That is part of the line, too- some thoughts and missions do better as personal experience without any strict editing or excessive measures towards reader-friendliness.
      An essay written by some guy in a lab coat about social anxiety is not nearly as effective for lots of readers as reading about someone’s experience at a dinner table. They need to be touched, empathized with, understood through the writing. I’m sure you help more people than you even realize, and watching a blog evolve, especially your own, can be lots and lots of fun! I hope the journey is enjoyable :)

  9. Jennifer, first, thank you for visiting my blog about declining awards. It is indeed a challenging issue! But, boy, was your post here very interesting. I absolutely have no idea how to succinctly answer the questions you’ve posed.

    When we blog, especially if we’re sensitive souls and can sense what people may be thinking/feeling…it’s hard when the world is full of just way too many people with way too many different perceptions and ideas. I have gotten myself in trouble emotionally way too many times by attempting to please my readership instead of staying in the joy of communicating.

    On the other hand, sometimes my readership nudges me in new directions, or points out (in subtle areas) ways I’m getting stuck.

    I change around really often in my blog and feel like some people want more photography, less photography, more words, less words, post more often, post less often…it’s never ending.

    I guess it’s a balance. That’s the best answer I’m coming up with now. :)

    • I really like how you illustrated that. Balance, indeed! I suppose as long as we stay open and aware of what influences are touching us at certain points, which it seems like you were, we can at least not be mindlessly sculpted by them, and have some type of awareness about why we feel suddenly like we are doing something wrong. Brilliant! I shall stay aware, try to maintain balance, and see what happens :)

  10. Hi Jennifer, I write for release. I am not very good at getting out what I want to say or to say what is bothering me. It’s not easy for me to write it either, but at least I have time to think of the right words that I want or need to say. I do keep in mind my audience, and how badly I will bore them…..
    Great post as always, you really get me thinking!!

    • I am glad you are thinking, and I would bet you are better at expressing yourself than you think! But of course, the most important part is that grounding feeling of thinking of the right words- that alone, sometimes, is enough it seems, for me.

  11. I tried to reply to this yesterday and failed :) Stupid phone.

    Anyway, I think what I wanted to say was that it took me a while to learn how to write what I wanted, without fearing stepping on people’s toes. But when I did write about something controversial for the first time, it felt great…and improved my confidence knowing I could comfortably take feedback and criticism. I find writing so much easier to read when it is genuine, rather than formulaic. I guess I like writing that is original and has integrity.

    • Haha I liked your other comment as well, I thought it was very clear, but a new one is fabulous too! Integrity is a great word, and I feel the same. Too much formula or fear of toe-stepping is not likely to be inspirational to read and probably not very fun to write, either. I am happy that your confidence has boosted, what a great feeling!

  12. I’ve been trying to figure out what to leave for my book and what to post on my blog. I appreciate your thoughts. I find that the more I blog, the more my desire grows to go more in depth with my subjects. (I end up deleting so much of what I write in the drafts because it is not all suitable for the tight format of a blog post.)

    • That is cool that blogging seems to bring you into more depth! I have a hard time walking the blog-book line as well, and I think ultimately the learning I do through the blog really does help the book, it’s a very interesting process!

  13. I am so glad you wrote about this. I struggle with the same thing often in my writing. Specifically, because of the topics I write on, I struggle with finding the right way to present things so as not to alienate folks or offend people. What this means is that sometimes I end up sugar-coating things so as to not hurt anyone’s feelings. The writing often suffers for it. I don’t want to come off judgmental or I-am-better-than-you sounding, but at the same time I want to be honest and open with my readers. I think I will employ some of the things you talk about here and not be afraid to speak the truth. Thanks Jennifer, once again you help me grow!

    • Anytime, thank you for inspiring as well! It is such a struggle, isn’t it? The way I’m seeing it now is that the best thing is to get the message through if it’s the message that matters. If the sugar coating helps people SEE it without being scared off, then maybe it’s good. If you feel the writing is suffering, then that’s not good. I bet that even if a few people get offended and leave if you write how you want to write, there will be more that end up feeling increasingly passionate about your writing and sharing it with others, perhaps. That is at least how I hope it would work :)

  14. This post from The Daily Dish (http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2012/07/communing-with-creativity.html) is a pretty good summing-up of how I write: I’m writing to a friend or family member, living or dead, in my head. So writing is like a conversation—albeit a one-way conversation—and it’s satisfying because I’m telling this reader exactly what I want to say. Oh, and sometimes the inner reader I’m addressing is me. And as you mentioned in your great post about moderating comments, yeah, sometimes it’s best to soften our tone while still telling the truth as we see it. That’s not a cop-out; that’s love. :)

    • That is really interesting! I have heard people talking about writing as a conversation with one person. I may try that on my next post and see how it feels/goes. I agree with you about telling the truth in a skillful, non-hurtful way. That IS love :)

  15. Thanks again for keeping it real. I often wonder why I write and reflect on what I am going to write next for my blog posts. Today I was talking with my mom and she asked me, “What would you do if money didn’t matter and you could pursue any degree that you wanted?” I told her at this point in time I would write, whenever I needed a break from my art, writing was always there. I write on a daily basis even when creating artwork I make time for it. Writing has never failed me because I can always express my feelings.

    • Thank you for reflecting! I love writing for that reason as well. Even if it’s just me and a napkin at a bar or restaurant, writing can still be done! I just need to ask someone for a pen.

  16. Thank you so much for this. I am in the process of writing a book about my one year of self- employment, I am always seeking advice regarding how to put my book together. What format is the best? What should I convey to help my readers in their aspirations of living the life they want? What can I offer to the world? These are questions I ask myself….

    and at times, feeling truly unmotivated because it is not the right season to write the book, and feeling the frustration with that.

    • Oh boy, I had no idea there were right and wrong “seasons” to write a book…yay, another thing to become worried about :) I guess the frustrations that come with writing can be never-ending, but the more we learn and play, the better we can get at creating what we love and sharing it with the world. I’m happy you came by!

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