You’ve invested many a sleepless night and daydreamful day into your newest piece. Now, it’s the defining moment: will anyone even like it? So, it’s time to ask around. You go to Staples and make a few paper copies for the old-fashioned people. You upload .doc’s into Facebook messages for the hip social media users. You pick your audience carefully: Sally who’s studying English Honours, Bob, editor of the campus newspaper, and Helga who has read every possible book in your genre. You give your work to these people and you hold your breath…will they like it? Or have all your sleepless nights and daydreamful days been totally wasted on an inky mound of junk?
We writers tell ourselves we write because we love writing, but, c’mon, the ultimate reward is winning over a reader…amirite? 😉 It’s nice to hear a compliment after you’ve slaved over a project so much your hair turns grey. But, just for a second, I want us to backpedal a bit here and ask the question: is asking someone if they like your piece really what you should ask?
In a way, this post is a continuation of this one a couple of days ago. That post attempted to tackle the question “is there such a thing as ‘good’ writing.” Today, I will expand on that by asking “Does it really matter whether someone ‘likes’ my writing? Is asking if they like it even relevant?”
Recently, I stopped simply asking people “What do you think of my piece?” because I realized their resulting answers were not exactly helpful. “Hey, I really liked it” or “It was interesting, but it could use some work” is nice to know, but what do these ambiguous, general answers actually tell me?
Instead, I’ve been asking readers to tell me what the piece makes them think.
You see, I equate success and “good writing” with getting the message across. In this way, whether someone likes the message or not is irrelevant. I just want readers to get the message, and if it’s a relatable, powerful, and hence likeable, message, all the better.
I started to notice that with this change of question, I received more in-depth and helpful responses. Some were quite surprising. Readers sometimes expressed a response I had totally unintended. Other times were enlightening, when the reader understood some of what I was saying but was unsure or confused about the big picture. Other times, the reader echoed back exactly what was on my mind, and I called those “bingo” moments because my writing had successfully conveyed what I wanted to say.
I believe our first step is ensuring that our readers actually receive what it is we’re offering. Only then can we scrutinize our offering, because what’s the use of a gift if it can’t be received?
What are your thoughts? What do you ask readers to do when you ask them to beta-test a piece for them?