Here’s Something to Think (and Talk) About

Here’s Something to Think (and Talk) About

Reader Comments (82)

  1. This is a hard one for me. I think that a desire to touch the audience is another type of compulsion. It’s just broader than the compulsion to prove an idea. I would also ask about the motivations behind the desire to touch the audience. Touch them to what end? Some of my most popular posts prove to be the ones that are emotional, but I usually don’t know how emotional they are until readers say how much they effect them.

    Very provocative thoughts. Great start to the day.

  2. From my perspective, I’m reading “touch” broadly… in the sense that something of value is transmitted, not necessarily limited to an emotional reaction.

    Way to kick off the discussion, Josh!

  3. In the first case, the talented writers are focused on themselves and what they think is important. In the second case, they’re focused on other people and how they can meet their readers’ needs.

    Sometimes what we want to write about and what other people want to read about are the same thing, and that’s great. But when they don’t, we should seriously consider why we’re writing about a certain idea.

    Is it because people need to hear it, even if it could cause some of them pain or discomfort? If so, then we should write about it (grammar rules come to mind here).

    Or is it because this idea is important in our universe, but our readers don’t care about it or should care about it? Then maybe it’s a topic for another audience at another time.

  4. ps. An interesting question though;

    How come many famous writers and creative types only seem to touch their audiences after they die? Was it because they (As Mark McGuinness stated in his Lateral Action T.S. Eliot post) lacked a USP or failed to use The Medici Effect?

  5. Seems to me like those who write for themselves probably aren’t going to find many others willing to listen. It’s when you put the reader in the spotlight and focus on what they can learn, the emotions you can tap into, and the conversation you can create, that’s when you’ll find an audience.

    It’s really the same as for any business. If they’re pushing out products and services that have the purpose of proving their clout in their industry or are just an idea they’re emotionally connected to, it probably won’t succeed. Success is when they create a product that is centered around the needs of the customer.

  6. Brian,
    There’s a touchpoint where the audience and the artist meet. We’re both seeking something in that space. Call it the truth of the moment, the value in the exchange, or the sublime exchange of a core need. Call it whatever you want.
    It’s a portal of joining, one’s sublime experience to another’s but it comes out as more if you do it right and with room for the other.
    You get that from music, from art, from dance, from good copy, from great code, from you name it…but that touchpoint.. that’s the spot you’re always aiming for.

  7. Writing which is a gift to the reader is not self-serving, not self-conscious, does not have an agenda, and has moved beyond the realm of personal experience into the realm of human experience. It connects us to our humanity, and thus to one another. My latest blog post: “Antler Velvet, Rumi, and Buddhist Begging Bowls: Unexpected Gifts” approaches McKee’s quote perhaps more subtly, but springs from the same root.

  8. I agree with what has bees said regarding writing for ourselves versus writing for who you want to reach. However, it should be noted what a significant part of the writing process. Scenario 1, to me, seems it could be a rough draft and scenario 2 is the same piece, polished, in order to reah the audience, no?

  9. In the first case, the talented author is forcing it, like a quarterback who knows that his receiver isn’t really open. Sorry for the sports analogy, but it works. My topic might really be good and interesting, but if I’m forcing it (either to make me look good or whatever), then it comes out canned and lifeless.

    I’m not a touchy-feeling sort of person, so I assume that by touch we can mean reach the audience. To reach them, I must put some effort in and find what they need. Reach them when they need it, not because now is the time for me. I did that on my blogs more than once and it’s a great big fail.

  10. Hey Brian,

    Good writers, like any creators, want to genuinely connect with the readers just like they would want to form real relationships with great people.

    Who doesn’t want to have awesome relationships in their life? And you do that by touching awesome people – by connecting with them, by giving them value. The same goes for writing. You’re expressing a genuine, amplified version of yourself through your writing, and you’re giving the reader value. So hopefully the reader will get to know you better and get something helpful/entertaining from what you have to say.

    And when you genuinely form a relationship with the audience, they might reciprocate by contacting you/subscribing/purchasing/etc.

    Writing for readers is like indirectly forming relationships. You especially want to give them value. And you do that by touching them, not by being bland, trying to prove something, or providing mediocre content.


  11. A good writer is not self-indulgent. Writing for the audience means removing your personal passions and delivering the content your audience needs. But there are so many blurred lines in writing, because if you completely detach your personal beliefs, the end product is uninteresting. It’s a continuous battle to find the right balance.

  12. Writing badly, per McKee’s quote, implies an act of force.

    His definition of writing well implies an offer or gift. Or invitation.

    As writers, we write badly and write well. And learn from both. Writing is an act of reaching out and connecting with others. Whether we pull it off or not with each attempt, hopefully that’s our core motive.

  13. That quote just described the difference between the best of my writing and the worst of my blogposts.

    Before I started blogging, I wrote a lot, but only when I felt like it. Every month, I’d submit just one piece to the editor of the newsletter where I have a column. Those pieces were a distillation of moments that had moved me or taught me something important.

    Feedback told me that readers liked that I married my experience as a coach with the daily details of my family life. So I kept doing that.

    I thought blogging would give me a place to share the things that didn’t make it into the column but it hasn’t worked out like that. The writing has suffered. I love the community building, instant connection and scope for variety that blogging offers, but I often feel like regular blogging (posting and commenting) has diluted the power those monthly pieces had.

    Great thought-provoking post. Thanks!

  14. We were taught to write — and speak publicly — with clarity, concision, and control. When a writer or speaker follows those guidelines, she evokes as well as “touches” the emotions of the reader or listener. When you feel the emotion of the speaker or writer, when you share her anger, elation, outrage, or satisfaction, when you want to do something about what she has said or written, then her delivery is honest and beautiful.
    Peter Pitorri

  15. Coming from the world of advertising copywriting — sometimes a talented Writer writes poorly because of the 80 seconds of information the client insists on cramming into a 30-second ad. 😉

  16. I’m actually an advertiser/designer but I think the same concept applies.

    A wise man once said (and I think it applies to all professions):

    “If you want to be a well-paid designer, please the client. If you want to be an award-winning designer, please yourself. If you want to be a great designer, please the audience.”

  17. Thanks for the question. I strongly believe that if you want to do something great, you have to do it for the reasons that are bigger than you.

    If you are going to write for selfish reasons such as proving somebody wrong or just as an expression of an emotion, then you are writing for yourself, it adds no value to others.

    However, if you decide that those thoughts and ideas are so great and valuable that it would be a crime not to share them with the rest of the world, then you will be able to write and do great things.

    Think about, if you stand for something bigger than yourself, then people are going to be attracted to you instantly. They will see you as something supernatural and selfless.

    Moreover, people can easily tell why people do things. That is to say that they will sense genuine concern of the other, they will know that something was written just for them. Subconscious does great things and shows are true selves.

    People are not fond of fake people and spot them quickly. Therefore becoming sincerely interested in changing and touching other people’s lives will automatically translate into better writing which will move people.


  18. In the first case the writer writing badly is assuming her audience is against her and it’s going to be a fight to get the audience to understand.
    In the second, “moved by a desire to touch the audience,” the writer has assumed that his audience is already on his side and he has a great message to share with all.

  19. “they’re driven by an emotion they must express.”

    The above actually sounds like the right direction, to me. People have a story inside of them. People have a thought or idea that they can’t not express. So they do. And those are usually the best ones.

  20. “Touching the audience” is not the by-product of good writing; it is the aim of good writing. Without “touching the audience,” writing, in any form, has failed to communicate . Persuasiveness must delve deeper than logical arguments alone to attract the heart and soul of the audience to your writing. A talented writer understands how to wrap his logical arguments with an emotive quality that connects the writer and the reader, bringing unity through those shared words.

  21. When I was teaching a graduate program at The George Washington University, I told my students that I expected every piece they wrote to be publishable in a national trade called Security Management. I published from the late 70’s to the early 90’s in various trades. I did so because I gave the various editors what they wanted.

    If you write to publish, remember that the only arbiter of “quality” of writing is the editor of the publication to which you are submitting. The editor knows her readership. She knows the voice they want to hear — the slant, the topic, the timeliness.

    If you have submitted a query letter (and today most editors require that for non-fiction and fiction as well), most editors will provide you with feedback. If the editor rejects your piece, it may be for any of the reasons mentioned above. If she publishes you, it will as well be for those reasons. That does not mean other publications would find your piece publishable.

    The bottom line is: Publishability is in the eye of the editor, not your peers. Never submit your work to relatives or friends — unless you are writing for your own pleasure.
    Peter Pitorri

  22. There’s always that tension. If you just do focus groups and then package up what people say they want, you end up with kraft macaroni & cheese. Which does, indeed, touch some people (my four-year-old, for example) but doesn’t really pass the remarkability test. On the other hand, if you’re so busy emoting that you lose all interest in the person on the other side of the screen, you have a journal, not a connection. “Dear Diary” is only interesting if you’re Bridget Jones.

    The tension between those two is one of the most fascinating things about this whole blogging business for me. It’s really the core tension behind any communication. It can’t be entirely about either side, or it gets unutterably boring.

  23. When you focus on making an impact, you do your best to communicate your message well. You put all your effort in ensuring that your thoughts are well crafted, clear and concise so your readers will understand what you are trying to say, knowing that it’s your ability to deliver your idea well that will make the difference if your blog post, article or report is something your audience will benefit from.

    Like in everything in life, we derive the greatest fulfillment when we put other people first. So in writing, we realize our greatest potential when we focus on the reader and not on our ego and ability to fill a page with our thoughts.

  24. I think McKee needs to go to a bar and listen to some pickup lines. They’re written by people who are desperate to “touch the audience,” but that doesn’t make them any less horrible.

    Good and bad writing has little or nothing to do with your motivations. It has to do with how hard you work and how much talent you have.

    Anyway, McKee has a gift for making mediocre ideas sound profound. I had to read Story twice to figure this out.

  25. Can you, by virtue of wanting to help or touch other people, go from being a mediocre writer to being a “talented” one? Is a willingness and desire to help other people enough to propel you to the ranks of the “talented?”

  26. Love this quote, and McKee.

    Last night at an event at the New York Public Library, Barbara Kingsolver spoke about her just-published novel The Lacuna and the writing process itself. She talked about the power of reading in the “long form,” how literature creates worlds for readers to enter into, and her belief that those worlds can change how people see, feel, experience, judge, and interpret their lives, their sense of history, and possibly action. As a fiction writer, she said she teeters on the edge of “lunacy” (her word), plunging herself into the world she creates, thus creating a world readers can experience and believe in. Kingsolver starts all her fiction with a question (her compelling idea that will be big enough to sustain her passion and commitment to the novel at hand), but the plot, characters, thematic and symbolic threads, all make the book into a gift for audiences to embrace, debate, reject, love.

    Just to add a bit of complexity to the transactional author-reader relationship.

  27. Sonia,

    Your tension comment was bad-ass!

    I think you lean toward one side and Jon leans toward the other, and that makes for some great casting on this blog.

  28. I guess the key is focusing on others instead of self.

    I realized that whenever I make a presentation and I focus on the audience, I tend to do better, as compared to times when I focused on myself (the words I speak, my hand movement, etc..)

    The same applies to my writing. When I focus on my audience needs, and don’t pay too much attention on how nicely written my article is, the article tends to get more response.

  29. @Shane, that is a cool insight, I think you’re right.

    @Jon, I met McKee once. Actually, I introduced him at a conference. I think he has spent enough time in bars. (If you saw Adaptation, the depiction was precise and perfect.)

  30. Been there, and done that, so I can definitely relate. What I think is interesting is the commonality to both states: *Emotion*

    If you are “compelled” to prove an idea or “driven” to express an emotion, the “compelled” and “driven” verbs point to an over-riding passion, generally related to ego. Self-awareness goes out the window at that point.

    If you are “moved” to touch the audience, there’s still passion there, but its center isn’t the ego and it hasn’t pushed over-ride on your self-awareness. The emotion is other-directed.

    In Buber-esque terms, how do you see the audience? Are they a “thou” or an “it”? A desire to bring out the best in someone is still a desire, but it is of an entirely different sort than a desire to “teach someone a lesson,” or “give them a piece of your mind.”

    – Jeff

  31. Readers can forgive a lack of talent if the writer demonstrates a genuine interest in serving others. On the the other hand, the talented writer whose true intent is to push out her ideas without care for the audience will quickly be perceived and readily dismissed as a “gifted” Narcissist.

    Fantastic discussion. I’ve learned so much from everyone’s comments!

  32. This is a very interesting dilemma, because know a lot of people much smarter than I who can’t write convincingly about their passion. OUr B2B blog gets good comments because believes it meets the needs of a particular segment for “classic” marketing info they may not be getting elsewhere. But I try for irony and humor as well. We shall see….still waiting for those thousands or million readers you all seem to be getting on your blogs!

  33. Thanks for the discussion, all. I spent a lot of time doing the “writing as therapy” thing, and I bored even myself…. then I spent 7 years teaching high school! That’s where I was able to blend the 2 extremes into a balance. As a teacher, you have something to communicate – and to be effective you have to listen and observe your audience – and then change up your communication (and sometimes the message) to get the main ideas across.

    You are always communicating your own message, but you realize that often your message involves such a big shift on the part of the others that you must stop and consider the steps you took to get to your current idea. In teaching, this is called staying inside the student’s “zone of proximal development” – stray outside of that, and you get a room full of glazed over faces.

  34. For the most part this assessment is accurate.

    I’d say talent writing badly can also occur when the writer feels they have to act/sound like someone they’re not in order to please an audience. Perhaps the writer is motivated by something that has nothing to do with writing. This process is labored, messy and contrived, and it shows.

    Talent writing done well is indeed driven by the desire to self-express and touch the audience. Touch is broad as you say, Brian, and can mean emotional, intellectual, humorous, etc.

    The real challenge in our line of work is transmitting quantified, marketable value through writing that is meaningful to both writer and reader.

  35. In my case, I find that when I write what pleases me, what is honest, and how I feel about a topic, I get a much better reaction from my readers. Perhaps this is because they share my opinions and ideas and identify with me.

  36. Brian, what a wonderful and thought-provoking article. It struck a strong chord with me, since my background in education has led me to believe that the best teachers are those that do ‘touch’ their students. To me this has meant that they can put themselves in the shoes of their students and explain things accordingly.
    This also applies to sales, which I often thought was just another form of teaching.
    All this makes me wonder if anyone has compiled information on the personality profiles of good vs bad teachers, salespersons, or writers. Are the good ones more sympathetic? Are they more outgoing rather than introverted? Hmmm ….

  37. It’s interesting to read all comments and judge by pure length or character’s who is writing for ego and who is writing for audience. I was ready to leave my own comment until I read @Sonia’s and @Clarabela’s. Ditto.

    @copyblogger. Perhaps you could pose this question and require the answer in 140 characters or less?

  38. The writer has to be plugged into the ideas and knowledge in the public debate effected in the media and so there will sometimes be a similarity to the news reporter although there is no equivalent.
    The communicator’s purpose is to address & respond to the problems of the public. The issues of others that do not have the ability nor the opportunity to address (I’m thinking of the post “get off your computer and become a better blogger”. The amount of time required to blog. If you are tuned into, a participant in the daily goings on you will write to touch the audience.

  39. “Either they’re blinded by an idea they feel compelled to prove or they’re driven by an emotion they must express.”

    “They’re moved by a desire to touch the audience.”

    hmm. If I am compelled to prove something or have an emotion I must express then don’t I also want to touch my audience? Aren’t they all in the end the same driving factor? Perhaps there is another reason for writting badly.

  40. I’d have to say that Mr. McKee is both absolutely right and abysmally wrong.

    He does a great job of capturing the writer’s dilemma: when is it time to give up on an idea that “blinding” you – and when is it better to push on through, with the recognition that a need to prove something or express something is worthwhile?

    On the other hand, the statement about being “moved by a desire to touch the audience” is rather vapid … does a desire to prove something to a reader not fall under the desire to touch the audience? And how can we discount the “touching” power of an emotional, passionate piece of writing – whether it was written with the purpose of moving the audience or simply as an outlet for its author?

    In my experience, good writing generally has pivot points – an idea (or ideas), turn of phrase, or feeling that anchors and ties together a work. Bad writing happens when writers rush to publish without finding and connecting with the right pivot points for that particular piece.

  41. “…driven by an emotion they must express” is also a reason talented writers write well. I’d even argue that it’s synonymous with “…moved by a desire to touch the audience.”

    That said, I find McKee’s words unclear. Which is probably the reason they’re being discussed here today.

    Talented people can indeed write badly if they’re blinded by an idea they feel compelled to prove. But on a higher level, they’re writing badly because they haven’t given themselves enough time to think their argument through. They’re not ready sit down and express it in words.

    Give it a day.

  42. “Touching the audience” is so much easier when your audience is in front of you instead of a computer screen. For one thing, and perhaps the most important point, is that you have their attention and your “writing” or “words” are not about to be interrupted. And, if you are good in front of an audience, you can make certain that their minds don’t wander.

    I judge my “effectiveness” by the number of men who want to shake my hand and the number of women who give me hugs. When you have regularly experienced this occurring, it makes “blogging” sour by comparison. If I had to rely on getting my “jollies” by comments on my blog, I would quit because I am not doing it to make money. I like the e-mails, handshakes and hugs — especially the hugs!

  43. I don’t know who Robert McKee is, but I think he should have left out the adjective “talented.” Talent is irrelevant when it comes to touching the audience; I think both talented and untalented people can do it if they understand and care enough about the audience.

  44. I would say my desire to touch the audience is a desire to spark them to think for themselves when reading what I write. I don’t need them to take what I say as truth, but if they feel it click in place…WOW i get a thrill! Yeah, if my words inspire someone in the smallest way, I’m smiling.

  45. To quote another Robert, Robert Greene, Author of “The 48 Laws of Power”, “The Art of Seduction”, “33 Strategies of War”, and his newest book, “The 50th Law (all about fearlessness)”…

    “You are one of a kind. Your character traits are a chemical mix that will never be repeated in history. There are ideas unique to you, a specific rhythm, a perspective that are your strengths, not your weaknesses. You must not be afraid of your uniqueness and you must care less and less what people think of you. This has been the path of the most powerful people in history.”

    In an earlier post, someone remarked about how pivotal philosophers, authors and thinkers usually aren’t revered until they’re long gone.

    These people had to have had a sense of fearlessness to speak the truth they knew, without concern for what others would say.

    On the other hand, if you’re trying to sell some shit so you can make the rent or if you’re totally insecure, this mindset can be unsettling.

    Nevertheless, I believe it can be the path to fulfillment if you seek to add value. Especially in marketing.

    When people read or listen to your voice and their gut dings “Giving to me” rather than “Taking from me”, I believe that’s what wins fans.

    Anyone who doesn’t provide value, i.e. wastes time, blabs only about themselves, is going to be ignored. Maybe even disdained.

    For me, what great writing has in common is offering value. Value of course, is relative to the target audience.
    Who cares if anyone but your ideal prospect doesn’t like you?

    I’ve heard it said that the more personal you think something is, the more universal it is. Comedians get laughter out of recognition all the time knowing this.

    When your personality shines through, when value is present and mixed with fearlessness… it can be one hell of potent mix.

  46. Damn it, Note taking Nerd #2 you pump me up! really you do.

    “When your personality shines through, when value is present and mixed with fearlessness… it can be one hell of
    potent mix”

    When people read or listen to your voice and their gut dings “Giving to me” rather than “Taking from me”, I believe that’s what wins fans.”

    so true, so true.

    I would also like to raise my wine glass to the late George Carlin. he shined a light on hypocrisy.

  47. @Patty – George is THE MAN. He was the guy who perfectly illustrates what I said in my comment about “The more personal you think something is, the more universal it is.”

    I’m thinking of his bit during “Complaints and Grievances” about “Things that come off our body.” I don’t know how a human alive couldn’t think to themselves, “Holy shit, this guys got one huge set of nuts on him to talk about these crusty tendencies we all have with ZERO shame.”

    He was great at saying out loud, what lots of people think, but are scared to admit.

  48. @John White, McKee is a screenwriting teacher. Jon doesn’t like him, but I do. 🙂 He wrote a book on screenwriting called STORY that I’ve found extremely useful. If you happen to have seen the movie Adaptation, it features a fictional screenwriting teacher named Robert McKee who is an exact replica of the actual screenwriting teacher named Robert McKee.

  49. hmmm… Gonna keep that one on my desktop and read it before I start writing something. It’s so easy to slip into the wrong mode when writing something, well for me anyhow.

    Short, but poigniant (think that’s spelt right), shows what I know.

  50. I love Robert Mckee… and if people haven’t read ‘The War of Art’ by Steven Pressfield they are missing out on arguably one of the best ‘self-help’ books ever written.

    But back to McKee. The desire to touch the audience, move the audience, or compel the audience to action should always be the focal point of a communicator. Otherwise, why are you opening your mouth or putting pen to paper in the first place?

    My only source of contention is with the use of ‘talent’. Like can’t – it should be a word stricken from our vocabulary. Talent is a myth. It gives people excuses and reasons why they are not one of the chosen.

    Work, focus and discipline are the real currency of success… everything else is monopoly money.

  51. McKee’s “Story” places emphasis on structure, and is worth a read. His idea of working “from the outside-in” is invaluable. But other than that, I’ve gotten more out of the following books on storytelling:

    — The Writer’s Journey (Vogler)
    — Stealing Fire from the Gods (Bonnet)
    — Between the Lines (Morrell)

  52. It’s simply selfishness versus selflessness.
    Selfishness being that it is you that wants to be heard, your emotions that need to be worked through, maybe biases and prejudices that you feel you have to impose on your readers.
    selflessness is that you’re writing for the reader, that you’re there for them to give them something useful, make them laugh, teach them, give them something that touches their heart without thinking about yourself at all.

  53. I agree with the statement somewhat. The writer shouldn’t be completely absorbed in his little world, writing with half-finished sentences (for example) that only he understand.

    But ultimately, whether a piece of writing will be well-received really comes down to how well it resonates with the readers. A writer can not care about his/her audience at all, but as long as the subject is of interest to the general public, others will read it.

    The situation becomes even weirder when it comes to “great literature”. Look at Nabokov and James Joyce. I don’t believe they wanted to connect with their readers at all. Nabokov especially was out to prove something. So why did their books become famous?

  54. Brian;

    I’ve noticed a few blog posts recently on Copyblogger from the screenwriter world. Are you working on a screenplay?

    To me what he’s saying is a matter of being respectful. the “talented writer” who writes badly is only thinking about himself, he’s selfish. The “talented writer” who write well is thinking about other, too.

  55. I think Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway offers some interesting observations on this subject.

  56. He’s probably right… If writing well simply means the article was well received.

    I certainly hope there’s more to writing well though than the forces of supply and demand.. otherwise there will be tons of great thoughts we’ll never hear, and tons of great emotions never expressed…

    Beginning life with Market Research assumes the market has a clue what they want. But a lot of us just want to be surprised.

  57. Wow, that was deep! 🙂 I struggle with this. The writer in me is telling me that screw everyone else, that writing is my art and that I write for me and for the sake of writing. The marketer in me agrees with Robert, you must write for the people, or you will die a lonely death. If I try and find a compromise between the two then I feel like I’ve somewhat “sold out”.

    This is the chicken and the egg. Does the content itself come first from the vision of the writer, and people will eventually connect and recognize the passion in the author’s words OR will the content suffer or triumph due to the whims and emotions of the audience?? I cannot decide. This is too much. 🙁

  58. The difference between writing badly and writing well is having a target. An audience brings focus to our passion. Otherwise we are just shooting arrows willy nilly all over the place, and have little chance of hitting a bulls-eye.

  59. When you write to impress you might lose out on the crux of the message… but when you write to express you are sure to be comprehended… !

  60. It is that they are driven by their emotions and sometimes completely forget about their audience.. Let’s not forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives and we obey them without realizing it. ~Vincent Van Gogh, 1889 . And for the talented people who write well perhaps that’s because they have the capacity to get in the state of writing and just write ……. Sometimes people may feel the writer’s emotions ????

  61. Stefan
    That is precisely why we have editors. And yes, there are “tons of great thoughts that we will never hear.” As well, there are thousands of people who sing beautifully, and dance with pure grace; they also will never be heard or seen. It’s called Life.
    best regards

  62. I am definitely driven by emotion!!! But I am very open minded and have learned alot since writing the book. I very much improved my way of expressing. Thanks.

  63. The most powerful writing leads the reader to experience their humanity in compelling ways whether through new information, shared insight or virtual experience. The author’s need to be heard is distracts from that magical process. As a writer and speaker, I check myself daily to make sure I am not getting in the way of what my words could do in the world!

  64. I think word “touch” means write a people want to know and give an info they want to know, maybe desperately want to know.

    Actually, this is a good post. Thanks!

  65. I’m going to try and put a different slant on this debate. I think it boils down to authenticity; basically real motivation vs stated intention as opposed to self vs audience. I know that when my motivation is to just post something because I’ve committed to myself to meet that goal, it’s certainly not memorable content on any level, even if it is theoretically helpful to readers. The same goes for a sales pitch disguised as a how-to article. On the flip side I’ve read a lot of diaries in historical archives and some that were never intended for an audience were beautifully written and some that were written by public figures, likely with posterity in mind, were not.

    I think real and honest self-awareness (Why am I writing this?, Why do I feel this way? Why do I think this is true or important or interesting?) goes a long way in creating good writing; fiction or non-fiction, published or unpublished. Tone, voice, grammar, etc. can add a lot of polish but can’t create authenticity.

  66. McKee’s stuff is always interesting. Having been to a couple of his workshops — 500 folks stuffed into a conference center at $495 each for a one-day gig… do the math — I have to say, sometimes you need to filter what you hear (and, Casablanca, his choice of example to illustrate the principles of screenwriting, is pretty old and shop-worn news; he should try Shawshank Redemption as a better iconic film). I mean, the guy actually sings a solo to close the program, and he ain’t no Josh Groban.

    I view his comment, the one you shared to inspire this conversation, as a sad truth. He’s not wrong. But… passion is never an excuse for “bad” writing. A good writer should always strive to be great, and in doing so should understand the criteria for attaining that level. Blind passion for your message, when it truly blinds you, isn’t the hallmark of a great writer. It’s op-ed page propaganda.

    Write with passion, absolutely. But objectivity is an essential tool, even when your slant is biased. Back at square one we learn to write with our audience in mind, and putting their world view into the context of our content (recalling my recent post here on the value of context) is the path to reaching their hearts and minds.

  67. The first two reasons given, “they feel compelled to prove or they’re driven by an emotion” is passion.

    My opinion on when talented people write well for the reason of “Being moved by a desire to touch an audience” is only part of it. It is the combination and balance of the passion for your subject AND the desire to touch your audience. When you are reader focused instead of self focused the writing is more compelling and comprehensive

  68. Many of my Small Business Owner blog stories are designed to warn readers not to make the same mistakes I did.

    I’m therefore definitely ‘moved by a desire to touch the audience’.

    Who’d’ve thought such a brief introduction could trigger such a broad debate? Obviously there are a lot of cats in here who really care about their words and their readers. Many thanks, Brian. P. 🙂

  69. Great quote. Says so much in just a few words.
    What absolutely stood out for me is the fact that writing is about the audience.
    Without them, any words that get written are mere ink on a page or digital images in cyberspace without any connection to those who could benefit from them.

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