The writing world has changed so much in recent years. In the past, your primary opportunities to “connect” with your readers was simply through your magazine articles, novels or personal appearances. Today, connecting with your audience includes these methods plus, e-books, websites, and social media like Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and, of course, blogging. There are many ways to “touch” your readers, but which is most effective?
The answer is to remember the old adage, “it’s the message, not the medium.” Our writing, not how we deliver it, is still what matters most. Was it a trick question? OK, perhaps, but my point is, with all of the changes in the writing world many essentials remain the same. For me, the best way to connect with my readers is through an “emotional connection or link.” Write from the heart. Make the reader “feel the words you write.”
Writing is a cerebral profession but sometimes a writer must let his heart do the talking. You must enter a subject’s world, sense her struggle, understand her problems, and present those problems in a way that allows the reader to feel the pain. To do that, you must feel the pain.
“A writer’s problem does not change, Hemingway once said, “It is always how to write truly and having found what is true, to project it in such a way that it becomes a part of the experience of the person who reads it.”
So often we let our head get in the way and we fail to make that crucial emotional connection. I almost made this mistake when I was a freelance writer writing for a health care client. I was hired to write the story of a young patient dying of cancer as a result of the failure of a health care provider in a neighboring city.
I wrote a lead for the story but it was too sterile. I wrote another, then another. Finally, I hammered this out:
Cancer. Next to heart disease, it’s the leading cause of death in America. All of us know or love someone who has fallen prey to this impartial killer. If Katie Miller didn’t have to fight her former health care provider for an accurate diagnosis, she might not have to fight cancer today. Now, she is not only fighting for her health, she is fighting for time. This is her story.
This lead felt cold and empty. It was missing something. I grabbed my tape recorder, leaned back in my chair, and played back part of the interview. I could hear what was missing. Compassion. Emotion. Feeling. Heart.
I was writing Katie’s story like one of my business articles—with my head. To tell her story I realized that I needed an emotional connection. I closed my eyes, and, like a fiction writer, tried to climb inside the main character’s head. What are they thinking, feeling? What do they fear? Then I tapped out this lead:
For Katie Miller, life is short. Too short. At 27, she has just seen her last Christmas, her last winter and her final birthday. She knows she will never see Jenny, her 6-year old daughter, finish the first grade. She knows she won’t be there when her son, David, 4, loses his baby teeth. She knows her husband will spend their eighth wedding anniversary alone. And she grieves knowing Joanna, 3, will never remember her.
Katie is dying of ovarian cancer. She has approximately three months to live. But the real tragedy is it didn’t have to be this way.
The story was published with this lead.
After working with this client for a year I noticed a pattern. They always assigned me to write the stories about their cancer patients. One day I asked the vice president of public relations why. “Because you write with such warmth,” she said. “I get emotional when I read your work.”
I wrote for this client for eight years and I found the most effective means of making a story memorable was to create an emotional connection for the reader. And how do you do that? Well, American poet Robert Frost said it best, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.”
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