Mistake 4: Forgetting the Reader

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70 Solutions to Common Writing Mistakes by Bob Mayer from The Writer's Digest Writing Kit

Why this is a mistake: The ultimate consumer of any form of writing is the reader. Yet too often writers focus on people other than the reader. The biggest mistake a writer can make is focusing on herself. There’s no point in writing something down for someone else to read if the only person you care about is yourself. Too often, writers end up telling their own story, thinly disguised as fiction. This is called the fictional memoir. Readers have their own lives—lives that are of much more interest to them than someone else’s, unless that other person’s story is told in an exceptional manner or is of an extraordinary nature. Sad to say, most people’s lives are not as interesting as they think they are.

The solution:
A writer’s job is to get something that is inside her own head into the reader’s head through the sole medium of the printed word. Thus the writer must focus on the words and the affect those words are going to have on the reader’s thoughts and emotions, particularly the latter.

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If you are a technical writer, consider how your information is being processed by the reader’s brain. If you are writing an instruction manual, have several people read what you’ve written as they try to follow your instructions, and see if they can accomplish the task.

When writing fiction, pretend you are the reader and that you know nothing about the story other than what you’ve read from the first word of the first sentence. Are you hooked? Is there escalating conflict? Suspense? Are you engaged with the characters of the story? Do you want to know what happens next? Of course, you the author, care about what you’re writing. The key is making the reader care.

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