Why are you writing?
Typically, writing about writing holds no interest except when annoyed by horrific genre fiction or other exercises in poor quality literature like this morning’s reading of a new writer’s existentialized authorship journey. Her launch into freelance writing highlighted the lack of persuasiveness that causes many writers to fail.
Her article read well, having good mechanics, and her point held possibility to intrigue but could not persuade me to her story. Appearing directionless by saying, “I’m not sure what I’ll write about,” gained no credibility, and begged the question, “if you don’t know what to write, then why are you writing?”
The why-people-write question inspires flowery, heartfelt, metaphysical, and spiritual interpretations, all perhaps valuable but shadowed in an inescapable truth: if you can’t make people read and believe what you write, you might as well not write. Whether writing history or science fiction, you deemed the message important enough to pen, highlighting the need to convince readers.
The Need for Confidence
Persuasion roots in confidence, making writing an exercise in egotism for feeling justified and confident to express the message. The word “ego” carries negative connotations, but not in the sense of writer confidence. A rock star walks on stage to sing a song, not because some lofty concept or dream drove the rock star there, but instead sings with confidence wrought from skill. If writers didn’t have self-assurance, even arrogance, no one would write anything. More importantly, when people read articles, they look to the author (you) for answers, whether to entertain or inform, otherwise they wouldn’t be reading. The writer assumes authority for a subject, and being wishy-washy, saying, “well, I may not be perfect,” or “I’m not an expert but,” inspires no confidence in readers. Persuasive writers don’t qualify themselves because the writing proves their points, which clarifies the reason for writing the article in the first place. The author’s reason for writing and the reader's desire to learn reveals further the purpose of persuasion.
By definition, “persuade” means to move someone to a belief, and by this definition, successful writers convince readers. For example, the conservative narrative, no matter how stupid, convinced many people COVID lacked severity because of an elaborate liberal lie meant to heist money from the average person while usurping freedom. You can view this as the power of fake news, an indictment of an education system, or a failure to persuade people through media, in our case, writers. If readers don’t believe what you say, they stop reading. Writing may have many purposes, such as expressing morality or themes, but persuasion is the principal goal since failing to convince readers kills the message.
Unconvincing writers lack an understanding of persuasive language construction readily seen when amateurs abundantly use the bold, italics, or underline functions to emphasize points. Relying on these practices will not make ideas more compelling, and skilled authors don’t rely on formatting. Instead, they wield many strategies, rhetorical devices to develop a persuasive style. (There are many devices used to persuade, but for brevity, this discussion pertains to their use and understanding, not forms.)
Any semi-skilled writer naturally employs at least some of the numerous rhetorical devices, such as repetition or allusion, but every writer needs to expand the rhetoric arsenal. Lacking an understanding of these tools disadvantages you when seeking readership since reading skill varies as much as writing skill. Recognizing reading skills holds tremendous importance in developing because knowing the audience provides the basis for choosing persuasive tactics.
Literates & Illiterates
The paradox of people reading books and remaining illiterate once seemed impossible, but no longer. The equally ridiculous thought of someone writing without knowing how to write also proved true. Vast numbers of people hover over computers and smartphones, reading nothing more than social media posts and skimming articles. These illiterates have no critical understanding of issues, often incorrectly parrot what others say, and remain incognizant of their lack of literacy. Numbering far fewer are people reading books and articles seeking to learn, but they exist and comprise the highest, most valuable readership tier. Understanding the reading skill continuum reveals the problem of readership, which one does not avoid by concentrating on a particular genre. Choosing an audience such as nonfiction, a genre of fiction, politics, or content articles does not foster persuasive writing.
Fret not. Building a readership and a profitable career is entirely possible by writing what others want to read. Writing emotionally charged political diatribes attracts readership, requiring nothing more than rehashing events, inflaming opposition, and appealing to those whose politics you share. This writing promulgates in countless derivative articles across the web typically based on handfuls of original articles published from popular media outlets, proving idiots live in echo chambers.
You might ask, “How do I know if I persuasively write if I am making money, and does persuasiveness matter if I’m making money?” Answers to these questions rest in understanding the continuum of persuasiveness. Just like readers, author skill varies by degrees, with unpersuasive writers producing fast, derivative content that disappears into the digital ether not long after publication. They write what people want them to say, publishing fodder for illiterates looking to sate themselves, which requires the skill to feed the dog. You might even make money writing for illiterates, but this doesn’t mean you are persuasive or successful.
Becoming a persuasive writer takes work in the form of studying rhetoric and subject research. Even if you’re not working on a novel and find contentment writing articles, these efforts still apply despite the seeming meaninglessness of persuasion when making money.
The Skilled, Persuasive Writer
If money qualified writing as skilled or persuasive, literature’s classics would look more like Harry Potter than A Fable. Luckily for us, money is not the measure; otherwise, high schools would require reading the Bible, boring kids worse than they are already. However, an unskilled writer can achieve financial success, proven by J.K. Rowling.
For the literate, Rowling is a literary obstacle course of thought-stopping idioms and superfluous words to leap. Yet, Rowling is extremely successful, having persuaded many readers to believe her crudely scribbled fantasy world. Any criticism of Rowling must include an admission of her effective rhetoric, for people wouldn’t read her books by the millions otherwise.
If this argument sounds contradictory, you are not taking into account the reader. People who read Rowling and believe she’s written masterpieces are the same people who can’t read Faulkner or any true masterpiece, not because they lack the ability to read but because they lack reading comprehension. Asking a Rowling fan to read literary fiction is the equivalent of sending a pee wee football player to the NFL. They don’t flock to Rowling to indulge in skilled writing; they read Harry Potter because the novel appeases their level of understanding, like handing a child a coloring book.
Imagine Rowling possessed Tolkien’s skill (who people forget worked as a professor and etymologist, giving him a firm understanding of persuasive writing) she would hold legendary status long after passing. Sadly, she and Harry Potter are likely doomed to history’s forgotten series like Fitzgerald’s The Great Brain. So are all writers who choose to make money over honing skills because they only garner readership beneath their ability, whereas master storytellers persuade people who don’t believe, gaining the largest audience. Almost anyone can read Lord of the Rings and enjoy the fantasy, but only fantasy enthusiasts will read The Wheel of Time Series because Tolkien’s persuasiveness more effectively captures a larger audience. More to the point, how effectively did the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass educate racism’s injustice compared to The Turner Diaries’ promotion of racism? The simple measures of longevity and impact are easily viewed in The Turner Diaries, selling a paltry 500,000 copies between 1978 and 2000, while translation, printing, and worldwide reading of Douglass continue since 1854 as The Turner Diaries fades into obscurity. More racists read Douglass than the Turner Diaries simply because of more access through education, exemplifying the Turner Diaries’ failure to persuade academics and most readers.
Sharp, skilled writing pierces the bullshit attempts to replace the craft. You may not believe this if you are endlessly writing, trying to make money, or cannot gain readership. Stuck in the rut of voluminous writing, seeking readers may appear to have no solution, but this is not true. Breakneck writing speeds produce junk. You don’t become a better author writing junk; you just become better at writing more junk. Rather than asking “why” you write, the better question is “how should I write?”
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