I attended a webinar held by Emily P. Freeman on writing to better serve your audience. I didn’t really know what to expect from the webinar. I had simply received an email and signed up, reserving some personal time for myself on Thursday night. Out of nowhere and completely unexpectedly, this webinar might have been life changing.
The main concept I took away was the idea of writing for your reader and not for your critic. A writer is always told to know who their reader is. A marketer should know their audience. It’s a no-brainer that even someone not familiar with writing or marketing would most likely agree with. I’ve known this concept for many, many years, yet I haven’t fully adopted that strategy here on the blog.
I realized I was lacking when Emily told the story of her reader. She shared a profile so littered with specifics that I felt like I’d met a new friend. Her reader wasn’t simply “women age 30-45.” Her reader’s name was Heidi and she lives on the East Coast. She attends a large evangelical church and has two kids, a son and a daughter. She writes from home and yet still feels like a fraud as she’s sometimes unsure of her ability and worth. She works to make a beautiful home and creates awesome outfits on the cheap. As a matter of a fact, Anthropologie is her favorite store, and she only buys things from the sale rack. (I feel ya sister!)
I hope I remembered all of those details correctly. Can you relate to Heidi? If you’re like me, you can probably even think of something to talk to her about if you found yourself in the same room today. And we can all certainly agree that we understand her more than “women 30-45.”
Heidi is somewhat of a real person, a real reader of Emily’s work. Some characteristics were added from other of Emily’s readers, and those qualities combined create a synopsis of who her reader is. Most importantly though, this description gives Emily a persona to write to and it helps her stay focused on who her audience really is and what they need to hear from her.
You see, Emily says that we can either write for our reader or for our critic – we can’t write to both. I immediately wanted to hide under the couch and erase everything I’ve ever written, sending this space here up in flames.
I’ve noticed before that if I’m not careful my writing can become defensive. I’ll make a statement or share a truth and then immediately launch into explaining or justifying myself. I’ll neutralize my thoughts or beliefs a bit to hopefully not open myself up to too much criticism. I’ve even told Matthew that I deliberately don’t work to grow this community because I am so afraid of coming face to face with the trolls. Have you read the comment section on some bigger sites?? It’s insanely disturbing and I don’t want comments like those directed at me. No one does. What I didn’t realize though, is that by sugar-coating my message or justifying every little thing here, I miss a chance to connect more with you guys. I use my energy to justify everything and get distracted from my original message. It’s exhausting for me and it’s not fair to you. As Emily said, you can’t write for your reader and your critic, you must choose one. I know with certainty that I want to write for YOU, not the hypothetical critic that I’ve created in my mind.
I thought more about who my reader is and I realized something profound. There are so many faces I can see so clearly! Within just seconds of thinking about who my messages are meant for, who I want to serve and encourage and support, I saw a plethora of faces of lovely women that I’m lucky to know, some in real life and some from the world wide web.
These women are different ages and they all love people unconditionally. They strive to be the best versions of themselves possible and encourage this growth in others as well. They create beautiful spaces around them, often making something out of nothing. They, too, shop the sale racks and place emphasis on frugality, even when they don’t have to. These wonderful women keep a watchful eye on the world around them, always wishing they could interject more kindness and less hate. They’re introspective, always looking to learn something and grow. These women are the women in your circles who lift you up, encourage you, support your dreams, and you’re happy to be around. These are my people. This is my tribe.
As I thought about my wonderful reader more, I realized that I could see so many actual faces of people I know from around the world. As I flashed through the faces of these diverse women, I felt so safe and supported. And most importantly, I felt encouraged to continue this journey and to seek bravery, all because so many of you have been such a wonderful example for me to follow. For that, I’d like to say thank you. Meagan, Ashlee, Lesli, Angie, Brittany, Sammy, Taylor, Jackie, Elizabeth, Shonda, Meghan – you are just a few of the beautiful women that came to mind. When I think of you, I think of how encouraging you are to everyone around you, not just to me. I think of your kind and loving hearts and the many things you do to love others. I think of the bright, unwavering light that you shine out into the world and I thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for being a part of my life.
As I thought about some of these women specifically, and saw their faces smiling back at me, I regretted spending so much time writing for that critic and trying to protect myself from a different, hypothetical audience. I knew right away that I wanted to work to find the courage to speak only to these women and others, and to be strong enough to take the negativity if it comes. I knew that I had a stronger, more authentic message to share and that by doing just that, not holding back, I had a greater chance of impacting someone’s life and making these women proud.
This isn’t just a message about writing. What are we missing out on in our daily lives, our careers, or our families by living in fear? There are so many areas of our lives in which we fear the critic, and sadly, they are out there. However, fear of that darkness prohibits us from being our best selves and offering up our best work. My meditation this morning read, “Fear and Faith are directly opposite views of the future and they cannot co-exist.” These words by Vic Johnson were so connected to the message I’d received the night before.
I want to live by faith in all areas of my life and not doing so with my writing means I’m writing through fear. I want to have faith that my tribe will understand my words, and even when/if they disagree, they’ll still be loving and considerate. I want to have faith that the hours and hours I spend writing will indeed impact people in some way. I want to have faith that more people will support me than not, and I can’t say I’ve focus on that faith thus far. Instead, the fear has been too great. Truth be told, I’m rather sensitive and the thought of alienating someone with my words or providing an open door for criticism, has been intensely scary since the very beginning. And that fear has shown up in my work. That fear has kept me from delivering a true and vulnerable message and I want to set that fear to the side. Instead, I want to write with faith. Faith that my true audience will be kind, considerate, and respectful. I want to have faith that I put myself out there in this way and share my thoughts with the world for a reason, in hopes that these musings will make someone’s life bigger or better in some way.
I’m inviting you to come along with me on this journey of vulnerability and truth. I am committing to asking the critic to leave when I see him show up in my writing, and I’m committing to bringing the truth as I know it to YOU. You are a wonderful group of people doing spectacular things and I’m incredibly appreciative to get to be a part of your lives. Thank you for that opportunity and for your continued support.