Know what motivates your readers (and you)

Posted: 8 October, 2012 in motivation, Reading, writing
Tags: , ,

Everyone is motivated by different things. As a writer you not only need something to keep you motivated to write, you also need to keep in mind what motivates your readers.  What will get them reading your article, book, newsletter or blog?  What will keep them reading?  And what will get them coming back for more?

Studies show that the majority of newspaper readers rarely read past the fourth or fifth paragraph of an average news story. This is because they get most of the information they want in those first paragraphs thanks to the common “inverted triangle” method of writing news stories.

But most writers hope for more than that.  We want you to read it all! We want you to want to read it all.

As both an avid reader and writer, here are a couple of things I try to keep in mind:

  1. Readers want to be entertained (fiction) or educated (non-fiction). If you can do both, fantastic! I don’t mean readers have to be doubled over in laughter or sobbing uncontrollably at every turn of the page, but there has to be something in your words that keeps them reading. This could be witty anecdotes, trivia, real-life examples, recipes, tips for doing something better/quicker/longer, or even some biographical detail that will help get your point across.
  2. Readers need to be emotionally involved. Whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, if your readers can’t relate to or don’t care about your characters or subject it will be difficult to keep them reading. If you can trigger some emotion in your readers they are more likely to stick with your story to the end. Joy, sympathy, humour, envy, admiration, even anger (when properly directed) are great ways to hook your readers.
  3. Readers (as with everyone) prefer to be led, rather than pushed. One of the benefits of great writing is to be able to alter public opinion, or at least give people an alternative opinion to consider. Just don’t make it too obvious about your motives. You are going to get a more positive response from an essay on criminal rights or political policy if you show your audience why you think what you do, using stories, examples, etc, rather than assuming they will simply agree with you.
  4. Readers separate what they have to read from what they want to read. If they have spent their day reading contracts, policies and reports, they don’t want to sit down after work and try to relax with a book or blog filled with the same jargon and four-syllable words that will have them dozing after the first paragraph. If they are reading your book, blog or article and they don’t have to read it for work or study, you need to make sure they want to keep reading. So, if you’re writing light fiction, keep it light. Keep the pace going and don’t get so hung up on details and description that you lose your reader. Some writers who have mastered the fast-paced, page-turning writing style are James Patterson, John Grisham, Tami Hoag and Jeffrey Deaver. These authors write bestsellers because readers can’t put their books down. They have to know what happens next. The authors have turned a want to read into a need to read – the ultimate challenge for any writer.
  5. Know your market. If you’re writing for the university student, you will adopt a very different style than if you were writing for parents. Both will have reading habits motivated by completely different wants and needs. Writing about parenting problems for a student market won’t do anything to increase your readership.

Keeping in mind that everyone’s motivation is different you need to remember you won’t ever please everyone. It’s just not possible. But if you can match your own motivation to your readers’ (ie. You love meeting inspirational people so that’s what you’re writing about) that passion will come through in your writing and you will be more likely to keep your readers reading.

Write on!

  1. ericjbaker says:

    Great advice and well delivered. After I think I’ve finished a piece, I look at the first line and ask, “If I were the reader, would that grab my attention?” Sometimes the answer is no and I have to get back to work.

    • RickyB says:

      Thanks so much! That’s a great question to ask when I finish a piece. I think that’s why it’s so important for writers to be readers as well. I met a man at a recent Readers’ Festival and he spoke about how difficult it had been for him to get his book published over the past 27 years. He then went on to say he hadn’t read a book during that time. Almost three decades and he hadn’t read a book! I was dumbfounded. After hearing this I was amazed his book was published at all. I love reading, as much as I love writing. I can’t imagine one without the other.

  2. RickyB says:

    Funny you should ask – he also gave up writing! A writer who didn’t write for 27 years! He was definitely a unique author to listen to.

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