Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Writers write for many reasons. But readers seldom care what motivates an author. Instead, readers subconsciously ask every writer–whether it be a composer of ads, a journalist, a magazine feature writer, or an author, “Why are you telling me this?”
How might a writer respond?
- To sell you something (and keep my job).
- To tell you that you’re not the only person to feel that emotion, that you’re not alone.
- To scare you or to give you a thrill.
- To motivate you to change your behavior.
- To change your mind and heart.
- To make money.
- To be famous.
- To entertain you.
- To inform you.
- Because I need to tell someone, and that just ended up being you.
The answers are revealing. And hopefully lead the writer to ask him or herself a question:
Am I proud of my answer?
And perhaps some followup questions:
- Is this something only I can say?
- Or is my way of saying it unique?
- If not, should I be writing this?
- Is this essential for someone to say?
- What potential difference can my writing make in someone’s life? Or someone’s day?
The genesis for this blog post is an article I read in Publishers Weekly. Camille Perri writes about an interview with short-story writer and creative writing instructor Amy Hempel. In the interview, Hempel was asked, What’s one piece of advice you give your students?
Her response was a question: “Why are you telling me this?”
It’s a question that digs deep, if the writer lets it, into not only a writer’s motivations but also the writer’s desired effect. It forces one to ask if the work is contributing to others’ lives, if the piece’s focus needs to be changed, if the work should be abandoned altogether because the answers to the question reveal flawed thinking about just how imperative it is that the manuscript be written at all, let alone be read.
And now it’s your turn. I ask you, “Why are you telling me this?” If you’d like, share your answer with us. What have you read lately that made you wonder why the writer felt the need to tell you that particular thing?
Writers: How would you respond to the question, Why are you telling me this? Click to tweet.
Every writer should ask: Why am I telling you this? Click to tweet.
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