One of the very first things I do when I work with authors on their books is to have them imagine one specific reader. One familiar-faced, I-know-you-in-real-life kind of reader. Not a “compilation-of-some-people-you-know” kind of reader. Not an “imaginary-made-up-for-marketing-purposes-ideal-reader” kind of reader.
One person who’s face you can picture and who’s name you know and who’s very being you adore.
Without even trying. You just love them.
Pick that person. Then write the book or the article or the poem to them.
To be fair, I work with almost exclusively non-fiction writers—usually creative non-fiction—so I can’t say certainly if this advice carries over to other genres, but after writing 12 books and coaching hundreds of authors, I can tell you this one shift in perspective changes everything about the writing process and outcome.
I was telling friend recently that my most recent manuscript, which hasn’t been published yet, is different than anything I’ve ever written. It came out more quickly and easily, is more raw, and I believe is deeper and richer and better than other things I’ve written. Some of this, of course, comes from gaining experience (your most recent book should be your best book).
But also, I told her, I did something different this time.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“I wrote it like a love letter.”
There are several things this approach did for me and I believe it can do the same thing for you if you give it a try.
First of all, it virtually eliminates writer’s block.
I always tell writers that writer’s block isn’t so much writer’s block as it is life block. When we don’t know what to say, it’s usually because we don’t know what we think, what we believe, how we feel. When your words fall flat on the page, it’s not because your grammar sucks. It’s because you have lost touch with yourself.
Nothing puts you back in touch with yourself faster than being with someone you love.
Our families. Our lovers. Our pets. Our kids. Our friends.
When we’re with the people we love, we talk and listen and argue and gush and ask questions and laugh and say whatever comes to mind and guess at answers and edit as we go. We feel all of it, all the feelings—the grit and humor and transcendence and transformation and tension we so crave in a piece of writing.
If you’re stuck on a specific piece of writing, or stuck knowing you want to write but not knowing where to start, try writing it like a letter to someone you love.
Second, this approach makes your writing deeply personal and human.
Writing is relationship.
We forget this, I think, and reduce writing to this very forced, stilted, mechanical thing we do. Writers I work with struggle the most often when they’re trying to show up to the page all buttoned and laced—to make their sentences flow perfectly and their grammar impeccable instead of just getting it on the page.
Writing is conversation. Communication.
When you’re communicating with someone directly and personally, you don’t waste too much time worrying that what you say is the last and final word on something, or that it has to be spoken with perfect grammar, or any of that. You look in the person’s eye and talk to them like a human and take the feedback and edit and change course as you go.
You may get hung up, but when you do you adjust and keep things flowing.
No perfection needed.
Where have we come up with this idea that writing is some elite activity and only certain people can be good at it?
Writing is so terribly and beautifully human.
No wonder we all lose interest when you distill all of your humanity out of your writing.
Finally, this approach keeps you motivated and moving forward.
On those not-so-infrequent days when your “graceful-writer-in-the-coffee-shop, light-streaming-in-the-window” fantasies have been crushed once more, and you find yourself perusing Twitter for the second hour in a row instead of doing the writing you promised yourself you’d do, and then judging yourself for not sticking with your plan, and then berating yourself for judging yourself…
Love is motivating.
It will get your fingers moving when you feel frozen and terrified.
It will get your butt out of bed in the morning when you want to hit snooze for the fifth time. It will wake you up in the middle of the night when you suddenly have that dream that clarifies everything.
When you have something specific to say to someone you love, it feels dire, doesn’t it? Urgent. Secret. Life-or-death.
Pretend that’s the case with your writing, since it is.
Write it to the person you wish you could talk to, but can’t, for all kinds of terrible and ridiculous and totally practical reasons.
Write it to the person who holds your heart.
Write it to that part of yourself that you finally have compassion for.
To your kids.
To your parents.
To your partner.
Bring all the energy that you bring there, to your writing. All the passion. All the intensity. All the anger. All the fear. All of the joy and the gumption and the tenacity and the bravado and the surrender. Bring it all.
See what happens. I dare you.