In my Legacy of Words classes, I spend a good amount of time talking about VALUABLE writing. It isn’t a concept that is original with me, and I present it this way:
Valuable writing informs the reader, engages the reader, and deepens the reader’s understanding of the story, himself, or the world. Not every sentence must do all three, but good sentences will.
Originally, I had used the word “entertain” in this explanation of “valuable” writing, instead of “engage.” Some students, though, thought that meant that every story the told had to be funny or full of plot-points like a Tom Clancy novel. So, I modified my approach to put an emphasis on getting a reader’s reaction, not just making them laugh or gasp. We live in an Entertainment Age, when too often that word is reserved only for over-the-top theatrics. Sometimes, the reaction we want from a reader is much more subtle than that; we want a nod of the head, a sigh, or a pause of recognition.
We not only live in an Entertainment Age, but an Engagement Age as well. Engagement is a buzz-word for those of us who are active in various social media circles. Writers, today, are judged not only by the content of the book or story collection or slate of poems, but by their ability to engage with people on Twitter or Facebook or via their personal blog. Writers who have more “followers” get a step up in the literary line. Those writers who have an active and engaged following in social media circles get even more attention from agents and publishers. So, those of us who are involved in social media try to find ways to get readers to re-Tweet or “share” or “like” or leave a comment. We ask questions we hope people will answer and we write about topics we hope people are interested in, then we sit back and wait to see if anyone takes the bait. And so, as a writer who has a blog, I strive to find ways to add value to my blog posts, but it seems like the “engage” piece of that puzzle often remains lacking. Perhaps I’ve not said something controversial enough to stir a response. Or, maybe, I’ve not provided enough information or increased the reader’s understanding, and therefore, haven’t earned a response. (It has occurred to me that if I would make more typos, that might at least generate a series of, “Hey writer genius, you misspelled a word!” sorts of comments…) As a fiction writer, I want to produce a novel or a short story that will be valuable to the writer. As a blog owner, I want to do the same. I think, most of the time, my fiction can lay claim to meeting that goal. With my blog, I’m still searching for the right formula.
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