Twenty-six Letters

antique-typewriter-keys

When a storyteller chooses writing as the medium for their craft, all they have is twenty-six letters and a flat sheet of paper (or a screen, of course) to convey the entire range of emotion, the rise and fall of worlds that exist only in their mind, and the details of specific moments. They sculpt entire people–complete with thoughts, prejudices, relationships, fears, and beliefs separate from their own–out of the way they combine smudges of ink.

Writing for yourself is cathartic, valid, and entertaining, but the moment your intended audience stretches beyond one person, things change. If you want to entertain people, you have to tell stories they want to follow. You have to combine those twenty-six letters to transfer pictures from your mind into readers’ minds.

Lately, I’ve seen people who think that writing for anyone else taints the art form. But telling a story isn’t so two dimensional–not if you want anyone else to read it. I would even argue that there is more challenge when you write for others. That’s not to say that you change the story from the one you have to tell, but if you want others to read your story, you have to tell it in a way that invites them into your world.

I think part of the issue is that there is a myth that every story will have someone waiting to read it. All you must do is write that story, toss it out your window into the world and hungry readers are waiting to devour it. The reality is readers are having to wade through an internet full of stories that they do not want to read and it makes them cynical and harder to hook. Today, readers are looking for as many excuses to drop a book as they are to pick it up. If you have a story to share, presenting it is your responsibility.

Writers need to respect the craft of writing, and the craft of sharing their stories. You have to offer a quality product to readers, but you also have to help them find it. The story is yours to tell, but when you offer it to others to read you enter into a partnership of sorts. You tell a reader this story is worth it–and then every single page has to tell them it’s worth turning. Every reader has been burned by a book that wasn’t worth their time, their money, or their attention. Your story has to contend with that. You have to regain their trust, you have to fulfill your promises and remind them why they’re a reader in the first place. And all you have is twenty-six letters to do it.