How even a small audience can make you a better writer
Want to be a better writer? Get an audience.
Anyone who’s ever given anyone advice about writing has said that to be a better writer, you have to write a lot. But having readers is important too, and not just because it makes you feel like you’re not wasting your time.
“Having an audience can clarify thinking,” writes Clive Thompson in this Wired excerpt adapted from his new book, “Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better.” “It’s easy to win an argument inside your head. But when you face a real audience, you have to be truly convincing.”
When asked to contribute to a wiki—a space that’s highly public and where the audience can respond by deleting or changing your words—college students snapped to attention, carefully checking sources and including more of them to back up their work. Brenna Clarke Gray, an instructor at Douglas College in British Columbia, had her English students create Wikipedia entries on Canadian writers, to see if it would get them to take the assignment more seriously. She was stunned at how well it worked. “Often they’re handing in these essays without any citations, but with Wikipedia they suddenly were staying up till 2 am, honing and rewriting the entries and carefully sourcing everything,” she tells me. The reason, the students explained to her, was that their audience—the Wikipedia community—was quite gimlet-eyed and critical. They were harder “graders” than Gray herself.
EdTech Magazine interviewed Gray about the academic implications of “public learning,” if you’re interested in that side of it.
Thompson argues that “the cognitive shift in going from an audience of zero (talking to yourself) to an audience of 10 (a few friends or random strangers checking out your online post) is so big that it’s actually huger than going from 10 people to a million.”
I couldn’t agree more. Practice, practice, practice, but also: perform. Getting your writing in front of real people, even if they’re just a few readers of your own blog, will force you to reckon with their reactions.