Your beach is not the one they are looking for

I haven’t lived up to my name much lately. I haven’t written many words in the last few weeks and I’ve set foot in the sand just a couple of times.

The latter is likely a significant cause of the former. I do my best work creatively when I regularly seek out and soak in the inspiration of the natural world around me. Sleep is important too. But none of those were abundant for me in November.

Why? Quincy.

Quincy and his stick

Quincy playing with sticks at Hanna Beach.
Photo by Jeff Janda

Quincy is a yellow Labrador puppy we added to our family November 9th.

Bringing Quincy into our lives destroyed our pre-puppy schedule. Our days were immediately different and sleep was scarce for the first week. That’s all to be expected, of course, when a baby joins a family.

We’re all adjusting to new routines now, and slowly adding back in those activities pushed aside by the urgency of housebreaking and socializing a puppy. Quincy is adjusting to living with a writer, taking naps under my desk while he’s still small enough to fit there.

Quincy at a tidal pool on Hanna Beach

Quincy resisting wading into a tidal pool on Hanna Beach.
Photo by Jeff Janda

When we did manage to grab some beach time amidst the recent craziness, we introduced Quincy to the sun, sand, and water that will be a big part of his life now that he’s a part of ours. It didn’t take long for him to discover the joy of running through the sand and splashing with us in the surf. He was a bit suspicious about tidal pools but finally followed our daughter into one.

During our most recent beach walk, Quincy was trotting up ahead of us, looking back and bouncing around in circles urging us to hurry up. Every shell he came across went first into his mouth and then into our hands, and back to the sand. Every stick was scooped up by Quincy and displayed proudly until he reached the next one, always dropping the old in favor of the new.

It was all new to Quincy. And that made it all new again for us.

I’ve written before about how viewing (or reviewing) something from a different perspective helps with the editing process. And seeing things differently than most of our peers is the essence of creativity. It’s also an important part of knowing your audience.

You have to be able to look at what you’re writing from the perspective of your reader to inform, persuade, or entertain.

Quincy watching

Quincy watching gulls at Hanna Beach.

When I take people to my favorite beach, I point out where we watch dolphins play, where and how we find shells, sea glass, and shark teeth, and how the sun setting behind us reflects back on the ocean and eastern horizon. When I take Quincy to my beach, I show him where he can find sticks, watch (and hope to chase) sea gulls, and run for long stretches in the sand and sunshine. Different visitors want to experience the same beach in their own way.

Knowing your audience can be as simple as focusing on their interests and guiding them toward their goals. You don’t have to share those goals, or agree with their perspectives, but you do have to understand their views if you want to create something with impact. Find out what they’re looking for, what they want to know, what they didn’t realize they were lacking, and give it to them.

Imagine looking at your beach through their eyes, and then show them what they want to see.

Hanna Beach Sparkly

Sun-sparkled sand and surf at Hanna Beach.

 

 

Photos attributed to Jeff Janda are used here with his permission. See more of Jeff’s beach photography by following beachpoet on Instagram.

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All kinds of people


Crowded Jax Beach

Busy Jax Beach, Jan, 1, 2012

People are drawn to the beach by many things.

The waves attract surfers, body boarders, kayakers, and splashers of all ages. The water attracts swimmers and fishermen.

The sea spits out a daily dose of shells for the beachcombers.

The sand provides a soft landing spot for sunbathers and ample open space for the recreation of throwing footballs and frisbees, flying kites, playing bocce ball and tossing beanbags. The sand is also the building material of sand castles, simple and elaborate, the backdrop for sand writers and artists, and the hiding spot for treasures revealed by passing metal detectors.

The sun is there for everyone.

The beach is home to is a seemingly endless supply of wildlife to watch and interact with. Sea gulls and pigeons scavenge and kvetch. Ospreys and pelicans soar over head and then plunge into the water to come up with dinner. Crabs, sea stars, and other creatures that hug the coast move about in the shallows and on the sand. Jellyfish and occasionally something bigger become stranded on land as the tide recedes. Dolphins, sharks, and more can be spotted offshore with a sharp eye.

The beach is also home to people who have no home.

The beach serves as an outdoor gym for walkers, runners, and bicyclists. And it’s a wonderful people watching locale, topping both the mall and the airport as a gathering place for all kinds of people.

All kinds of people visit the beach to enjoy what it has to offer them. The same is true for your writing.

When writers follow the commandment to know your audience, we tend to focus on our target audience. That is as it should be. But it’s also important to remember that all kinds of people may come into contact with our writing, and to think about what our blog post, article, procedure, manual, course, or book has to offer them.

We shouldn’t try to be all things to all people, but it’s good to be aware that there are multiple perspectives, desires, and goals held by our readers. Our target audience is our primary reader, sure, but not the only one.

Keeping that in mind allows us to get to know our audience a little better.

 

 

Nobody reads the manual?

Google nobody reads the manual¬†and you’ll get a list of pages that range from tech writers lamenting that their efforts are wasted to tech support complaining that they get calls from users who not only don’t read but probably can’t read the manual. It’s all very negative, not toward the manual itself, but toward the reader, or more accurately, the non-reader.

Just last weekend my husband asked me to hand him the manual for our car. He wasn’t looking to cure insomnia and he didn’t start at the beginning and read straight through. What he wanted to know was what type of power steering fluid to buy and add to the car. In years past he has consulted the manual for other important information such as the correct type of coolant and the location of the serial number of our factory-installed radio.

As I watched him thumb through the pages to the desired information and then hand the manual back to me, I remembered that nobody reads the manual and wondered why we accept that as truth? And why we blame the reader?

One of the most basic tips for writers is to know (and respect) your audience. If the manual is going to be read, who will be doing the reading? What information do they want? Need?

A manual is not likely to be read cover to cover like a novel. In my experience it is usually consulted to solve a specific problem and even then only as a last, or next to last, resort. It’s safe to say that the average manual reader is already out of patience before opening the cover and searching for a table of contents or index.

If we want a manual to be read, it must be written with the end user, the reader, in mind rather than written to please an executive or a technical writer.

If we organize and write manuals in a way that makes sense to their readers, with the information readers want most easily accessible, the manual still won’t be read in the traditional sense, but it just might be used in a pinch before resorting to calling tech support.

And isn’t that really what a manual is for?