Does Your Reader Trust You?

There’s a famous photo of Lyndon B. Johnson sitting despondently, with his head in his hands after he learned that, in a rare moment of editorializing, the venerable CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite characterized the Vietnam War as all but lost.

For nineteen tumultuous years, millions of Americans had tuned in every night to hear Walter Cronkite report on the state of affairs. When Walter Cronkite spoke, America listened.

Do our readers trust us that much?

Trust is a multilayered thing built over time. Here are a few qualities that Cronkite had that writers who seek to cultivate trust should consider:

1.  Authenticity

As writers, we have to speak the truth as we know it, no matter our genre. Sometimes this requires that we show parts of ourselves we’d prefer to keep hidden, including perhaps our vulnerabilities.

2.  Accuracy

As writers, we must recognize our biases, acknowledge what we don’t know, and avoid distortion or otherwise lift things from context. We have to separate fact from opinion, and give credit where credit is due.

3. Consistency

We must also present a consistent level of quality. If we have cultivated a voice, that voice has to be there as resonant as ever. If we have adopted a position or a theme, our treatment of it has to build in a direction a reader has come to expect.

4. Delivery

Cronkite set the bar for eloquent, measured, and calm delivery—exactly what you’d want from a news anchor. Even in the most emotional of times, his voice held the ground and in this, his listeners felt safe, which is fertile territory for building trust. The anchorman cultivated an effective voice—a perfect fit for delivering the news—but any writer needs to do the same. Fiction or nonfiction, whatever our purpose or goal, we too have to consider our delivery. Our tone and voice must fit the work and be such that the reader is able to absorb our words.

5. Faith

If we want our readers’ trust, we can’t do anything halfway. If we’re bored, or our emotional life is a mess, or we are writing by rote—these things will show. If we have lost faith in the value of what we do, this too will show. A good writing day or a bad one, it comes down to caring—and doing. Perhaps we need to take a break. Perhaps we need a vacation. But nothing goes out until it’s as perfect as we can make it.

Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo of Walter Cronkite widely cited in reverse image search including at http://www.worldculturepictorial.com/blog/archive/all/2009/7/19; LBJ at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam, Life Magazine, November 4, 1966; General Westmoreland in the foreground, http://faculty.smu.edu/dsimon/Change-Viet2.html among other sources.

What Went Right

We’re pushing into the end of the year, which is a great time to assess what’s what, our writing lives included.

Take this blog, for example. Last week, I looked at what went wrong. Today, I consider what went right.

At nearly a year old, I can report that a few things came together well: I had a plan that was based on a good idea of what I wanted, and why. I also had great tech and editorial support, and I found the hours to work. This is all good, but in addition to these basics, I received some gifts—three things I never expected, which helped me out and taught me a lot.

Buzz

When I sit down to write a post, I think about what I’m trying to say and if I’ve achieved it. I’m not thinking of how it will play. So when something catches fire, it comes as a shock and it’s a chance to learn. What’s this? Was a particular theme involved? A tone? A story? Was it the one about the kiss, or one of the China posts? Was it the one about crashing a party through the alley? Keeping secrets? Creating illusion? When something flares, I learn and will use this information as I plan my next year.  

Tenderness

I was unprepared for the spam. I visualize it as nasty robots tossing trash around cyber ground, and it turns out that’s exactly right. My garbage came largely from the Netherlands and Russia. It was only after I seized control of my mailbox that I could hear my real readers. Their remarks and questions held an honesty, even vulnerability, which I admired. I was grateful for the real deal. I took it as a gift, and of course, I always answer.

Direction

No matter what I write, I aim for clarity, illumination.  It’s a direction, not a destination.  When it comes to an art form, there is no final destination. There is only where you’re headed, your thumb stuck out and a pleasant look plastered on your face. And once in a while, if you’re lucky, someone stops and gives you a ride. That’s luck on top of luck, the bedrock being that you’re on the road at all, pointed in a well defined and chosen direction.

So, in this mini-series, as we wind up the year, my tally is that five things went wrong and three things came as gifts. All learning moments, but there’s still more. Next week, we look at what else came, the smaller packages, the penny candy.


Photo credits: both images: Stockvault.net