Recently I came across an article by Stephen Pressfield that reminded me my readers are  “donating [their] time and attention, which are supremely valuable commodities.”  I owe it to them to give something valuable, whether that be a well-told story, important information, or a new way of thinking about an old idea.

But giving a good gift isn’t easy. One Christmas, for example, I gave my mother a painting of three women, depicted in warm Caribbean colors, walking home from market carrying pitchers of water and baskets of food. My mother never hung that painting. It didn’t fit in her house, didn’t resonate with her experience. My gift had everything to do with me, and nothing to do with her.

That experience helped me understand the best gifts honor the needs, interests, and passions of the receiver. They are born of empathy, even as they have been informed by the giver’s expertise and understanding. The same is true, I think, of the best writing.

Now, when I sit to write, I work hard to practice a skill Pressfield calls indispensable: the “ability to switch back and forth in your imagination from your own point of view as you write . . . to the point of view of your imagined audience.”

Working this way helps me anticipate and respond to my readers’ needs, answer their questions, and make clear the chain of thinking that leads from one idea to the next. In this way, I do my best to honor the time and attention my readers give me.


Steve Brown

Consulting Faculty

The Writers’ Exchange