You have something to say—something you desperately want to communicate.
You may even believe it comes from on high, that you’re destined to write it for the world to read.
Your motives are even right. The earth, society, your town, people will be enriched by reading what you have to say.
But You’re Afraid
You don’t have to tell me what you’re scared of, because you already have.
In emails, letters, at autograph parties, speaking engagements, and at writer’s conferences—everywhere!
When you’ve mentioned your message—to loved ones, friends, anyone—they tell you or you can see it in their eyes, sometimes in their body language:
They don’t like the way you say it.
You’re not getting the impression that they don’t like you particularly. Or even what you’re saying. How could they? Your message is important! You know this! It’s inspired or it wouldn’t have moved you so or stayed with you this long.
It’s How You Come Off
You don’t want to alienate people, you tell me. That won’t work, you say. You’re not one of those people who don’t get it.
The last thing you want is to go through life spouting opinions like you’ve got a direct line to the Fountain of All Truth while people are rolling their eyes and looking for the exit.
So how, you ask me, are some writers able to get away with this? How do they come off as sages—able to teach and enlighten without coming off as know-it-alls or the dreaded P-word: preachy?
The Come Alongside Secret
It’s all in the approach.
Two writers could communicate the very same truth. One might point his finger in your face and say, in essence, “Here’s what you’re doing wrong and what you ought to do to change and start doing it right.”
The other might say, “Let me tell you about the time I learned a very tough lesson.”
Which are you more likely to listen to?
One is preaching at you, teaching you, eager to make a point.
The other is telling you a story, and when he is finished, he will not even have to turn the spotlight on you to be sure you got the message.
People Love Stories
In fact, readers love them so much, you can give them credit for getting your point without having to shove it down their throats.
Here’s a true example:
As a college freshman, I took pride in how tolerant and inclusive and color-blind I felt. In fact, I was so ignorant of my passive racism that I was shocked one day to be brought up short and humiliated by it.
On my way to class I complimented a black man almost three times my age for performing a menial task. I smiled at him and told him he was doing a good job. He nodded and asked if I would hold up for a second as my friends moved on.
“Didn’t want to embarrass you,” he said.
“Just wanted to ask you if you ever complimented a white man for painting a wall?”
Puzzled that he somehow wasn’t pleased, I said, “Uh, no sir, I guess I have not.”
“Can you understand how that makes me feel, to have a young man like yourself praise me for doing something that anyone could do?”
To suddenly face such ugliness in myself stunned me to silence, and I could only nod in shame. I’d rather he had slapped me in the face, as I deserved. Nearly 50 years later it haunts me.
When finally I found my voice, I whispered, “Forgive me.”
He said, “Of course, brother. Now make us both glad this happened.”
Resist the Urge to Explain
Give your reader credit. A mistake after sharing the anecdote above would be for me to make sure you got the point, ask if you’d ever had a similar experience, work at making you apply the truth of it to your life.
Why? Because the story makes its own point!
What will you do to communicate your message without being preachy? Tell me in Comments below.