Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t by Steven Pressfield is my favorite book of writing advice. Its core insight is expressed in the title. The best thing you can do for your writing is to internalize this deep truth.
Pressfield did it by writing ad copy. You can’t avoid internalizing that nobody wants to read your shit when you’re writing ads, which everybody hates and nobody ever wants to read. Maybe you don’t have to go write ad copy to understand this; maybe you can just read the book, or just this post.
When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, your mind becomes powerfully concentrated. You begin to understand that writing/reading is, above all, a transaction. The reader donates his time and attention, which are supremely valuable commodities. In return, you the writer must give him something worthy of his gift to you.
When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, you develop empathy. [...] You learn to ask yourself with every sentence and every phrase: Is this interesting? Is it fun or challenging or inventive? Am I giving the reader enough? Is she bored? Is she following where I want to lead her?
What should you do about the fact that nobody wants to read your shit?
- Streamline your message. Be as clear, simple, and easy to understand as you possibly can.
- Make it fun. Or sexy or interesting or scary or informative. Fun writing saves lives.
- Apply this insight to all forms of communication.
Pressfield wrote this book primarily for fiction writers, who are at the most serious risk of forgetting that nobody wants to read their shit (source: am fiction writer). But the art of empathy applies to all communication, and so do many other elements of fiction:
Nonfiction is fiction. If you want your factual history or memoir, your grant proposal or dissertation or TED talk to be powerful and engaging and to hold the reader and audience's attention, you must organize your material as if it were a story and as if it were fiction. [...]
What are the universal structural elements of all stories? Hook. Build. Payoff. This is the shape any story must take. A beginning that grabs the listener. A middle that escalates in tension, suspense, and excitement. And an ending that brings it all home with a bang. That's a novel, that's a play, that's a movie. That's a joke, that's a seduction, that's a military campaign. It's also your TED talk, your sales pitch, your Master's thesis, and the 890-page true saga of your great-great-grandmother's life.
And your whitepaper, and your grant proposal, and your EA forum post. For this reason, I do recommend going out and grabbing this book, even though much of it concerns fiction. It only takes about an hour to read, because Pressfield knows we don’t want to read his shit. Finally:
All clients have one thing in common. They're in love with their product/company/service. In the ad biz, this is called Client's Disease. [...]
What the ad person understands that the client does not is that nobody gives a damn about the client or his product. [...]
The pros understand that nobody wants to read their shit. They will start from that premise and employ all their arts and all their skills to come up with some brilliant stroke that will cut through that indifference.
The relevance of this quote to EA writing is left as an exercise to the reader.