I came across the study that claims the average person now has a shorter attention span than that of a goldfish. Eight seconds. This means most people tend to lose concentration in less than ten seconds.
As an experiment, I read the above paragraph out loud. It took about 10 seconds to complete.
That means I just lost you.
At least the goldfish will swim around its bowl and come back to the same spot. The average reader will have found something more enticing to read.
Watch people standing in line or in any place where they have to wait. It appears few can go any length of time without checking their phone to see if there is a new update.
If you are curious, you can take an online test regarding your attention span. It’s available here on the Psychology Today site.
What is the Writer to do?
You have an enormous challenge as a writer in this age of unyielding and unending media. You are competing every moment for your words to the the ones that are chosen. The job is to communicate using those words. Whether a novelist with a story or a non-fiction writer exploring an idea, you must somehow grab hold of the reader’s attention and never let it go. You can’t use click-bait headlines once they’ve already found your words to read. You aren’t using video (unless you wrote the script for the film). So what do you do?
Compel – (kəmˈpel – verb) – to force or oblige (someone) to do something. For example, a judge can compel a witness to appear using a summons to court.
A writer can compel a reader by writing something that won’t let their attention be distracted. You aren’t forcing them against their will, instead you are drawing them into your words to participate with them in the experience.
It’s easy to say, “be creative,” but it’s harder to actually do. Christopher Booker has a 700 page book called The Seven Basic Plots. If that is true than how can yours be unique?
This is a struggle. The thousands of proposals, queries, and verbal pitches I’ve heard over the years proves the point. It is why there needs to be a “competition” section in your proposal to help distinguish your project from all the others already on the market.
Yet, do not be dismayed. One idea may not work, but the next might. Read widely. Observe life and culture. Discover what people are needing the most.
At the same time, do not ignore the tried and true. The other day I read a science fiction space opera. It had a great opening with the main hero suffering through his fifth year in a dank prison on board a ship. But as I continued to read I started to recognize some of the common tropes of the genre. The hero was an illegitimate son to a Duke. There was turmoil in the empire with a weak but arrogant emperor. There were secrets kept, political intrigue, a forbidden princess, and hidden wealth. All pieces of a story that I could almost predict how it would end. But I kept reading because the “tried and true” still resonated. It was published by a major publisher and the writer had good skills. Was it “creative”? Not in the sense of a groundbreaking-never-before published idea. But it worked as entertainment.
Writing is not an option for you. Especially if you are called to the task. Therefore you must keep striving to improve your craft. Stay ahead of the curve by keeping in touch with your readers and what makes them read.
Today, according to statistics, there will be 2.73 million blog posts written. I’m just glad you stayed with me to finish this one!