My husband and I just returned from staying a few days with family that is hospitable down to their toes. I am grateful for the relaxing time we spent with them. They seem to know the most important way to make guests comfortable is to make them feel welcomed. And we did feel welcomed.
I am not gifted in this area—though, of course, I should by this time in my life have improved. Someone like Shauna Niequist, author of Bread & Wine, would want to give me remedial instruction if she met me. But I do know that for the average person, even people like me without highly developed hospitality, it can be achieved. Even if you don’t create fantastic, Downton Abbey multi-course meals and even if your house is The Middle “lived in.” You just have to make a little effort.
It occurred to me that a kind of hospitality is important in all types of writing too. The reader is most comfortable—and receptive—if they feel invited and welcomed into what you have written. But it’s possible to be inhospitable without meaning to.
Of course, I recommend the full-on editorial process for anything to be professionally (or self) published, but here are three basics that can make anything you write in a welcoming manner, even for an email or blog post. Maybe they seem too basic, but you can probably think of times you wish someone—or you—had considered these steps.
- Keep it simple. Guests do not need a seven-course meal on china to feel welcomed. In fact, it might make them so uncomfortable that they feel they are merely on an agenda rather than welcomed. When you write, try to avoid flowery language, stilted language, and “big” words. If only the most scholarly of readers can understand what you are trying to say without a dictionary, your “guest” may bolt or at least skim and miss out on all or part of your message.
- Be thorough. Do your guests feel welcomed if you forgot to tell them yours was a costume party and they show up in street clothes? Uh, no. It’s easy to dash off what you want to say without ensuring you said what you meant to say and everything you should have said. Read through what you have written to see if everything needed is there and makes sense. Even a blog post can be missing a point that will help the reader "get" your message.
- Run a spell check. If you accepted an invitation to dinner at someone’s house, you would at least expect to be handed a clean paper plate for the slice of pizza with your name on it. If the living room sports stacks of clean laundry, even those young and harried parents will probably clean off the couch so you can sit down. The results of a spell check before you hit Send or Publish are probably not going to be noticed, but the results of skipping one could be. Do your readers the courtesy of a little clean-up that says, “I know you’re here and I’m glad to see you.” They don't necessarily expect perfection, but a little effort makes a difference.
For readers and writers, this advice is simple. Do you think it has application even for book authors? How so?