The Roundabout Blog
Relevance: A Self-Test With Four Questions
Phil Whitmarsh on 11/11/2014
As our team gets together and kicks around the issues of the day or week, we often come back to questions about the who’s, what’s, and why’s of creativity. Who creates? What are they creating? Why are they creating?
Writers and authors like to talk about their books and why they write. A lot of people tell us they’re motivated by sharing important information to help others. Many writers say they like to entertain readers, maybe with a conjured story, intriguing characters, or a collection of shorter poems or pieces. Some authors share their experience so that an historic event or specific story isn’t lost or forgotten.
We often come back to this word that seems to sum up so many people take pen to paper or fingers to keyboard: relevance. Whether we write business nonfiction, self-help, novels, poetry, or memoirs, we’re sharing ideas, descriptions of people or places, events, that we believe others will find relevant. The more relatable the writing is to the reader, the more likely it will resonate with them.
I love these words “resonance” and “resonate,” because they so perfectly describe how readers respond to a book or information that’s right for them. Resonance is “the prolongation of sound by reflection or reverberation.” If you read something that’s significant to you or that you particularly enjoy, you’re more likely to continue its course by sharing the message with others. This might cause you to tell another person about what you’ve read, enter into a discussion about the subject, or buy another copy of the book for a friend or colleague.
Relevance speaks to purpose, importance, applicability, and bearing. Here are four questions to ask yourself as you consider what you write and why.
1) What is the primary purpose of your writing? Those who write to benefit others or to share good information can often identify success more quickly than those who write to sell ten thousand books or to make a lot of money. Knowing that each copy of their book has the potential to help another person, saving someone from some difficulty, or inspiring someone to keep trying in the face of adversity can easily feel like success—because it is.
2) How important is your book’s message to your reader? Can your book’s financial instructions help your readers achieve significant savings? Can your investment suggestions result in greater wealth or faster growth? Does your memoir provide insights that protect a reader from a similar catastrophic misstep?
3) How will your book’s information or story be applied to your reader’s experience? Will readers identify with your characters’ experiences? Can they apply the information or advice to their own life or situation? Perhaps your ideas or information will provide a-ha moments for your audiences, shining a light on a new perspective or point of view than they’ve considered before.
4) How does your writing help you maintain your personal bearing and direction? Considering the goals you’ve identified and the successes you want to achieve, how does your book further the course you’ve plotted? This can vary widely depending upon your personal goals and what you want to accomplish. Using your book to build greater professional credibility, to establish your voice in your industry, or add your voice to those of similar writers in your genre.
Is relevance necessary? Some would say “no.” They might argue that they write for themselves first. If others are affected or if their writing resonates with an audience, that’s okay with them. But they may write from their own necessity, for their own catharsis. They may fill journals or diaries without ever imagining that their writing is relevant or sometimes worthy enough to share. That’s not the goal for them.
Others would say “yes, relevance is necessary.” Without relevance; without affecting others in some way or another, what’s the purpose in writing? If they aren’t affecting readers with their writings, they might just as well sit and meditate on their hilltop and never share their ideas or stories with others. That’s not to suggest that arrogance is a necessity, but a healthy sense of ego is one of the usual ingredients in a motivated author.
Whether you claim relevance as a motivating factor, or merely accept that relevance is, well, relevant to your work, considering how your writing or books relate to your audiences can help you build more success over time. Think about the purpose of your writing, the importance of its function, how your readers might apply what you’ve shared, and how your writing also helps you on your plotted course to achieve your desired goals!