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Puppets: the no 1 worst mistake you can make in your writing … or your business

Some years back, I knew a guy who started a business making puppets. This was long before the ‘Being John Malkovich‘ movie put puppets on the map (even if it didn’t really set out to make them cool again).

To this day, I don’t know how he hit on the idea. But making puppets was something he could do, and he seemed to enjoy. So he thought he could turn his hobby into a business.

Guess what? He didn’t sell any puppets. They weren’t bad puppets, you understand. That were probably pretty good, hand made and all that.

But there just isn’t a market for hand made puppets. Or any kind of puppets really.

He had made the classic business mistake: make something because that’s what you want to make, and then try to sell it to someone.

In business, you do market research, find out what people want, what they will pay money for, and provide it. That’s a business.

Making puppets blindly, then hoping there is a market, that’s a hobby at best, or more likely, a recipe for disaster.

Years later, the guy is an architect, so he’ll probably do OK in life. I think the experience really, really put him off puppets as well, which is probably a good thing.

So, writing? Well, similar principles apply. And I’m not just talking about writing for money, or in professional environments. Even if you write only for pleasure, you still need to consider the reader. In fact, scratch that. You don’t just consider the reader. You have to put them first.

Whatever you are writing, it’s not about you. It’s not what you want to say that matters, it’s the reader that’s important. How will they benefit from reading this? What insights will they take from it? What will they learn? Why should they care?

Take poetry. You know what marks out the ‘amateur’ poet? Emoting. Writing about their feelings.

Now, a ‘professional’ poet uses words to recreate a feeling, to help the reader share that experience. The poet creates an emotion, a feeling within the reader, using words. Everything is geared towards creating that effect: it’s all about the reader. Whereas the ‘amateur’ is just writing about himself.

So, in business, writing, or most other areas of life, it’s not about you. It’s about them.

Photo by Roberto Rizzato

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