Writing Without an Audience in Mind

Write without keeping your audience in mind, and you will alienate readers right away. Writing requires that you exhibit “soft skill,” which is a combination of skills related to communication style, understanding of language and conventions, personal habits and social adeptness. Disregard these skills, and your audience will know you are churlish.

The U.S. Department of Labor considers soft skill application so critical enough for workplace success that they have produced a curriculum called “Soft Skills to Pay the Bills—Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace Success.” The learning activities focus on six soft skills: communication, enthusiasm and attitude, teamwork, networking, problem solving and critical thinking, and professionalism. However, one of the most important skills professionals need today is the ability to communicate clearly, effectively and professionally with readers. Anything less is rude.

My homeowners’ association wins the Broad Nib Creek Studio Fatal Flaw in Writing Prize of the Year (2014) for their attempt at either humor or self-aggrandizement.

Where I live, burning brush is a big deal. It seems there’s always a considerable amount to clear, and the easiest way to take care of the piles of it is to burn it. But naturally there are plenty of rules around the burning of brush, as there should be. Physical and property safety are priorities, and it’s the landowner’s responsibility to ensure that surrounding landowners and their property are also safe.

Before I can even think about lighting a brush pile, I have to consider whether or not there is a burn ban, the time of day,  wind and temperature, location of the burn, additional water sources for emergency flare-ups, and whether I can be near the fire from first flame to last ember. The property-owner’s manual also informs me this regarding outdoor burning: “Burning shall not be conducted during periods of actual predicted low-level atmospheric temperature inversions.”

Really? Convolution makes for a poor writing strategy and even poorer communication, particularly when writing about safety expectations. There is a time and a place for wit, and the manual isn’t a good place for wit, especially if that is the one and only attempt at it. I know; I had time to read the whole thing while keeping the burn pile in sight and mind.

Writers should do the same for their readers: keep good communication in sight and mind.

Trust the Road, Watch for Deer

If people from other parts of Texas, like from the Permian Basin or Houston ask you where you live, and you tell them “the Texas Hill Country,” they smile and wish they too could one day move to the hill country. If you tell them you live in Wimberley, they sigh wistfully and say, “Ah, Wimberley!”

Indeed. Living here in the Hill Country is not so easy. Getting around is even more difficult.

If you’re going to live in the Texas Hill Country, you must learn to do two things: Trust the road, and watch for deer.

Texans adore their roads, their freeways and highways, their farm roads and ranch roads. Our farm and ranch roads are nicer than some state’s main thruways! We love to drive all over our state, and many Texans are indoctrinated to think nothing of jumping in their car and driving to wherever they may like to go. A Texan will drive a hundred miles to dinner and back!

The great thing about living in the Texas Hill Country is that there is no easy – or quick — route anywhere. The real Hill Country has no interstate, no loop, no freeways – and no direct route.

If you come to the Texas Hill Country, you must take one of the back ways to get to us. It doesn’t matter which one, just take it.

The maddening thing about living in an area like this with so many back roads is learning one’s way around.   Oh sure you can be prepared with maps and a GPS; however, the roads here are crumpled up. They wind up and down elevated hills, through low water-crossings, and around canyons. They’re wrinkled. It makes finding the way difficult.

My GPS became so befuddled by the roads here that my request to drive south to the Rio Grande Valley was granted by sending me first to Dallas – four and half hours north. The idea was to get me to commit to nine hours of driving before driving to my intended destination. That’s a bit too far even for a Texan!

If you’re one of those people who want to know simply how to get from Point A to Point B by taking one consistent and easy route, then please do not come here. There is no such thing as an easy way here; in fact there are hundreds of ways to get to your destination here in the hill country. You will need to know them all and be able to use alternative routes depending on weather conditions — heavy rains to slick ice – and local events like Market Days.

Here’s what you do:

  • Select your destination – where will you end up?
  • Avoid driving to Dallas first.
  • Develop a general plan – what are the most likely routes you’ll take? Are there alternative back roads you should be aware of? Are you willing to take them? Be prepared to recite the words of Robert Frost, who “took the road less traveled by” and said, “that has made all the difference.” It can make the difference on your journey, too.
  • Stop looking for signs already; trust the road – it will take you to your destination as long as you do not second guess it and turn back too soon. Quit prematurely and you’ll have to start over.

That’s not so different from how any of us lead our lives. Select a path and follow it. At some point you must be willing to adventure away from the interstate and trust the road. Keep going.

Of course, trusting the road is not without hazards.

You must not only be able to select diverse routes suited to reaching your destination and trust the road — you must also be prepared to encounter the greatest Texas Hill Country road hazard of all: the white-tailed deer.

Initiatives – like infrared vision, deer crossing signs, and herd reduction — have been developed to keep drivers safe from random deer. Here’s a fact: expect adversity — you WILL have a DVC (deer vehicle collision). No one is safe from adversity.

Experts tell us we must follow these steps in avoiding deer:

  • Deer are herd animals. If you see one deer run across the road in front of you, there are certainly more, and they will run in front of you, too. In life, trouble travels in a pack as well.
  • Wear your seat belt. You never know what will happen, and a seat belt will protect you from injury. In life, be prepared for anything.
  • Hit the deer. Yes, it’s horrible. It’s a Bambi. But swerving may cause you to hit something or someone else, causing far more damage. In life, face hardship head on.
  • Don’t touch the deer after you hit it. I it’s not dead, it certainly will injure you. In life, don’t love on hardship like a tar baby; let it go.
  • Report the crash to the local law agency. In life, get support from family, friends, outside resources.

The rule still applies: Trust the road, but watch for deer. In fact it’s a valuable meme for more than just Wimberley or the Texas Hill Country.

You see, life really is a journey rather than a destination. Tolkien knew all along that not all who wander are lost, and truly, roads go ever, ever on, over rock and under tree .…”

Commit to taking the journey, going ever, ever on, aware that another path may be necessary. That journey may take you straight into the path of adversity, and you must be prepared.

There is not always an obvious or easy route. Trust the road, and watch for deer.