Do You Bleed for your Readers?

What good storytelling needs is a little cringe-factor

Photo by Joanna Nix on Unsplash

Earnest Hemmingway is famously quoted as saying that writing was not hard, “All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”  The man had a point.  Good writing should stop us in our tracks- it should feel like we gave something to the reader.

Would Jane Eyre have lasted through the decades if her virtue and character hadn’t been tested since childhood and her ardent love for Mr. Rochester hadn’t been a forbidden one?  Would biographies be popular to read if the foibles and miseries of their subjects weren’t put on display along with their significant contributions?  Even in the blogosphere, would we follow our influencers if we couldn’t relate to their very real struggles and how they overcame them? 

In the news business, where I have spent about 17 years writing professionally, the phrase that’s bandied about most is:  If it bleeds it leads.  People want to read stories where human struggle is displayed, and justice or resilience overcomes.  Some of my most read stories were ones where the person profiled showed extraordinary kindness and compassion, like the woman who rescued a severely in-bred cat and went to great lengths to preserve its life.  Or incredible inner strength, like the high school girl who underwent years of vicious bullying only to stop short of taking her own life because she did not want her little sister to discover her body.  Her resilience led her to public speaking all around the country and today she gives hope and light to thousands of kids every year.  Or those have suffered horrors in their past and now teach forgiveness and acceptance, like the woman who was abused by her father, his friends and others all through childhood, but found inner peace through forgiveness.  She has achieved unprecedented success in life and now helps others through her non-profit foundation for girls who are undergoing the same struggles she had as a child.

How does this relate to content providers and business writers whose main objective is to promote products or sell online? Enter the cringe-factor.

The art of storytelling engages the reader with clear, concise prose and provides deep connections to their emotions.  This is where the cringe factor comes in.  It is the emotional link that drives a reader to take action.  In business marketing and promotion, the response rate of your calls to action are where the buy in and commitment of potential clients is solidified, but the desire to “click” is born through the engaging story. 

Consider this quote from Casey Crane, blog author at, in her article titled, 6 Tips for Successful Marketing Content

What pain points or challenges are they trying to address? Why should they care about your content? Make sure that your content addresses these concerns while also being interesting and insightful enough to keep their attention.”

Clients come to us to have their problems solved.  In the same light, we must get comfortable with sharing our stories and theirs- the guts and the glory- in order to really impact our readers and see actionable results.  In a past blog on aging and the journey from late forties to early fifties, I wrote about my struggles with weight gain and how I was determined to run it off on the treadmill.  Here is an excerpt from that post:

“On the running front, my shin meat is aching like it wants to tear off the bone. Its day three and still no weight loss.  Good grief! How long is it gonna take? I am a little worried, though.  I think I may be morphing into a pelican of some kind. Yesterday, as I thundered along on the treadmill’s conveyor belt, I managed to look up at the mirror for a few seconds. There seems to have formed a pocket or pouch under my chin that looks like it could hold a small fish.  It also juggles… mercilessly… along with my cheeks, with every clumsy footfall.  Fortunately, it is almost impossible to keep my head up in a position that allows me to witness this vision for more than a few seconds.  I just keep telling myself as I suck air and try not to trip, “Hang on to the rails, dummy, and Run, Wild! Run!”

The unblinking look at myself at the gym was raw, yet humorous.  The result was a high level of engagement by my readers and responses asking for more of the same.  Readers were able to relate to my pain.  They also relished in my subsequent successes.

If you are looking to boost your response rate, look no further than your posts.  Is your writing offering a cringe-worthy experience?

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