Engaging your Audience
Although reflective writing is at the root, a retelling of your experience, is important that you don’t just say what happened. The purpose is to draw your reader in so that they engage with you and share in the experience with you. Whether this works in terms of sharing your humour, your concern, your opinion or your arousal, you need to use language to make them really experience what you did.
As we have said already, this goes beyond a recounting of events and focusses on thoughts, feelings, reasoning, but it will also affect the language you use. To tell your reader what happened and how you felt will leave them with a somewhat surface understanding of it. You will rely then on their ability to draw upon their own similar experiences to get something from what you have written.
While some readers will automatically do this, others will not, and you will therefore limit your audience. Imagine the advice when selling a house: make it a space that others can visualise themselves in. The same should be true of your reflective writing. Your need to use the senses to bring your experience alive for your reader and draw them in.
Show Don’t Tell
Marie has already done a great post on the topic of Show Don’t Tell for fiction writing. The same advice applies here: you let your readers experience the story through actions and words, feelings and senses instead of through your descriptions. Essentially, you bring them closer to the experience you are recounting for them and you draw on your empathy with you.
Making good use of description to create a vivid impression of the experience or feeling rather than simply listing what happened will keep them reading along with you.
Make Your Experience Relatable
Really reflective writing draws on the styles of the other genres and is a bit of a blend. While your experience is not fiction, it is not one directly lived by you reader. In the same way as you must use language in fiction to make your reader relate to your character and care about them, so the same is true of the life experiences you are offering them in reflective writing.
For this reason you will need to draw on your own senses when you are planning for your writing. You will not need to include all the details and a blow by blow account will likely not engage your reader in the way that you hope. You need to use words to describe the events and action in a way which allows them to place themselves right there with you.
The Power of Reflection
Once you have done this, giving them access and an insight into your thoughts and feelings in a similar way will compound this and keep them with you. Done well, good reflective writing can be really powerful and if you need evidence of this, you only have to read the opinion section of a good newspaper to see the way that some writers are able to influence the way that people think.
Indeed, I have often had experiences recounted to me secondhand by people who have read something where the author was able to impress their own experience upon them. This is what you are aiming for, so in the same way as readers identify with a character in a novel, you need them to identify with you.
And lastly, be Descriptive in your Use of Language
You should aim to be descriptive as you can in your use of language. Using imagery, sentence structure and other techniques will bring your writing to life. You might want to check out the other Writing Tips for this. Try not to use adjectives such as ‘happy’, ‘sad’, ‘nice’ or ‘good’ as they won’t really tell anyone you felt about something, and they don’t reflect your personality.
A word of warning here too about fictionalising your experience. There can be a tendency for some writers to get carried away with their use of imagery and description and in the retelling of the events they embellish them. Good reflective writing does not do this. It is based on what actually happened in terms of thoughts and feelings as well as factual events.
What you are writing about can be an every day experience because it is the way that you write which will make it relevant for your reader so please don’t be tempted to make things more exciting or better than they actually were: it is really obvious and will leave readers with an overall feeling that you are not being authentic.
Other posts in this series
This post is the third in a series of five posts about reflective writing. The others will be published over the next few weeks as part of our Member Content so look out for them if you found this useful and would like to know more.