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Trusting authors

When I think of the trust an author (or journalist or speaker) needs to elicit, quickly, from his/her audience, I see myself offering my hand to a child I don’t know well. (I did a lot of babysitting, so this is a familiar picture.) What can I do, I wonder, to make the child feel confidence in me?

As an author, I need to do the same. Sometimes an author does it with a flood of data (trust me, I’ve done my homework) or references to impressive events or people (trust me, I went to Davos). When I do popular writing, I either want the reader to relate to me (trust me, I’m not a wild-eyed hard-core environmentalist who will tell you to cut the power now) or to see that I have some kind of experience that might be interesting (trust me, I really did put the manuscript of the T. S. Eliot Letters in the taxi with Mrs. Eliot – and here’s the article). Trust me, come along with me, into the story.

Other authors lose me from the first page. I remember a book called 1,001 Ways to Save the Planet that included a tip to “Write small so you’ll use less paper.” Who could trust an author who included something so silly?

But it’s important not to try too hard. T. S. Eliot is reported to have said that, “. . . one should record opinions simply and forcibly, omitting all the qualifications and cautions which scholarly diffidence would wish to drape round them. ‘People like just to be told what to think.’” ((T. S. Eliot to H. S. Davies, recorded in “Mistah Kurtz: He Dead,” T. S. Eliot: The Man and His Work, edited by Allen Tate. P. 359.))

One thought on “Trusting authors

  1. Karen –

    What a great quote!

    It’s so tempting when writing to put in qualifications and disclaimers – as if you’re trying to anticipate every objection or potential point of confusion.

    Write clearly, say what you mean, maintain an open mind, and see what happens. That approach seems so much more fruitful (and a lot more fun).


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