To write is to talk to strangers. You want them to trust you. You might well begin by trusting them–by imagining for the reader an intelligence at least equal to the intelligence you imagine for yourself. No doubt you know some things that the reader does not know (why else presume to write?), but it helps to grant that the reader has knowledge unavailable to you. This isn’t generosity; it is realism. Good writing creates a dialogue between writer and reader, with the imagined reader at moments questioning, criticizing, and sometimes, you hope, assenting. What you “know” isn’t something you can pull from a shelf and deliver. What you know in prose is often what you discover in the course of writing it, as in the best of conversations with a friend–as if you and the reader do the discovering together.
Writers are told that they must “grab” or “hook” or “capture” the reader. But think about these metaphors. Their theme is violence and compulsion. They suggest the relationship you might want to have with a criminal, not a reader. Montaigne writes: “I do not want a man to use his strength to get my attention.”
–by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd