Your title got me. But your first sentence lost me.

Steven Gambardella
5 min readAug 20, 2022
Photo by Rafaëlla Waasdorp on Unsplash

I got you, didn’t I? But how am I going to keep you?

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a writer in some shape or form. Have you ever felt disheartened by the response you get for your work? You put a lot into your writing, I’m sure. You spend all that frustrating time deliberating over what words are the right fit and where stray sentences should go.

Some writers go that one step further and share something intimate and raw. To just write is to be vulnerable to some. And to be met by silence is all the more painful. You upped the stakes, steeled yourself, you hesitated and almost choked it, but that something in you dared you to do it.

What do you do when you hit send or publish? Go for a walk? Switch on the television?

Don’t kid yourself. You couldn’t stop wondering if your words are being read and, if they are, what people are thinking as their eyes comb through the letters of your lines.

You sit and wonder when it’s time to check. All that working, thinking, waiting, hoping. And for what? To get nothing. That nervous energy, that anxiety — it never got its payback. You’re left feeling cheated by your own ambition.

A common trap is that too often people invest too much effort into their titles. They arrest a browsing reader. They secure a click. Great. But — if they don’t connect with the first line, the reader will bounce.

The best way to keep — and hold — somebody’s attention, word by word, is to open up your lines to connect. People come to your writing with thoughts and feelings. Reading isn’t passive, it’s a creative act. The first line is declarative then. You’re saying, “let’s do this together”.

The title is the glance, maybe the smile, the first sentence is the handshake, maybe the hug. Have you ever smiled across the room at somebody you know and regretted not talking to them?

But how to connect?

There’s a simple way to do that. Nobody can see a question mark without reading further. A question — rhetorical or not — makes the reader wonder, think and feel a level of connection. It creates a spark of empathy to imagine you’re in dialogue with their thoughts.

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Steven Gambardella

History PhD. The lessons of history and philosophy for your life and work. Writes The Sophist: https://sophist.substack.com/