“In today’s world of micromessages and fleeting attention spans, connecting with your audience is more important than ever.” Denise Morrison, President and CEO, Campbell Soup.
We’ll leave that important question — how to connect with your desired audience so your brand can flourish — aside for the moment as I address today’s question from the steadiest of perhaps 3 or 4 regular readers of this blahg. He writes:
what’s really hard to fathom is how you keep on producing this stuff despite the general lack of interest and encouragement
There is little mystery on my end. I write as clearly and engagingly as I can, for the reader’s sake. I practice the craft of writing every day, and feel better for putting my thoughts in order. I enjoy combing through my words again and again until I am satisfied that what I’m saying could not be more clear. The key is that I write for myself and my own feeling of clarity and accomplishment. I am addicted to the satisfaction of those things.
Writing is one of the few things I do all the time that I need little feedback or encouragement to continue doing. It’s like playing the guitar for me, I require nobody to hear it or tell me I do it well; I play because I love to play. I love the sounds of the playing and the time spent making and improving those sounds.
A compliment is always lovely, and appreciation is like water to a flower, but we do the things we truly love because we love to spend time doing them. We take pleasure in our mastery of things that were once hard to do. In this ease we experience the lyrical grace that is otherwise so hard to come by in our high-stakes world.
Years ago I saved successive drafts of virtually everything I wrote. I don’t save drafts any more because I’m sure now that every change I make is a change for the better. The writing in each pass is clearer, more concentrated, less cluttered with distracting personal tics. I set out each day to put at least one thought into focus. My goal is to untangle sometimes vexing things in a coherent way that is easy to read. Setting these things clearly into words engages my mind completely, reminds me of my best qualities and leaves me feeling better.
Every year or so I’ll get a note or call from someone telling me how moved they were by some particular thing I’ve written, or provoked, or struck by the collective weight of the many pages I’ve written. Often this praise will transition into agonizing about not knowing anyone who can help me get my writing published, sympathizing with how frustrating it must be to write in today’s world of noise and “content” where thoughtful writing is often thought little of. I find myself in the odd position, after I thank them for their compliments about the writing, of consoling them.
After my mother died a grief counselor recommended a helpful book called Death Benefits, my annotated copy of which seems to have been lost by the woman I loaned it to many months ago. This is a shame, not only because she never read it but because I was planning to loan that personalized copy to a friend who can probably derive comfort from it as she mourns the recent death of her beloved, complicated father. In that book there is a reference, barely supported by the flimsiest of footnotes, to babies as young as a few months patting their mothers consolingly when the mother is in distress. I love this image.
And I love to write. It would be wonderful to have someone contact me and offer me a monetary advance to collect a hundred of these posts, along with a bunch of illustrations, and put them out in a groovy little tome. I’d love to be asked to write something for the New Yorker, in much the same way I’d love to find a fat roll of hundred dollar bills abandoned on the sidewalk. I would be very happy to earn a little money from writing and to have an attentive audience. Appreciation of this thing I do mainly for myself is a bonus, and a great thing, but not necessary to sustain me in this particular pursuit of excellence.
My energies for struggle, such as they are these days, must remain focused on somehow putting one foot in front of the other and coming up with as yet undiscovered brilliant work-arounds to get my simple idea for changing the world in position to be seen. That extreme challenge needs the feedback, encouragement, ingenuity and skills of the brightest of those who can see what I see in it. So far, there is virtually nobody who is able to see what I see in it or offer useful insight for more than a beat or two. It’s my cross to drag, heavy and sharp splintered, particularly when devil’s advocates are hanging from it in an effort to be helpful.
That’s the thing that stings me, galls me, makes me want to holler: unless you succeed at making money from a thing you would call a business, unless you manage to sustain unbounded enthusiasm and confidence in the product you would sell, you are a perplexing failure. It’s hard, to the point of making one doubt one’s basic sanity, to sustain optimism for an idea, regardless of its demonstrated worth, that generates neither money nor enthusiasm in others. It may be simply a matter of not having connected with the proper audience for it, although using “simply” in that sentence is just whipping myself in the face, but that is a howl for another day.
Writing is in another category, it’s just something I need to do — and the most important conversation I have most days — whether you tell me you like it or not.