#54 Who is it for?
On writing for an audience vs. writing for yourself
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One of the things I’ve discovered from writing this newsletter is I have absolutely no clue how to predict what will resonate with a large swath of you, and what will fall flat. Some of the pieces I’ve loved the most have been met with relative silence, some that I hated were, by objective measure, the most successful.
For example: This piece on being The worst horse was one of the most hateful things, according to me, I ever wrote. It was also the thing I got the most feedback on from my friends. SO MANY PEOPLE I RESPECT texted WOW! and More like that please! and it made me irrationally angry, like how I get when my mom tells me my hair looks best when I know it’s the most unflattering it’s ever, ever looked.
Other pieces I have loved with my whole heart, like this one, often enough (from my unreliable experience over here looking at likes and waiting for confirmation) are met with crickets.
It just goes to show we can be terrible judges of our own work or how people are going to engage with it, what they need to hear. It also goes to show that nothing will ruin the fun of the craft more than writing for an audience, at least in my experience. It’s funny how much I can love something and then feel awful if no one notices it; it’s also weird how I can dislike something I wrote so much, and feel a kind of discomfort when people resonate with it and think it’s great—I want to tell them not to like it, the same way I tell my mom she’s very wrong about how good she thinks loose curls look.
Both the disallowance of other people’s experience of my work, and my inability to separate my own judgment and my own satisfaction from what everyone else thinks, ruins the whole thing. I am at my best when I it’s me I’m trying to impress, when it’s me I’m writing for.
As Lisa Olivera said in her newsletter last week, “When I think about the times my creativity feels most stifled, it is when I am putting on some kind of performance, or thinking of an audience first, or wondering how it will be received.” Yes.
Which brings me to this: I really hated what I wrote last week! I thought you would, too. And because it resonated more than I thought it would, I spent this week writing what I thought people needed to read, instead of what I needed to write, and I don’t like what I wrote, and I’m giving myself more time to do it the way I want to do it.
I might not know how to gauge reception, but I do know my best work comes from my curiosity, and never from wondering what someone’s else’s is.
In the meantime, here’s three things I need your help with! And 13 Things Right Now!
Thank you for being here, and thank you for your comments last week. I’m still getting through them.
Questions for you
1. How are you? (But really.)
I’m extremely interested to understand how you feel at this exact point in time in relation to work, purpose, meaning, productivity. If you’re up for sharing, please leave a comment about your state of mind or answer some of these questions: Are you more un-motivated than you remember being, ever? Are you more tired, checked out, longing for a different way of life than you’ve ever been? Do you feel like you could “do nothing ever again and be fine with it?” Do you feel like you’re barely making it? Do you fantasize burning down your life and doing something extremely different? Is it harder to do life than you remember? IF SO: How are you navigating this? Are you making real changes and honoring it? Are you reassessing things? Are you letting it fester? Are you slowing down? I also really want to know if you DO NOT feel this way at all, if you feel grounded and refreshed and thriving and motivated?
2. Do you have a question for me to answer?
I’m getting back to fielding and answering reader questions (and in cases where applicable, bringing in experts to help me). If you have one for me, you can email email@example.com. Examples of past reader questions: Do you miss drinking?; Can you moderate alcohol?
Her name is Amber, she’s a Husky, 2.5 years old, the sweetest dog you’ve ever met that just wants to hug and have fun and chase sticks and pull you on your bike, that needs an owner who wants a high energy dog, and who lives in a quiet, rural area with a big yard. If that’s you, here’s the link to adopt, and here’s a picture of her little face. You can fill out the paperwork through the link and contact them directly (I can’t help you get her, but the foundation adopting her can).
13 Things Right Now
What’s an RFK, what’s a post-truth, what psychedelics do for recovery, what’s the best writing advice from every great writer ever, what’s ‘post-truth’, is the recovery industry ready for #MeToo, is it okay to drink at the gym, is ‘doing the work’ a toxic idea; a poem; two really good albums; more.