I’ve been having some enjoyable conversations-via-blog-comments this morning with a couple of people I assume are young-ish. One is in the UK (although it’s sometimes hard to be certain), and the other is in India.
Both are wrestling with the oh-so-common problem all writers and creatives encounter, namely the existential pain of doubt and self-criticism, and the frustration and procrastination that infests us all. Welcome to the big-leagues, fellow-sufferers. If you turn pro, this is a daily battle. Stop worrying about that, and get busy.
I’m putting on my grizzled veteran hat on for a moment.
I’m kind of ancient now, but I know the struggle when you’re young to apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.
And when you’re older.
And when you’re ancient, like me.
I wish I could say it gets easier. It doesn’t. But if you keep at it, kiddos, you do learn to do the work anyway. That’s the difference between an amateur’s “dear diary” narcissism and a pro’s calculation and skill. I’d like to slap high school English teachers who lie to prospective writers and tell them that they’re wonderful, that they will take the world by storm. I know it takes something to motivate students, but lies don’t really help them face the real world. The real world is a cold place. Sorry.
It takes practice to be so goddamned compelling that people will read what we write. Because the ugly truth is THEY REALLY DON’T WANT TO READ WHAT WE WRITE, because they’re busy and are already inundated by oceans of mediocre crap. They assume our deathless poetry/prose/Facebook update is just more of the same. Admit it, we all do the same thing. It’s not fair, but it is certainly quite rational. We have to earn trust. It’s like walking on broken glass some days, but that’s the only way. Keep walking.
One of my favorite authors on the subject is Steven Pressfield. He wrote “The War of Art” a couple of years ago, which single-handedly got my butt back onto the chair. He’s got a new one out, “Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t”, which I’ve downloaded and am reading. (hurry. It’s free for just a short time.) This piece is an ad for his work. I get no royalty, but hope that you find out how to deal with the only real problem you have, which is your own brain’s resistance game.
And just realize that you’re not going to change the world. No one wants to read your shit. Once your accept that, you can actually do the work necessary to get good enough to change the world. Just be prepared for that to take a long time.
Sometimes young writers acquire the idea from their years in school that the world is waiting to read what they’ve written. They get this idea because their teachers had to read their essays or term papers or dissertations. In the real world, no one is waiting to read what you’ve written. Sight unseen, they hate what you’ve written. Why? Because they might have to actually read it.
Nobody wants to read anything. Let me repeat that. Nobody— not even your dog or your mother— has the slightest interest in your commercial for Rice Krispies or Delco batteries or Preparation H. Nor does anybody care about your one-act play, your Facebook page or your new sesame chicken joint at Canal and Tchoupitoulas. It isn’t that people are mean or cruel. They’re just busy. Nobody wants to read your shit. What’s the answer?
1) Streamline your message. Focus it and pare it down to its simplest, clearest, easiest-to-understand form.
2) Make its expression fun. Or sexy or interesting or scary or informative. Make it so compelling that a person would have to be crazy NOT to read it.
3) Apply that to all forms of writing or art or commerce.