Don’t write for yourself. And don’t write for other people either.
I was watching a popular singing show recently, and several of the performers sang with great talent and technique, but I found myself unengaged, and I really like all kinds of music so it wasn’t just a “not my style” issue. In fact, during some of the performances, I was glad of the song chosen, as well as the arrangement. I was excited about it and wanted to really enjoy it. But during the actual performance, I found that it just wasn’t doing anything for me.
I was trying to figure out why a song I liked, in a style I liked performed by a talented artist was so boring. Then it occurred to me what was happening, some artists were singing for the audience, just to please them. Others were singing for themselves. The first seemed sadly desperate, and the later just had a feeling of selfishness.
As I have been writing lately, I find myself teetering between both of those traps, and I think I sometimes forget who I’m writing for.
I need to write what I would love to read. I need to consider more fully, in advance, what I would be looking for, what I would be surprised by and what I would find a real delight to stumble across. What topics would be exciting? What kind of approach do I find engaging, enjoyable? I need to focus on the topic and style of presentation rather than the hoped-for result.
I have to make sure not to separate myself from my audience, and, instead, join them in the seats. I have to be WITH them, and separate myself from the topic. The topic is something that I’ve discovered, it’s not anything I’ve created. It’s a marvelous wonder, an intricate beautiful gem with many facets, and I’ve just been studying it. Now that I’ve learned some stuff about it, I want to share it with others. Kind of like learning about a band and inviting others with me to the concert. I know their taste, and am excited to see their reaction to the performance.
I am not the performance. I am not the performer.
This is true even if I AM the performer. In that case, I have found a set of words that go together well and an arrangement of sounds that complements it so well that together it is beautiful. Then, when I sing and/or play, I’m sitting in the audience with my friends enjoying a thing of beauty.
Respect must be given to the art, rather than the artist. At least that’s true if we ARE the artist. When we create something, writing, music, painting, digital art, whatever, we must pay attention to the thing we are making so as to extract the most beauty and power that we can. We must carefully consider the details, savor the process of molding it to our desired shape. Often, there is a need to take time to ponder and study the object of our artistry in order to understand how to work WITH it in order to get the best results.
If this sounds too artsy-fartsy, I get it. It is getting a little metaphysical in here. But the point is still true. And you know it, too.
Consider the difference between Mom’s apple pie, and an apple pie from Pie-In-A-Box, Inc. (If you don’t care for apple pie, please substitute for your favorite food your mom/aunt/nana made.) What’s the difference between the two?
Pie-In-A-Box wants you to buy their product. Mom want’s you to enjoy her pie. It’s all the difference in the world. Consider how it changes the approach to pie-making and hence the outcome.
Pie-In-A-Box is looking to move product. So they can’t make pies that taste like feet. Rather, it has to have an apple taste, be sweet, and have a crust that holds everything. It needs to appeal to a large audience, and have a reasonable price. And then there’s shelf-life to consider. And appearance. They’ll need some preservatives and coloring for that. In order to keep prices down, they need to compromise a bit on some of the ingredients, less apples, more sugar and corn syrup.
You get the idea.
Now, compare that to Mom’s approach. She wants you to enjoy her pie. She’s been making pie for years, and knows how to do it so that it comes out just right, just the way you like it…just the way SHE likes it, too, but more importantly it’s a recipe that you will both enjoy together. If you like walnuts in your apple pie, and so does she, there’s a good chance that there will be nuts in the pie. And, when she experiments with the process for the next pie, it will be for the same reason. She will be looking to make the best, most flavorful, most enjoyable pie ever.
What she won’t be doing is making a pie so that you will tell all your friends to buy it.
It doesn’t take too much work to see how the same principles apply to any creation.
So, don’t write for others. Don’t write for yourself. Write for both. Sit down with your audience and share the experience of the writing/music/sculpture/drawing/whatever, together. You’ll all have more fun. In fact, why not put your audience on the stage and celebrate their creative talents?
But that’s a topic for another day.
I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic, so please leave a comment! Thanks, again, for your time.