Becoming the Audience Again
This blog post has been deleted three times in the past five days. Each time, it was close – close to being publishable, which is ridiculous, because anything is publishable. I have a blog. I have a submit button. I can make anything live.
But I don’t. Instead, I try again. I stop. I rewrite. I kill my darlings through massacre. We’re having a fire sale. Everything must go.
We read a lot. Every day. It’s paralyzing to see the amount of emotionally charged and culturally relevant writing that gets poured onto the web each day, each author with a unique voice, each piece an original place.
It’s hard not to want to be involved. It’s even harder to be involved. Because now that writing you used to love has shifted from leisure to benchmark. When you care so strongly about writing something amazing, it’s impossible to see other great writing as anything but necessary competition.
I have always been jealous of the writers for sites like The Pastry Box Project, who are asked to bare their souls to an audience eager for enlightenment, where raw emotion is turned into life lesson. I’m jealous for how easy they make it look. But this ain’t easy, people: the line between navel gazing self-flagellation and genuine personal insight is thin. It’s stepped over and brushed aside and it takes a genuine voice to keep things civil and free from pity.
Some of us try and fail. Not because we can’t do it, but because our internal monologue – familiar with this specific brand of personal emotion – says its all tired and go ahead just stop because jeez you’d be happier just eating another grilled cheese sandwich.
I’m one of these people. This is where the self-flagellation starts.
My writer’s block story is typical, boring and expected. Yet, it feels like a revelation to me – a classic case of forests and trees and not being able to see either for the blindfold.
For me, writing was never supposed to be about visibility. It was my way of making sense of things. I wrote because I wanted to. I wrote because it felt like a skill I could take advantage of.
But somewhere along the way, I became visible. I struck gold. Once. The audience expanded, and my work was thrust into the public. I became more careful. I started thinking things through. I saw my audience – you, the public – and I wrote consciously, with purpose. I tried to write things that would hit people emotionally. Then, I stopped writing anything but emotionally. I questioned each new piece as relevant. I didn’t write anything that wasn’t meant to strike a chord. I fact-checked too much. I threw away every idea as superfluous. I stopped having fun.
I stopped having fun.
I had answers for every situation. People don’t want to read some whiny kid talk about feelings, so I won’t do that anymore. People don’t want to read about sports, or music, so I won’t do that anymore. People don’t want to read about boring dad things, so I won’t do that anymore.
As my small scope of influence grew, I found myself less willing to offer any real kind of influence. I went safe, or I didn’t go at all.
The larger the audience, the more I withdrew. The riskier the subject, the more I held back. Which brings us to where I am today: I’ve stopped saying what I want, and I’ve started being afraid of being wrong.
I am afraid of being wrong. I am afraid of being trivial. I am afraid of publishing something that will be seen as unsatisfactory.
So I publish nothing at all.
The New Rules
When I started this blog in 2005, I did so as a hobby. I was going to teach myself to write by writing every day. The daily publishing routine kept me honest and kept me thinking – every topic was worthwhile as long as it interested me. As long as it fueled some kind of passion.
Somewhere along the way, I forgot what I was doing here. I forgot who my audience was.
That audience was always me.
And, as pedantic as it sounds, I am those things I stopped writing about. I am a whiny dude with feelings. I love basketball and music. I love my kids. These are major parts of my life, and I can write about them if I want to.
But I can also write about things that make me angry. I can state my immediate feelings without worrying about which people feel differently. I can write small posts about whatever the hell I want, because damn it why shouldn’t I?
Starting today, I’m becoming the audience again.
I will write for you, yes. I will write for you because I like you. I want you to like me. I won’t make that a secret. We all want to be liked.
But if you don’t, that’s no big deal anymore. That’s not the point.
Sorry in advance. Things might get a little noisier over here.