Writer, Be Fascinated and Be Smart

I have about 450 million things that interest me. Correction — EVERYTHING interests me. I have — by the grace of God — never grown out of the child-like stage of asking “Why?” about everything. It makes life more interesting, if slightly embarrassing for the people who love me and would rather I not jump a Scottish farmer’s fence to pet a Highland Cow. (Sorry, Melis.)

But even though I find everything interesting, I have learned — very slowly — that as a professional in the world, I need to focus. I need to figure out the things that interest me most and go deep with those. I used to say that I didn’t want to be put into a niche, and that was true but unclearly articulated, even to me. What I really meant was that I didn’t want someone else to be me into a niche. I didn’t want to have to live my life by someone else’s labels.

But if I can build my own box around what fascinates me, I find it’s not confining; in fact, it’s bottomless. I can go so deep into my passions that I lose myself there, and if you’ve ever lost yourself in something that both fascinates you and fills you, you know just what I mean.

Let me pause one minute here and say that I know not everyone knows what their passion is. I know that some of us are still hunting — after decades on the planet — to find our passions. I cannot tell you for sure how to find it, but I can suggest three questions for you to consider:

  • What is never boring?
  • What drags your attention in, no matter what you are doing?
  • What makes you ask how? or why? over and over?

If you can find one thing or a few things that come up as the answer to those questions, then I would suggest maybe that’s your passion. Maybe.

The answers to those questions for me are three-fold:

  • writing — the craft and the practice of it.
  • slavery — the history and legacy of it.
  • farming and rural life — the practice and restoration of it.

I think about, read about, ask questions about those three things ALL OF THE TIME. And I never get bored or feel satiated. I always want more.

So write what fascinates you, what calls you to question, what whispers like a siren song in your ear whenever you see a program, an article, a movie about the subject. Absolutely, write that.

But be smart, too. Realize that not everyone you know will want to know about all those things. Some people will totally connect with you as a comic book expert and others will be drawn to your passion for 19th century clothing, but the number of people who, like you, share your enthusiasm for both of things is small. Miniscule, probably.

So don’t try to make the people who love what you write about plantation shirts and hoop skirts care about the Marvel vs DC battle. (That is ALL I know about comic books, and I’m okay with that.) Instead, create separate places for those people to find you. Websites, books, Instagram feeds (I’m still working on that one). It’ll mean more work for you — absolutely — but it’ll also mean more connection to the people who really care about that topic.

Here’s how I’m doing that now.

  1. This website, Andilit, will always — from here forward — be about the practice and craft of writing. It’s focused to those subjects alone. This isn’t a blog about self-publishing or marketing your books. I write about those things when they are part of my writing space but then only as a learner. There are people — Jane Friedman, Mark Dawson, Christine Niles, Kirsten Oliphant, Joanna Penn — who are much more informed and wise about those topics. (Go ahead. Take a second and go sign up for their mailing lists if you’re interested. I get them all, and they’re all good.) Here, I write about how to write better, how to keep writing even when the voice get ugly, how to find time to write. Those are the subjects about which I am passion.
  2. Our farm website will always be about what we do here at God’s Whisper, about what we’re learning (a LOT), and about what we’re building. There, you’ll find pictures of our animals, recountings of our escapades with goat hoof-trimming, and musings about the rural and more simple life.
  3. My new website, Our Folks’ Tales, will contain resources and stories about the history and legacy of slavery. I’ll be sharing stories from my research and also posting a lot of resources, articles, queries, and information from the amazing folks who do this work full-time.

It’s a ton more time and work to live my public life this way. I’m blogging at least once a week at GWF and doing a weekly newsletter. At OFT, I’m posting every day and doing a twice-monthly newsletter. Here, I’m blogging twice a week and doing a twice-monthly newsletter. SO MUCH online writing . . . and you know what, I love every bit of it because these are my passions, and because now I’m connecting with the people — in each of those places — that care about those subjects, too. I’m not worrying about putting someone off who isn’t interested in one of those things because they will go to the other sites if they like what I saw about the things they do care about. It’s freeing really, even as it takes more time.

So you probably don’t need — or want — three websites, but maybe what you could consider is what are you passionate about, what do you have something to say about, and how can you reach the people who really care about it most effectively. Maybe you have a book or a blog or some magazine articles to write about that one subject, a good substantive number of angles at which you could look at that topic. I suspect you do, and I KNOW without a doubt that when you write about the things that make you all tingly with joy and questions, you can find the people who care about them, too. You just have to work at the finding, too.

So really, tell me, what makes you all tingly with enthusiasm and questions?


Originally published at andilit.com on April 13, 2016.

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