Why I Choose Not To Write Every Day
If people don’t like to read, then why do you write?
Recently, I was talking with one of my mentees from long ago. He is in the music industry now, and thinking of incorporating a literary component to his next musical project.
“Why?” I asked. “People don’t like to read. Are you sure your audience wants to do that work?”
This started an entire debate about whether or not people like to read these days, if literature and music should be combined, and how to reach an audience with content that they will appreciate. At the end of it all, he asked me one question.
“If people don’t like to read, then why do you write?”
It took me a while to respond. I had not actively thought about why I write in some time. At some point, your passions, just like your profession or your obligations become embedded in your DNA. Many things are second-nature. the “why” ceases to matter too much because it has to happen regardless. I know that is a dangerous place to be in, and so I was shaken for a second.
“Is it for self-expression?” he added, after noticing my extended silence.
I write because I’m good at it. I write because I know I have unique thoughts and emotions that are best expressed through writing. And I write for the set of people who do love to read. And who enjoy it and are inspired by it. Because I know they’ll take something from it. I gotta focus on my audience. My job isn’t to make people want to read. It’s to disseminate ideas and influence culture. Culture permeates. People talk. Ideas are shared. Now, guess what? I don’t have to make you want to read, because your friend’s friend that read my book recommended it to her, who recommended it to you.
It’s a slow process for me. But it’s the process. Kinda like eating an elephant one bite at a time. I cater to those that identify with my work. The rest is trickle down.
That’s the text message I sent him. I think it’s more true than not. He accepted the answer as valid and we moved on to another topic. The question continued to bug me, though, long after we had finished texting. I couldn’t figure out why.
Drowning in Words
I was interviewed by a college student recently doing an independent study on digital publishing. The student is profiling writers of all types, and trying to get to the core of why they have chosen digital media and what they hope to achieve through the platform. At one point, they asked me what the hardest part was about being a writer.
I write in two niches. One is so small that I doubt there are many writers in it. The other takes a certain academic/social background to remain valid and relevant that many people, let alone aspiring writers in the field, don’t have, so they don’t last. I’ve never been worried about competition on the basis of quality or perspective.
The competition for attention, for mindshare, for consideration, especially in the digital publishing space, is pitiless. You have content giants, like Buzzfeed, that have hundreds (thousands) of active articles at any given time. Facebook has started prioritizing posts in your news-feed so that you’re much more likely to see what’s relevant to you…based on what you’ve chosen to engage with in the past.
You may never see my writing shared if you didn’t want to see it before. It’s hard to overcome those odds. We are all being bombarded from all angles with all sorts of content. Let’s not mention that there are videos and pictures and other forms of content that are traditionally more engaging than reading. Why would you choose to read my blog? It’s a disheartening thought. Writers have had to become marketers, in that it is just as important (if not more) to present your work in an attractive manner as it is to have written something quality. Getting you to the page is more than half the battle. Keeping you there is even less likely.
Furthermore, studies say that over half of readers give blog posts 15 seconds or less of attention. So even if you make it to my work, you probably won’t sit through it. *Sigh of exasperation.* But as I reflected on this, it began to make sense. I’m not a Buzzfeed, nor do I aspire to be. Playing in a niche requires tact. It’s hard to balance tact and personalization with broad appeal, but that’s why patience and persistence are key.
They Can’t Be Good
I attended a networking weekend for black authors in Atlanta a few weeks ago. It was my first time doing any large-scale communing and networking in the writer community. Many of the writers that I met write urban fiction, street lit, or children’s literature. There may have been one or two other folks that write young adult fiction. I was at a booth talking to a woman about her journey into publishing and she dropped an unexpected bombshell on me.
“Yep, this is my 17th book,” she said, pointing to the one in my hand.
“Wow,” I replied, unintentionally monotone. “How long have you been writing?”
Five years. The answer was five years. I was surprised to find out that many of the other writers I met during the weekend had the same trajectory. Now, I’m a slow-thinking, dyslexic man with a full-time job, but I’ve always considered myself a hard worker. How in the hell did these people write more than one book a year? I wrote my first book in about seven months at a breakneck pace, and it took an additional five months to work out the publishing and distribution.
I racked my brain all day trying to figure out where I was faltering. Was that sort of volume peculiar to the street lit genre? Did I not have the capital? Maybe these people didn’t work full time jobs. I pondered and pondered. These people wrote as much as Stephen King! My sister, who had accompanied me to several of the events noticed my perplexity and offered a simple solution.
They can’t all be good.
That certainly would make things easier, wouldn’t it? If I didn’t care about quality, I would probably be able to produce books much faster. I don’t know about 17 in five years, but I could do something. I have yet to read any books by the authors I met, so I can’t assume their writing is poor. But, for me, making the distinction between fast work and good work, was very important. I don’t think I’m moving too slow — but I am being uber deliberate, intentionally. For me, it’s crucial to take the time to make sure my work is the best representation of my abilities that it can be.
My Every Day Habits
I started feeling better when I thought about what I do do every day. As much as I am a writer, I’ll always be more of a reader. Reading informs me, provokes my thoughts, helps me imagine, and inspires me to write. I read, between all different forms of content, for at least an hour or two a day. Often, I’ll jot down ideas I have while reading, and they will be incorporated into the next time I write a something.
Additionally, I think about writing every day. Even if I don’t sit down to put words down, concepts are constantly flying off the walls of my brain. I will journal to clear my mind, or leave myself voice notes to remember good thoughts that I have. Sometimes I just brainstorm and nothing comes of it. But that’s okay. I never feel the pressure to write anything on a particular day, because I know I’ll brainstorm again tomorrow. I don’t have to depend on ideas I only “kinda like.” Something better will come along. I just have to be patient.
I noticed that I also find artistic extensions or adaptations of my writing, every day. Every day I hear a song that might go well with the scene I wrote in that one story, if it were to become a movie. Or I see a painting that would be a great cover for a book, a book that I’m sure I could write based on an analysis of the image. I read and I put together a slideshow of pictures that might serve as a storyboard for a short film if someone (someone like me) were to adapt the initial writing.
Whether or not I follow through with all these projects doesn’t always matter. I like to consider the “literary experience” as I write — not just what you see on the page, but what you see in your mind. How writing makes you feel. What it reminds you of. What it urges you to do. Connecting my writing to the art of others’ is probably the final and most crucial step for a totally rad, holistic reading experience. If I can envision a holistic experience from the onset, I write with that context, and everything flows a lot smoother.
Lastly, I live.
Or at least I try to, anyway. I like to write about my experiences. Even my fictional characters are amalgams of myself and certain other people I know, and what we’ve been through. I can’t imagine writing from a completely theoretical or imaginative standpoint. I need to be out in the world, doing things, meeting people, logging experience hours so that I can have tangible thoughts, emotions, and conversations to draw upon for scenarios, character development, and dialogue I wish to create.
Simple, yet effective
I don’t write every day, because I write when I’m inspired. That commitment ensures that I’m going to, more times than not, produce writing that I’m proud of. Proud to share, proud to defend, proud to have written.
As creative as I consider myself, I know not every thought my mind produces is unique. I take my time to find a concept or perspective that I truly believe would be worth reading, and only able to be found on my site, or any of the sites I write for. That’s when I write. Because there aren’t too many more frustrating things for me than reading an article and thinking, “Well, duh. That’s common sense.” And I don’t want to be the guy with the byline for that “Well, duh” article.
Digital Media has increasingly prioritized appearance over salience. As long as folks get their clicks, most times, they’re happy. But I want the engagement, the shares. I want the discussion, the appreciation. The staying power. I want the quality. For myself and for anybody that chooses to read what I write.
I know this handicaps me against some of the more prolific writers because the louder you scream, typically the more people hear you. But, in writing, similar to how I am in person, I’d like to be a man of few, deliberate, profound words. When I say something, I want people to know that I mean it. One of the best things any of my mentors ever told me was, “The right thing at the wrong time, is the wrong thing.” There are plenty of right things. Fewer right times. I seek the alignment, and put 100% effort into each piece I write. Sounds simple, right? Simple, yet effective.