Writing with the door closed

“…ya got to please yourself”

Taking part in the Ninja Writers’ 30 Day Medium Challenge post is a really interesting process for a couple of reasons.

First of all, I do actually have to sit down and write something EVERY DAY, which is what Shaunta Grimes has been telling us to do for months.

Second, it means I have to keep coming up with content.

This can be hard. Not just because I have to find ideas, but also because it makes me question WHY I’m writing — what am I adding to the world? (if anything).

What is my motivation? Basically, what’s the point? Am I writing because I really think I have an original and fantastic new idea, or is it misplaced ego or attention-seeking?

Actually I think I’m writing primarily because I enjoy the process, and then because it’s nice to make someone laugh, or maybe put a new idea in someone’s head.

When I started at York University and made my first forays up to the good old JB Morrell library on the hill, I allowed myself to be intimidated. The library was stuffed full of tens of thousands of erudite and wonderful works by thousands of intelligent and informed writers. I felt, as an eighteen year old, that I couldn’t possibly compete — that I didn’t have enough to say. So I stopped writing for years and years, although I continued to cherish it as a dream.

But with the passing years, I’ve come to realise that while we can’t all be Shakespeare or Emily Dickinson or Virginia Woolf, we do all have something to say from our own unique perspective.

And so when I write now, I realise that only I can write in exactly my voice (which I’m still finding) and tell my story. Nobody else in the world has had the exact combination of experiences that I’ve had. And so it follows that nobody else will write exactly like me.

Some people may like what I write and some people may not. And that’s fine. In a way, I kind of feel that it’s none of my business how anyone else responds. (I suspect I’ve read that somewhere and paraphrased it.) I don’t really want to be concerned about that. I want to be concerned with the joy of the process and I need to be happy with the finished piece.

I don’t want to worry about its reception, because I can’t control its reception.

(Luckily I’m not trying to make my writing pay my way in the world.)

The last couple of days have brought home to me the fact that audience reach and response can be pretty random. One of my pieces caught the attention of a Medium editor and was featured in the hand-picked section. No prizes for guessing which one…

Quoof and other family nonsense has been viewed by 6.1k, which is phenomenal. Of that figure, 2.4k read the article through, which was just 39%. And then to filter it further, only 272 people actually recommended it. So while the top line was thrilling, I suddenly found myself worrying why only 4.5% of the people who viewed it went on to like it.

“That poor little writer ego!”

Then I gave myself a hard kick. 272 people read and liked my story, as opposed to 5 people liking one of my first posts, Endings, in March.

I don’t believe there was anything inherently better about my writing in Quoof than in Endings. There was nothing inherently better in my writing than in most of the posts put out by my fellow Ninjas that same day.

Mine just appealed to an editor for some quirky, random reason and Quoof ended up being in the Top 20 most recommended on Medium for that day.

And then for my next post, my stats dropped down to 68 views, 67 reads and 22 likes. (Which actually gave a much more satisfying read ratio of 99%.)

So the way I see it, you just don’t know when you sit down to write something whether it’s going to appeal to people.

(Well, I don’t know. I guess some people may have a scientific formula for winning readers and recommendations.)

Things that you think will appeal, don’t. And things that you write as a kind of indulgence and you think won’t interest anyone, do.

And maybe that’s a good thing — because then you write what you WANT to write, not what you think you should.

I don’t want to get hung up on numbers and read ratios and percentages. I think I’ve spent far too much time in the last couple of days looking at them, and not writing!

I understand Stephen King’s advice to write with the door closed — writing for yourself, and not worrying about what’s popular or what anyone else will like. If you’re writing a novel, after the writing comes the editing process — that’s the time to worry about other people, to write with the door open. When you’re writing a daily post, the editing process is much less intensive, because the work you’re producing is much more disposable. Here today, gone tomorrow.

So while it’s nice to write knowing that there’s a chance other people will read what you write (otherwise why not just leave it on your hard drive or in your desk drawer?) — for me the most important part is the actual writing. The little green hearts are secondary, although welcome.

And there are some words running round my head from Ricky Nelson’s song 
Garden Party:

“But it’s all right now
I learned my lesson well
You see, ya can’t please everyone
So ya got to please yourself”

So I’ve pretty much pleased myself today…if I’ve pleased you too, give me a green heart and let me know :)

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