It’s OK to Write What People Want to Read
Thoughts on chasing eyeballs.
I’m just going to come right out and say this:
Writing with readers in mind does not make you (or me or any writer) a sellout. It makes you a professional.
Okay. Whew. I feel better.
Let me backtrack and share where this is coming from. A while back I wrote a post here on Medium about looking Quora for questions to answer with Medium posts. It got this comment from a reader:
I wanted to like this. But I can’t. Chasing eyeballs isn’t the right way to write meaningful content — though I’m sure it’s a nice dopamine spike when it works. Publishers chase eyeballs to remain relevant, because news topics shift constantly. You can see the streams on Reddit and HackerNews as well.
My point is, good writing should be written by someone with passion, not in response to a question in exchange for some attention from the next Yahoo answers nor written about on the future Blogger. (I gave you a heart anyway, just because.)
Generally, I’d just skip past this. I don’t have time to respond to every nay sayer. I’ve got tough writer skin, after all. But there’s something about this response that I really think needs to be addressed — for the good of writers everywhere.
Let me break this down: I’m being lectured here on the subject of whether or not it’s okay for me to write what people want to read.
He wanted to like my post, but can’t. Okay. Fair enough. Writing and reading are both highly subjective activities. As rejection/critique goes, this is pretty mild.
Then we get to the next sentence. It starts with “Chasing eyeballs.”
The blogging strategy I wrote about involves looking for questions on Quora to answer, then cross posting your answers to Medium. It’s easy to see on Quora what kind of content readers are actively looking for. It’s easy to give it to them on Medium.
I’m pretty sure commentator up there is taking offense to the idea of using a resource to gauge reader interest before writing a blog post.
The response goes on to suggest that “good writing should be written by someone with passion, not in response to a question in exchange for some attention . . .”
Huh. Okay. I mean. Thanks for letting me know. I guess.
Here’s the thing: If I write something publicly, I want eyeballs on it. That’s what makes it public. I write to share. I write to teach. I write to process. I write because it’s my thing and I love doing it. And yeah, I write because it’s big fun to have readers.
Also, writing isn’t so easy that I get excited about spending time writing something that no one wants to read. If I can figure out what readers want and it fits what I have to say, that’s like a double-rainbow level bonus.
I’m not writing this post to call the person who wrote the response out. In fact, that comment was written more than a year ago. I’m fairly certain he’ll never see this.
I actually believe that he believes that writing is an art that should be above consideration of readers.
I don’t think I need my level of passion explained to me by a strange man who doesn’t know me. But that’s a different subject.
I’m writing this post, because I think that that the idea that writers shouldn’t compromise their art with pesky little things like readers is pretty pervasive, and I have something to say about that.
It’s okay to think about your readers when you write.
It’s okay to write things that people actually want to read.
It’s okay to be excited when people are excited about your work.
It’s okay to be paid, with money or attention.
It’s also okay to write in a Moleskine that no one else ever reads.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s represented by Elizabeth Bennett at Transatlantic Literary Agency and her most recent book is The Astonishing Maybe. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the original Ninja Writer.