About Writing: Worrisome Inaction and Being Condescending
Palatable and Boring is the MOST Terrifying Thing
Back in the day
Back in the day… Deb’s version
Back in the day, I wrote whatever the hell I wanted. I was unencumbered by what others may have thought - or didn’t think, as the case may be. I stated and advocated for an idea or position - be it politics, culture, religion & metaphysics, or anything else, for that matter.
Recently, I was contemplating why I don’t write like that anymore. Had I become fearful? Of losing subscribers or making people angry or having to roll back something I said because I was wrong or misstated something?
It’s not that… I’ll address my take on being fearful below.
Content Ideas… ugh!!
Recently, I was looking over some of my content ideas document(s). In them, I have dozens of topics that I identified and never written about. Some have rough outlines, some have a few notes, and some are just a speculative title.
Correction: not dozens; more than a hundred ideas. Ideas are NOT my problem.
I’m not suggesting they are all great ideas but, it is likely, most of them are decent, some may be boring or uninspired, and a few are great!
However, even the term, content ideas, makes me queasy.
This may be part of it… Content ideas carries connotations of marketing or gamesmanship; a lack of sincerity. It is as though I’m outlining ideas more for their clickable nature, rather than whether it is something I truly care about.
Looking at the ideas, however, I get the impression that I do care about many of them. But I see a few that have all the makings of a, “5 Tips To Help You Grow Your YouTube Channel in 2023”.
That topic, while likely potentially popular, is pandering and lazy. It’s a Big Mac, large fries, and a coke. Initially appealing but you’re going to end up feeling sick and ashamed!
Ahh.. there… Between the writing the paragraph above and writing this one, I deleted any of those ideas that struck me as overtly gamey.
Writing: A Retrospective
I started publishing online (blogging) sometime around 2000. I had no content idea documents. I suppose I had a notebook, because I always have a notebook - or two or four - that I jot ideas into. I like doodling during meetings and writing with pen on paper.
I buy the cheapest spiral notebooks from Target or Staples. My pen of choice is the EnerGel Metal Tip 0.7 by Pentel. They are inexpensive and flow wonderfully! Note: The link is NOT an affiliate link - a testament to my lack of digital marketing savvy.
My writing was not formally planned. I didn’t have a schedule. I wrote based on the whim of the day - often writing absurdist pieces about a news stories or current events. Or I just riffed on what had happened in my life.
Children, marriage, and personal foibles are an endless source of humor or introspective musings.
Similar to what I wrote about songwriting, I wrote as an outcropping of the ideas spinning around my head. I wrote for me. And in doing so, I wrote for my audience.
At the time, my audience was friends, family, and a growing list of blog subscribers. Some of those blog subscribers follow me here on Substack - more than 20 years later. (can we say gluttons for punishment? - thank you, you gluttons)
Writing those blog pieces lead to me trying my hand at a more traditional publication.
My first published piece of writing was appeared in the Warner Center News. It involved a story about Scott & Missy Reeves and a philanthropic event they were hosting. Scott & Missy are a couple - both actors - each on a soap opera at the time. Scott on Young and the Restless and Missy on Days of our Lives.
We (my first wife and I) had befriended Scott and Missy while attending the same church.
This led to a second article in the same newspaper about local hiking areas.
Those two pieces gave me the confidence to pitch my first technical business article and my first paid article.
I wrote a paid piece titled, “Why Technologists Must Learn To Speak Business.” It became the cover story and led to a paid monthly column for the same publication. Ultimately, all of this led to me being “discovered” by Mary Beth, an executive editor at Cisco Press (Pearson / Prentice Hall) and two books.
I had also started writing blog entries for IT Toolbox, a technical website.
Around this time I started playing music out. Between consulting, divorce, depression, and playing music, I fell out of the habit of writing for the sake of writing.
So, Am I Fearful? No.. except…
Let me ‘splain Lucy.
I’m not fearful of receiving feedback on writing about a controversial topic. Particularly, thought-provoking feedback.
I’m not afraid of blathery-tribalistic, angry feedback either. My response is typically absurdist ridicule and snark. Perhaps not a tactic that wins friends and influences people… It is more masturbatory in nature; me, enjoying my own snark.
What I am fearful of
I came to substack from mailchimp. Mailchimp is a newletter program. Most of those subscribers had subscribed to my music newsletter - some time between 2009 and 2013. After 2013, I went mostly silent for a few years.
I’ve added about 1,000 subscribers since coming to Substack.
I’ve been cautious - overly cautious - about “confusing” people.
Am I a songwriter? Am I a software developer/consultant? Am I an author? Am I sarcastic political/cultural commentator?
I’m afraid if I deviate from whatever the hell it is that I write about that I will confuse my reader.
Translation: Dear Subscriber. I don’t trust you to make topical leaps.
It’s me saying, “You all are not smart enough or nuanced enough to get me.”
That’s condescending. Sheesh… I’m so sorry!
I don’t mind being the arrogant sage. But the above attitude is just arrogance minus sagaciousness.
Also, it defers responsibility for my lack of confidence.
Lack of Confidence? In what, Matt?
As with the writer who relies on adverbs to carry the tone of dialogue, my fear that YOU won’t get ME is actually a fear that I cannot write effectively & freely across topics. I’m admitting that I am fearful that my writing cannot carry the day.
That’s me thinking like a content marketer rather than as a human being.
I’ve read enough of those articles that tell you how to grow your readership (or YouTube viewership). Here is some of that advice:
Pick a niche
Research popular topics
Write with your audience in mind
Write 600 to 1000 words
Don’t alienate your reader/viewer
When I grew my early readership, none of the above was/were a factor.
On their own, none of them are an issue. But taken as a whole they necessarily mean I must analyze my writing based on anything but what started me writing.
When I wrote on a whim, across topics, and avoided the 5 Tips to Make Your Writing More Palatable… AKA: How to Make Your Writing Stale & Boring - writing was an exercise in ideas and enjoyment.
Ideas & Enjoyment
That’s a pretty good content plan.
I’m inclined to believe that if I write about ideas and for enjoyment, my enjoyment first, that…
I’m going to lose some readers.
And I’m going to win some readers.
And I’m going to annoy some people.
And I’m going to thrill some people.
Any of those outcomes is better than being palatable for the sake of palatability. All of those are better than boring myself.
If I bore myself, it’s damned sure I’ll bore you.
I say, Ideas & Enjoyment. What do you say?
April 11, 2023
Deb uses the phrase, “Back in the day” in an attempt to shame me into being more caring or doing more little tasks for her, as in, “Back in the day, when you cared…” I’ve started using the phrase this way too.
Good to find you Matthew via @Scott Frey and @subpub (new here so not sure if the name checks are right format). As an old writer new to this new world it was good to read about your trajectory (meander more accurate?) through life writing and life and making music and life and writing. My current pieces touch on some of the same territory and my cv might be almost as diverse as yours.
Two of my favourite quotes about writing are from Marylinne Robinson who said the role of the writer/artist is ‘to make the ordinary seem special, the mundane seem magical ‘. And when asked ‘does writing come easily to you?’ she replied “The difficulty of it cannot be overstated. But at its best, it involves a state of concentration ... that is a marvellous feeling.
I thought I'd have more to say but that's it for now.
Ideas and Enjoyment - I'll drink to that.
Absolutely agree! Pretty much every writer’s memoir or essay I’ve read that was written by a successful author I respect and admire says, “Do not write what you THINK the audience is going to want, write what is inside of you that wants to come out.” At least, that should be the starting point. Of course, for a good writer, there is a plethora of grammatical and structural considerations that happen in the building, editing, and formatting of the piece, which I view as being done for the reader because the writer is trying to present his/her creation to the world in the most beautiful and un-boring way possible. Keep writing across all those topics! Good writers have eyes and a heart that see, feel, catch things that others often overlook. Their minds are full of curiosity and contemplation. It’s no wonder they usually have so much to say! And no wonder people keep showing up to listen, read that essay, by that book... FYI, I found your SS when I was googling for SS vs MailChimp and stumbled on your “how-to” video for setting up on SS. And I stay for your multiple topics, not just one--writing, music, addiction, life in general. Keep on 👍