I used to work with a lady who was a technical writer for a non-profit entity that was housed in my office. Let’s be honest, the entity was a pet project from the University president that was paid for out of a slush fund. The director was never around and nobody really knew what they did anyway. But the lady who wrote press releases and whitepapers for them was nice. Her name was Kitt.
She didn’t come out to talk to us much, but one of the things she did tell us one time has stuck with me. It has been a truth that was hard to accept at first, but now I know the feeling all too well. For days, if not weeks, she would be writing copy for this and a few other clients. One of the things you have to know about writing is that it is a slow process. Nothing happens quickly. She said it was depressing. She said that she never knew she was doing a good job on something until months down the road when the checks came or when she was not hired back.
It takes a while to write something, then you send it out, and it takes someone a while to read it…if they ever do. There is almost no immediate engagement or instant gratification. If you want that, save your writing for Facebook and Twitter. Put it in a blog (which is a big reason I do post to a few) if you want a quick response. Otherwise, your story, content, poem, etc. is probably not going to get you the reception you expected.
That little thumbs up your friends put on your link is about the best you can hope for.
You don’t do this for the accolades or attention. You do it because you are a hostage to whatever story you are writing. The paid work that I do…I wouldn’t do it except the response that I get comes with a dollar sign in front of it. Anything beyond that for company content is just sprinkles on a sundae. I don’t care what anyone thinks as long as the check clears. The chicken sandwich or phone bill I can pay is my literary criticism and theory on content writing. Give it five stars or two–I don’t care–if you paid me, it’s 10/10.
When you are paid, that is as good as instant gratification, because in our culture, we have decided that money is a metric for appreciation. After all, we tip our servers at a restaurant. We tip more if they were outstanding.
Sometimes it’s hard to sit down and work on a story for weeks and weeks. A book for a year or two. Or five. Even a blog post for an hour and know that once it leaves your hands and goes out into the world, nobody will give a fuck.
Well, maybe like six people will give a fuck. Eight tops.
The thing is that we don’t have any control over someone’s emotional response to anything that we do. You can do your best to appeal to their sensibilities, or you can attempt to cause an emotional reaction, but actually achieving that is up to them in how they respond. I dated someone who told me early on that one of my blog posts made her cry. It was one about my kids and how divorce has affected them. It was strange to think that early on in our relationship, the thing that drew her to me was that I was a writer and I was able to awaken an emotional response within her in that way. Ironically (or probably not), it was her response to my writing that was a giant red flag.
She stopped reading.
The person who had been one of my biggest champions just dropped off. Once I asked her about it, and her response was the same as my relationship before her. “It’s just so emotional. It’s overwhelming.”
I agree with that. What I write (unless it is about pocket knives or fender benders or boat accessories) is very emotional. It is very personal. I write what I like to read, which is a highly engaging, emotional story about someone’s life and the challenges they face. It’s a whole other side that people don’t get when I wave at them on the way to the post office or when I pay for my meal.
The worst thing about writing in this way is that when people drop off, I blame myself. I should have held back. I shouldn’t have written what I did. I didn’t want to upset anyone. Or maybe I did in a subconscious way and that means that I did it on purpose knowing what the result was going to be. Self-sabbotage.
But when someone tells you they are a writer, you’re going to get everything that is printed on the tin once you open it up. The contents inside are not going to be pretty. They won’t smell good. They will be hard to swallow.
I tell the stories that I tell because they are burning a hole through my soul. It’s the only way I know to get them out. And I guess when Hemingway said that writing is the loneliest profession, he was right on many levels. The way that you send this story out into the world, like Noah’s raven and it never returns, or the stories you tell isolate you from others. Maybe because they see you in a different light, or maybe because of how they see themselves through your lens.
Beats the hell out of me.
I’ve learned to trust my gut and though that sounds cynical, it hasn’t been wrong very often.
What I do know is when I stop worrying about who I am going to offend, or who is going to check out on me regardless of what I have said, I am generally happier. I would like to think that when Noah sent that Raven to search for land and it never came back, unlike the dove, it found a nice piece of dry land and made a nest and ate snacks and danced in the sunshine until its feathers dried out and shined with that blue black sheen. It left little raven prints on the sand and made things with string it had found and was happy.
It’s lonely. It’s thankless. Fuck.
But Maya Angelou said it best:
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.”
So, I keep doing it for some damn reason. Maybe because it hurts too much not to.