In my recent post for Clutch Magazine (shameless plug, what are blogs for, right?) I discuss how I believe the tendency of many black media outlets to focus their content on issues relating to relationships, fashion, and celebrities limits both black writers and black readers. While this practice is an issue that I’ve been thinking about for some time, as the article’s opening anecdote says, the piece was directly inspired by a conversation with a writer friend of mine who had her idea rejected because her editor told her that the site’s readers “weren’t that intellectual.”
While reading through the comments on the Clutch post, I noticed that the debate seemed to go back and forth about whether it was the site or the reader’s responsibility to encourage more “intellectual” content. As my article acknowledged, many, if not most, editors publish what readers seem to want to read, which in this digital day and age is increasingly determined by “likes” and page-views.
On the other hand, I believe that readers will read what they are offered and that sites and publications should introduce readers to a variety of topics and perspectives, not just the superficial tried and true relationship and celebrity gossip posts. One comment in particular, from a writer and blogger for another popular site who expressed his appreciation for the article because of his own battles between wanting to write what would “perform” the best in order to appease his employers and wanting to write more meaningful things–at the possible expense of more views–seemed to drive one point home: writing (and/or blogging) is a business. Just as with any other business, people are attempting to create a product for consumers, and we all know that the customer is always right.
For whatever reason, the realization that writing too, like any other art form once performed for the public for a fee, is a business, came as somewhat of a shock to me. Writing is what I absolutely love to do, and for this reason, I’ve always approached it from somewhat of a selfish and slightly narcissistic angle. Even when I do it for money (creative and/or journalistic writing, that is), I don’t write for other people. I write for myself.
Don’t get me wrong, like all other writers, I want to be read and shared and discussed. (Just ask the friends I alert whenever I have a new blog post or article up.) I think about the best way to convey my message to my readers and I hope that my words will have an impact. I may write with you in mind, but I would never say that I write for you. I absolutely write for myself (for my sanity, my enjoyment, my expression, etc.) Even when I’m deciding what I want to write about, I usually make those decisions on the basis of the topics that I feel most passionate about and the ones around which I think I can make the strongest and most interesting arguments.
Of course, part of that is because I believe that I can do the best job possible when I’m passionate about a topic and I want my readers to enjoy what I write, but my motivation is always more for me to do my best work than it is to write about what I think you will be most likely to read.
I’m sorry if this practice goes against all laws of blogging especially. It probably won’t improve my site views or get me featured on a “Black Bloggers to Know” list, but for the most part, I’m okay with that. I would love for more people to read and comment on my blog, but I am not going to write for the explicit purpose of trying to get them to read or comment on it. I’ve gotten into a much better blogging rhythm this summer because I’ve had more time, but in general, if I don’t have anything insightful to say, I’m not going to post anything. Just as I wouldn’t speak if I didn’t have anything to say, I don’t believe in blogging just to blog. It’s one thing to work your way through writer’s block, but it’s another thing to try to be prolific just because.
Because I apply the same logic when I pitch stories, to a certain extent, it is hard for me to accept the trend of superficiality on so many sites and in so many publications because I don’t really understand how people can write something that they do not feel. Call me naive, stubborn, idealistic, or whatever, but I literally cannot sign my name to something that I am not 100% proud of or to something that I do not feel was a necessary contribution to a forum for discussion. (And yes, I’m fully aware that pride and what is “necessary” vary greatly depending on the individual and the context.)
Rather than waiting for readers to stop reading it, I believe that the proliferation of pointless content will stop when writers (who have a desire to write other types of things) refuse to write it. If that means not submitting a piece to that outlet that has 100,000 followers, then so be it. It’s the digital age, ink for yourself!
I believe wholeheartedly in the power, importance, and beauty of words. On the slightly obsessive and narcissistic side, I regularly go back and read the work I’ve posted and submitted everywhere, from my blog to media outlets to my school newspaper. I critique myself and make sure that I am still proud of my words.
On the other hand, I can definitely understand how people can write something that they do not feel or are not proud of. They get a paycheck. If your boss tells you to write three blog posts a day: Kanye and Kim, the 5 greatest black wedding movies of all time, and whether or not Beyonce and Jay-Z’s relationship can offer any pointers into our own love lives, you do it, because he pays you–and I understand that. I can’t knock the hustle.
Yet, that’s where my dilemma comes in. Because I understand that writing is a business, at times, I have philosophical problems and concerns with making it my profession–unless I have the financial and creative freedom to do it on my own terms. I love it too much for that. (If I am ever lucky enough to get a job writing about topics I believe in in a meaningful way all the time, then all of this may become null and void.)
Make no mistake: I will write forever. I plan to write articles, books, movies, plays–everything. However, I don’t want to trek down a monolithic, stereotypical, mind-numbing path. I refuse to be driven by the apparent “consumer demand,” because, honestly, I would rather write for an audience of myself alone than write for an audience of millions and lose my voice in the crowd.