Mutations (Reflections on Life)

Write Like No One is Reading: The Balance Between Writerly Narcissism and Writing as a Profession

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.

 

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12 thoughts on “Write Like No One is Reading: The Balance Between Writerly Narcissism and Writing as a Profession

  1. I totally agree. I’ve heard of authors writing books in a style that is their own, on a topic that they have a real passion for, failing and then writing a vampire story or something equally driven by consumer taste and getting published. I couldn’t do it either. Would just seem like a self-betrayal. Maybe that makes writers like you and I naive, unprofessional or just not hungry enough.

    For me writing is art, and an artist’s success isn’t measured in sales figures or fame; it’s measured in credibility and authenticity.

    Great post!

    • Thank you! I’m glad you agree. I feel the same way about music. Why would you sing/rap/perform something you don’t agree with or like? Do you really just want to perform for the sake of performing? I understand that that’s why more “conscious” artists tend not to sell as well, but I can’t push a product I don’t support.

      And if your art is no longer “yours” then is it really art or is it just some product? I always thought art was self-expression.

  2. Heide says:

    I dunno – I get what you’re saying but then I don’t get it. Ok well it’s not that I don’t get what you’re saying its that I don’t know if what you’re saying is realistic. Plus in a sense I kinda feel like it’s a cop-out. Because you don’t care for the subject you bail. There’s something in that – that’s just well lame. I mean isn’t that part of the art. Taking nothing and turning it into something. Taking that Kimye article subject and actually transforming it into a real legitimate piece, isn’t that the art of it. Isn’t that where your skill and

    talent can shine? I dunno it’s tricky. In a sense it’s a lot like school often times you are required to write and read crap that you are in no way interested in but you still gotta find a way to turn in good work. As a professional writer I think it’s up to the writer to turn that lame subject into something interesting, to insert and exert yourself and your skills.

    But on the other hand I totally get what you’re saying because I feel the same way when someone wants me to design a space for them but what they really want is for you to give them the same thing they already have and it’s crap. And I’m like oh no, no way am I doing that. I don’t want my name on that. But I have to say I’ve taken some of those jobs and totally smashed them. Because even though it may not be my forte, as an artist, I’m up for the challenge. And I’m deteremined to meet the challenge and you’re going to love it because I’m going to transform that space into something awesome despite the limitations that have been placed on me.
    On a side note: awesome article. You got me thinking. I read your article on clutch and decided to check you out. Totally not disappointed.

    • I agree with you. Part of being an artist is taking something and transforming it into something else, but unfortunately, I think that more often than not, that is not what happens.

      Trust me, I can take a Kimye article and morph it into a historical analysis of black male self-esteem as evidenced by relationship choices (I actually love analyzing media and pop culture by the way), but I don’t think that that’s normally what you see on other sites. You don’t see people trying to stretch themselves to turn celebrity gossip into something meaningful, you see another endless list. I don’t think that every post needs to be about politics or the economy. It just needs to be something that makes us think or think about something in a different way.

      In this post, I was basically referring to people who turn in stuff that they aren’t proud of, just to get a byline. It’s the byline/paper chasing and not artistically challenging that I object to.

      Thanks for visiting!

      • Heide says:

        Ok you are 1000% right on that. But see that’s why we need you. To show these folks how it should be done.
        This was awesome so glad I found you. You just perked up my day. Keep up the good work.

      • Thank you so much. That really means a lot to me. Don’t worry. Like the post says, I will write forever. I just want to maintain my integrity in the process.

  3. alanna says:

    Thank you B, for sharing your brilliance. I can never praise your intelligence enough, and in fact, I have told some people back at home to be on the lookout for you.

    I’ve been struggling with writer’s block ever since I turned in my last paper in April. Fear of criticism and rejection have kept me from attempting to write publicly. I always attempt to start a blog, but get dissuaded when I think that it has to include something about beauty, fashion, or haircare to get people to read it. Black women don’t need yet another beauty blogger. Then again, to think that that’s all that black women want to read about, only reveals my lack of faith in the diversity and intelligence that we collectively possess. Actually, it’s kind of an insult. I know better. I’m going to read and reread this post…and start writing about the things that “I” am interested in reading.

    I HATE to admit it, but I faithfully read YBF. I once thought that I should get that site blocked on my computer, but I don’t even need to do that. It’s so trite and mundane these days. I’d LOVE to read your historical analysis of “Kimye” and black men’s self-esteem issues btw 🙂

    ac

    • Alanna!!! Thank you so much, girl. I really appreciate it.

      I definitely think you should go for it. I was also reluctant to start a blog because I didn’t like the idea of putting my thoughts and feelings out into cyberspace. I just had to learn that people have different uses for their blogs, and I try not to treat mine as a diary. I have an actual diary for that lol.

      However, I have found that it’s a great platform for me to write and practice my writing, but you can’t do it for the accolades. If people come, they come, but at the end of the day, you have to be proud of the final product,

      I would be very excited to read your blog. We need different voices (the black blogging world especially) not the same ones talking about the same topics. Don’t be afraid to step away from the crowd.

      Didn’t Toni Morrison say something like, “if there’s something you want to read, write it?” Well, that’s what I plan to do.

      Thanks for stopping by, girl! I miss you! Keep in touch! xoxo

  4. I wholeheartedly agree with your point of view. As with anything else, in writing you must be true to yourself, first and foremost. Your personal perspective and how you present it is what makes you unique.

    I’m lucky; I’m retired. I can write exactly what I want, when I want, and only have to please myself. As more editor than writer, I never really had to write according to someone else’s dictates; that would be tough, I think. I wish you years of writing/dancing to your own drum!

    • Thank you so much! That really means a lot to me. I will definitely continue writing and hopefully people will continue to/begin to read.

      I really enjoyed your post on Freshly Pressed today and I explored your blog a little, and I definitely liked what I saw, so I’m following you now and I look forward to reading more and learning from you. I think that your perspective is both greatly needed and appreciated.

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