These days, attention is a privilege that has to be earned and respected. We’ve got no shortage of stuff (articles, songs, stand-up videos…) anymore. The new scarcity is attention.
But that’s a good thing. More and more people are departing from the mainstream every day because it’s just not creating things relevant to us as unicycling, lampshade-knitting, Slovakian folk music-loving planking enthusiasts.
When there were five TV channels (I’m in the UK, if you’re just tuning in), and two-ish radio stations doing programmed speech, the producers had to come up with average stuff, because they needed to capture the attention of everyone (or as close as possible) to make it work. Now there are infinite channels, publishing can be as varied as there are are people on the planet.
That’s why I’m so gung-ho with the “go for it!”. More is actually more again. Nobody’s getting crowded out, there’s infinite shelf-space – and that also means there’s a strong incentive to make your output weird and relevant (to someone!), because of the attention scarcity.
So write. And yes, maybe for the sake of it. Because I also think that we don’t know what’s rattling around inside us until we give ourselves a real deadline to publish and be damned. (That’s what yesterday’s post was about).
Probably sounds like mumbo jumbo, but I remember reading and loving an interview with Tom Waits, where he said he thought of songs as having a life of their own, and it was his job to make them come and visit him (“Yeah, that guy was pretty cool, let’s blow down there and say ‘hi’ again…”)
It’s easy to walk away from a blank page. You can quite legitimately claim you’re not in the right frame of mind to write. Yep. Agreed. You are definitely not in the right frame of mind to write.
But what do we do every day? We show up to our work whether we’re in the mood or not. The question, “Am I in the right frame of mind for going to work today?” doesn’t figure into it. We’re there like a bear.
If we can do that for an activity we don’t necessarily love, it must be possible to do it for things we’re passionate about. The only thing holding us back is page fright.
In my experience of fear, the idea is not to make it go away but to understand that the uncomfortable sensation is just there trying to protect you.
…And now here it is again, protecting you from negative internet feedback, or a lukewarm critical reception, or a joke not hitting – with the same ferocity that it would protect you from an attacking grizzly. Fear has no finesse. You can’t educate it. You just have to be in the same room as fear and plough on regardless.
If you make an irreversible decision to publish at a certain time, that crunch point makes you get your house in order re fear quite effectively.
Yes, what you publish (in your novel, on your blog, on your podcast, to your stand-up audience) might be less than perfect, but that’s great! Now you know what you would’ve said if you were perfect. Now you can refine it. The act of forcing yourself to publish made that happen. If you reflect and repeat, it gets better.
So I think writing for its own sake still has value – plus there’s an underserved audience of unicycling, lampshade-knitting, Slovakian folk music-loving planking enthusiasts out there that need you!