[A video that has exactly ZERO to do with this post!]
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I’ve been thinking about this video conversation between Patti Digh and David Robinson since I watched it last week.
It’s short and worth a watch, but in case you’re more of a reader than a watcher (like I am), the takeaway is this: you cannot do two things at one time. Specifically, you cannot make anything good while you are simultaneously, not to mention paradoxically, worrying about what people will think of what you are making.
David, you see, comes from a theater background, and as such has spent many years watching actors try to do just that. Because if there’s one thing an actor cares more about than the choice he’s making on stage at a given moment, it’s what you think of him while he’s making it. And if there’s one thing anyone who knows anything about good acting will tell you, it is impossible to be fully in the scene, to do your goddamned job as an actor, when you are doing anything besides being fully in the scene, worrying included.
I never really “got” this as an actor, which is why most of the time, I wasn’t very good as an actor. My success in commercials is easily attributable to my extensive background in TV advertising; I’d been “acting” the commercials I wrote for art directors, bosses and clients for 10 years before I made dime one really acting in them. TV, film, and theater were problematic, though, because no matter how hard I worked at the acting part, you could always smell the want coming off me.
Writing is no different. There are many rat-bastard writers whose work you love to read because they are good writers, writing their truth.
There are also some very nice writers who love their audiences: Patti Digh herself is one of them. But she will happily tell you to eat sh*t and die (my words!) if you don’t like what she’s written. She is unwavering in the courage of her convictions, which is as it should be: they’re not really values unless you’re really willing to hold onto them.
For the love of all that’s holy, and your writing had better be included in that, hew to your path. Screw the “like” buttons and pandering and other tedious bandwidth-wasting circle-jerkery. Whether you’re writing about marketing or macramÃ© or your love of the baby Jesus, stand for what you stand for. The opinions of others have exactly zero to do with your truth. Will this make you less publishable? Less-retweetable? Possibly.
Or not. There is something about single-minded focus linked to passion that is quite compelling. Watch who you watch and learn.