15 Habits of Great Writers: Day 12 – Provoke; Alternately Titled: Read Me Damn It

July 7, 2012 stephhwilliams 2 Comments

I’ve been trudging along in the Great Writers Series, doing better some days than others, really trying to stretch my legs as a writer and develop some better habits. The biggest habit of all that I’ve wanted to foster is writing every day. So far, so good on that one. I don’t always write what I think I should that day, but at least I’m writing.

For Day 12’s habit, Jeff says we need to “quit screwing around” and “provoke [], already.” He encourages participants to write something dangerous, to tell the brutal truth, to provoke people into thinking. He clarifies that we shouldn’t be doing it “for the sake of being contentious,” but rather “for the sake of being honest.”

Well, unlike yesterday, when I didn’t think I could accomplish anything Jeff asked of me, today’s habit is one I feel well-versed in. I’m always honest in my writing. I say what I’m thinking and don’t sugar coat things unless I really mean the sweet part. Yesterday, I used the term cathartic, because often that’s what writing is, particularly the nonfiction I write (i.e., the blog posts). One of the things I’ve always loved about writing is using it as an avenue to truth – truth of what I think, how I feel – about the world around me.  And, no, it’s not always earth-shattering or life-changing; often it has a lot to do either with my kids driving me bonkers or my lack of people skills. Or that I think the guy they picked to play Superman will suck. But it’s what I think, take it or leave it.

And a lot of people leave it – or never even attempt to take it. What the heck am I talking about here? I’m talking about readers. I’m talking about people who actually read my blog on a semi-regular basis. I know there’s not that many of them. Recently, a little peeved at my husband for having no clue what I’d written on my blog, I posted about “knowing my audience” and that he wasn’t it. I write on here to write. It’s pretty much for me. Anybody else is bonus.

In a related post, Jeff expands on the “write something dangerous” advice. He talks about how we take a risk with everything we create – a risk that no one will care, that people will think it’s terrible, or people just won’t even notice.  He basically says ‘who cares’ if no one else reads what you’ve written, as long as you have fun writing it. And then Jeff, who I’m guessing is an optimist, goes on to say:

[M]ore often than not, people won’t ignore you. They won’t loathe your writing; they’ll love it. Precisely because you do.

Well, maybe. I don’t know. It still depends on whether people ever give your creation the time of day or not. I mean, I don’t have hundreds of blog followers or subscribers or fans or whatever else you want to call them. Most of my posts don’t even get comments. And I’m pretty sure the only person who reads every post is me.

So just loving what you do and telling the truth isn’t the key to winning friends and influencing people. There’s something else involved, something that I haven’t quite figured out. I do write for myself but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want other people to read it.  If I didn’t want other people to read it, I’d keep it in a notebook tucked under my pillow; I wouldn’t post it on the web and link to it everywhere under the sun. I’d like to think that people are interested in what I have to say, that maybe something I’ve said makes them think, or moves them to take some sort of action.

But I can’t focus on how many readers I have or don’t have, or whether people comment on what I write or not. Because if I do, I’ll just be disappointed all the time. And because I’m not here to win any popularity contests – good thing, too, given the lack of people skills I mentioned. I’m just here to write. But all writers want to be read, right?

2 People reacted on this

  1. Just checking in firstly to say that I read your post!

    And secondly to say that I totally relate. You’re a writer, and writers want their work to be read. Why else do people write? Essentially writing is communication in printed form. I’ve never kept a diary, because what’s the point? You’re just talking to yourself then aren’t you?!

    I think it is hard, I think Jeff has experienced great success based on the advice you’ve mentioned because he is focusing in on one niche topic and he’s doing brilliantly at it. But then I believe there’s also plenty of other writing gigs that he has outside of his blog and his books.

    But, if you don’t have a niche topic that you’re writing about, or maybe you don’t want a niche topic – maybe you just want to write about what sparks your imagination at the time (which is totally fine btw)! I think then it gets hard, because you don’t get those repeat followers and those repeat commenters – the people who were interested in Monday’s post, might not be interested in Tuesday’s post.

    I’m not sure what I’m getting at, and I certainly don’t have an answer – but don’t be discouraged! What works for Jeff doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. But the essence of his advice – being open, honest and authentic – rings true every time. And that, I think you’re pretty good at 🙂

    And also, I guess it’s a case of where you measure your success. Just because you don’t have a million blog followers, it doesn’t mean that your fiction which you haven’t posted on your blog isn’t worth a read – maybe one day you’ll become a best selling author without the help of the blog! (I mean, that’s how people did it in the old days right?!)

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