What if everything you’ve learned is wrong?
I don’t mean facts. I don’t mean ideas. I don’t precisely mean aesthetics.
What if your communication style is wrong?
My background is partly academic, and I’ve usually excelled at academic writing. Somewhere along the way, I learned the trick of writing an essay or presenting research in a style and form that appealed to teachers and professors. I loved essay tests because they let me talk about whatever I wanted to. There was no deer in the headlights moment of being caught without particular information. Write an interesting enough or provocative enough essay, and the more learned authorities don’t usually notice the gaps in your subject knowledge. It was, in fact, a(n academic) life saving skill that I’ve been able to teach to others.
But I revert to that style most of the time. My values have been precision, subtlety of distinction, advancing a sometimes wild claim and being able to back it up. This lends itself to long paragraphs, complex sentences, and intricate arguments.
The problem is: no one wants to read that sort of thing. It only worked in an academic setting because graders HAD to read it. They didn’t choose to. And I had learned to please them.
I love literature. And most of the literature I love most was written over a hundred years ago. Books are my ideal medium, not tablets, not phones, not kindles, not nooks … not even my faithful laptop.
- And most of the most appealing books don’t have pictures.
- They don’t have text boxes.
- They don’t have subheadings.
- They didn’t have embedded videos.
- And God knows they don’t have bullet points.
Nope – just acres and acres of unornamented words. The very thing that would never make it out of a slush pile today. And rightly so. That decision is mostly based on what publishers believe will sell. That’s the whole business of writing – the writer must produce works people actually want to read.
I have a love-hate relationship with poetry. What I call poetry is what I produce much of the time when I set out to write. That has been more pronounced in this blog – it was not my intention or plan. It’s just what happened.
My recent experiences online lead me to believe people are writing poetry all over the place. To me, they are producing things that are interesting, intriguing, idea-heavy – things that are true. But everybody knows, poetry is dead. At least, that’s the line we hear all the time. (I’m not personally persuaded, but I’m stubborn.)
The long and short of it: I feel out of step. My writing work this year has illustrated the gulf between the things I write, and the things that are in demand.
When we write, we write what we believe matters – it matters to us. We wouldn’t take the time if we didn’t. It is true that we want to say true things. And it is true that we wouldn’t write if we didn’t actually imagine we had something to say. But there is also some unspoken needy drive. Pay attention to me.
If you feel out of step – as I clearly do – there are only two likely possibilities:
Either your content is wrong. It doesn’t, in fact, matter to anyone but you. It doesn’t succeed at saying anything true or new. You don’t have something to say.
Your communication style is wrong. You aren’t able to transmit those things in an effective way. You aren’t presenting them in ways that demonstrate their value, use, or qualities. If the second possibility is the case, then I am the writing equivalent of an Eliza Doolittle – who must learn to walk and to talk like a regular author.
Of course, if you don’t care for either of those options, you can always conclude that you’re right and the rest of the universe is wrong.