This morning began much the same as many before it. Awakened from a deep slumber by the rustling noise of a toddler from her bedroom and the occasional bellow, “Mama, where are you?” that always makes me smile. Layla is on vacation with Grandma Teta, so it has just been Jemma and me for the past week. I sluggishly poured my coffee and a bowl of dry Cap’n Crunch, tuned into PBS so my little singer didn’t miss the songs at the start of her favorite educational programs, and as typical for me, I officially began my day with the updates of friends and loved ones via social media outlets. I am certain most people start their day with this same obsession.
Yesterday, John and I discussed an article getting wide circulation on Facebook, and I had not given it much thought until I saw it in my newsfeed, about ten different posts worth, this morning. I am sure it is met with much gratitude by the author that I gave it yet another read – an insignificant 2 notches from me alone adds to her thousands of views – but it got me thinking. More than just the content of the writing itself, but the fact that something was written as a personal expression of the author and it became sensational news; people relate, people share – that is how these things go now. I have to believe she did not intend, when writing it, for it to become such a hit. If her main focus when illustrating those points about her life, and about her daughter, was simply to gain notoriety, it would have been evident in the writing. But, it was absent that completely. I admire her, I really do. Although, I follow that with the statement that I also envy her instant skyrocket to high readership a little. There are many reasons why, but I must confess it is not the person, or her success – I enjoyed her writing style, and the love she has for her family is evident. She is also self-reflective, and willing to change – qualities quickly fading in our progressive, self-serving culture.
What irritates me, however, is that her example is becoming increasingly common. What I mean is that people want easy. They want less fuss and quick accessibility. Writing has become something of a novice sport; anyone and everyone can start a blog or write an article and be “published” in a matter of seconds.
With the advent of social media channels like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, we have virtually (pun intended) and absolutely changed the way we receive and mentally process information.
People are now increasingly conditioned to need our news in two-sentence fragments, with the most dramatic and intense being what we “care about” first. People use Twitter, with the 140 character limit, to express themselves in such a condensed form that “u” replaces “you”, and “I luv you” seems to mean the same as the ancient vernacular “love” – as if changing it from o to u and removing the e actually makes typing it more convenient? (Is that how you want your love, people? Convenient, really?!)
Ask yourself this: What grabs your attention when you’re looking at your Facebook newsfeed? What are you most likely to actually care about? Could it be long, meandering post from a friend about his day, or would you rather just read, “my day sukked” – causing you to compulsively hit the like button because it was easy to relate to? What if the long-winded, wandering post actually helped you understand how he was really feeling, would that even matter to you? Or, would it take up too much of your precious time that you could be spending liking Suzy’s cute puppy picture, or your Aunt’s new car?
The article I mentioned earlier is simply a benchmark for me – it was not the words she wrote, or the message behind them. I concede (to make my John smile) that I loved it – but I must also share that I have written words JUST LIKE that before, and yet they remain unnoticed. This frustrates me, but I do not want to come off as a whiny “why did she get success and I didn’t” brat who would rather complain than work my butt off to get where she is now. No, that is not the point.
The point is: Passion. And the ever-obvious difference between masterful literature and the easily-accessible articles that get thousands of “hits” each day – what drives readership if not for convenience? If not for the 1,252 words that this author wrote in comparison to the extrapolated version contained in an actual novel? The content is the same; the tone may very well be similar as well. What sets them apart? Convenience. The measure of success in writing these days is convenience. That is the defining difference, and what makes me frustrated, as an artist, with the way we have been programmed to consume only the things which are easiest and fastest to come by.
Who wants to read a novel when it is so much more convenient to read a Twitter post, or instead, find a “creative outlet” on a Pinterest board filled with more consumerist crap to fill a house – we don’t need it, really, but we have been conditioned to respond better to instant gratification than to take time to learn about the lives of our peers, and to care about their wants, desires, and needs. Unless, of course, they say it all in 140 characters or less…
It is so difficult for me, from a sort-of bystander sociologist’s perspective (which is driven by my knowledge of psychology and how we process and handle the world around us) to come to terms with the fast-pace, get-it-now world we live in.
From a personal, self-aware place I will say that I am, indeed, an artist. By that, I stay true to what is inside of me, and I write for nobody else but me. However, that does not negate the fact that I want to share my craft with the world. I would be lying if I said it does not matter to me. What astounds me, then, is that readership is higher for those people writing the same stuff – be it about parenting, politics, food, or any number of hobbies/topics we are interested in – than it is for those people whom want to share a different kind of story. At least, this is what I find in the online world. Write a book then? Well, as Dunder Mifflin suggested, paper is obsolete; writers “make it” with blogs, think Mommy-ish or Single Dad Laughing, not with books (I would like to add, I love both these blogs – I “consume” it, just like everyone else… That is not the point). Their fan-base starts with their online readership, and if they are lucky enough to land a book deal, their popularity stems from strategic virtual marketing and the loyal readers whose allegiance was won by months if not years of being bombarded with data-analyzed, well-timed placement of articles in newsfeeds, Twitter updates, and blog posts. The worst is when writing is popularized by having already been in the spotlight (see: LC from whatever that MTV show was – an author? Give me a break, people – this is YOUR FAULT!)
What I desire is to honor who and what I am within my writing. I am not driven by a need for success, and yet, the constant stream of others similar to me whom find “success” in their writing is a source of great suffering for me. Not for the fame or the money, but for the ability to share it at all. To know that something they cared about is being appreciated, and people read it and think, “I totally get where he/she was coming from.” It is that shared sense of the experience of life that I want to give to the world through my own history, and the portrayal of all I have learned – to give people hope when things are hard, and to bring back, at the heart of my writing, the craft of true literature that was lost with Jane Austen, William Faulker, and Ernest Hemingway.
I do not need more than one hand to count how many of my friends even read honest-to-goodness books. Five fingers, maybe less, who will actually take the time to stop life long enough to appreciate the rich, full writing of someone else.
And yet, I am encouraged to create this? Why? So that, once done, I can stand back, take a look at my creation, and say, “It is good?” Surely, then, to be met with a thousand other writers who essentially have the same effect as my novel, only, instead, wrote theirs in 1,252 words!
I am going to be true to myself, and I will never stop writing. I was given a unique insight into the heart of myself, and I access that and display it nakedly for the world (or those at least willing to see it) because to write is to be me in the most basic, honest form.
My work may never gain notoriety. It may never get pushed to the top of newsfeeds, and shared so many times my mind cannot keep up. I may never have the ability to reach the audience I desire, because the world has changed, and people have changed. They don’t want literature anymore, in fact; they want convenience.
What I will have to chew up and swallow is the cold, hard reality of life as an artist in the 21st Facebook/Twitter century. What I have to consume is the consumerist’s mentality, while I stand back away as their whet appetite devours only what is right in front of them constantly; I will watch, but harbor the veracious wonder of my own ambitions, dreams, and desires quietly…
I will use a million words, and I will use them with more care and proper respect than any other, because I admire the gift for the sake of its pure beauty, and if those words someday catch the eye of one, and that one finally says, “I totally get what she is feeling here”, and that moment we relate changes her life for the better, than I will consider what I have done to be more successful than a million hits on a measly 1,252 words.
True artistry exists apart from the hunger for success. It thrives off honesty, passion, and the mere fact that, absent the ability to create, the artist withers away into despair. Should I ever not be able to write, I would press on, but a part of me would fade. That is how deep my passion goes. I sincerely hope, for the sake of the art inherent in the authors’ words, that each person now riding the fringes of popular success feels the same way I do. Otherwise, if it is our need for consumption that drives “success” and it exists now because we have made it easy, I hope I am not around when real literature breathes its last. It would be a sad day, indeed, for someone like me whom creates for the sake of art, not for the sake of fame.