If only it was as simple as I make it out to be to my high school English students:
write something effective, brilliant, worth consuming, and the audiences will come running.
The reality is that no one, aside from me and possibly their moms or tutors will ever read their essay on Romeo and Juliet or Slaughterhouse-Five.
The same goes for your blog and your latest I-worked-five-days-and-30-goddamn-hours-on-this-essay/”article” that won’t do as well as the random “post” about some human foible/sex angle/sex content/love content that is or has a video and picture to garner 3 million views and its own feature on the local news (because the local news takes the run-off from the national news, which could very well feature this bite-size foible and make someone famous for a day as the hosts vamp like they’re interested until commercial, then you wait until VH1 calls you for a “Where Are They Now” segment that no one will watch).
Brilliant headline, smart DEK, interesting picture, fingers crossed…
While you slave away on the laptop, their piece hits, hits big, keeps hitting, and little do they know that often, after the hits subside, nothing happens.
But you’re still a writer. You always will be.
If only they could really sing, act, dance, build, write comedy, sell product, or write well-rounded essays.
People get paid for that stuff, you know.
But, thanks to the printing press and cheap ink, anyone with an opinion and enough friends can do anything these days, and the advertisers are licking their chops, ready to sponsor your latest podcast, vlog, or media composite that the world somehow needs right now, right now, and right now.
And, like the images that are produced in volume as street art gain meaning as people see them more and more (but have no intrinsic meaning or talent behind them), these miniature cultural touchstones become our new trading cards, Facebook Likes, and tchotchkes sitting on the shelves of cheaply made cabinets that no one is going to pay full price for at the yard sale.
This isn’t ENG401 material, but it could be
Most of the material society is seeing every day (and since time and memorial) is not 50 Essays: A Portable Anthology, America’s Best Essays 2016, or even an essay you’ll be forced to read in your ENG101 classes online.
And that’s okay.
Out of the sea of shares and posts comes new brilliance, literature, nonfiction, and art, and I’m ready for it every time I see it. I really am. It actually excites me to think about it, which is how I know I’m doing the right thing.
After all these years as an English teacher, I still want to be an English teacher every day, and the same goes for me as a writer, editor, and reader.
I’m a nut that way. I’m crazy for good art and lit, online or in-hand.
But the Share Culture online—that thing where we’re sharing non-stop without really questioning why we’re sharing—has become our new invented necessity, as has the faux-outrage, faux-sincere-rebuttal, and brilliant listicle posting—as if everything we write should be seen by the world over. #writingnotwriting, #right?
I know that’s true for my writing, but not everyone else’s. Right?
If you’ve read this far, you win the internet (and you’re obligated to share)
Already you’ve stopped reading, so I’ll close here.
I can feel like you’re about to share this, but you’re waiting for the big reveal or a new twist, and then (and only then) will you post this for someone else to read, to really really read, and there it goes!
So please, pretty please: share this.
Everyone share this.
Share it like you’ve never shared anything before.
For my writerly sisters and brothers:
be sincere, truthful, and unique in your writing, and make it worthy of the reader—not just because some newfound celebrity depends on it, but because you need to share your truth and story, and we need to read it.
It’s all and only about the work and the art.
Because, as an editor and writer, I need to keep reading stories from real writers who can’t not write as well as from those first-time writers who are still finding their voices.
And if you can’t write, and you have something to say, there are plenty of writers out there who will co-write, edit, and ghostwrite your truth for you (not for free, though—and, of course, I’m always for hire).
I will always be reaching, wanting, and helping foster those truths that keep me reading (especially if it is built on real outrage, need, story, anecdote, and controversy), and encourage you to continue doing the same, whether you’re the next David Foster Wallace or Big Blog Hit Machine.
Because as long as we’ve had literature, creative nonfiction, and powerful memoir and bio pieces, we’ve had yellow journalism, pamphlet sharing, and those extra gospels that just didn’t make the final cut but are referenced more than originally intended.
And somehow, after all these years, we’re still reading Shakespeare, Beowulf, and The Odyssey while sharing today’s trending topics on our handheld devices.
And that’s okay with me.
Even if you stopped reading 400 words ago.
This essay was originally entitled “Read This or My Children Will Starve” or “I Stopped Reading 400 Words Ago (and Other Things You Know the Reader is Doing While You’re Working 30 G-D Hours on a Piece that Will Compete with 100,000 Other Pieces for Twelve Seconds of a Reader’s Attention Span and Damn It! I Forgot to Put a Number in the Beginning of this Title—oh Well I’m Sure I’ll Have a Hit Next Time)”
Read Jeremy McKeen every week here on The Good Men Project!
And thank you for sharing this!
Check out Jeremy’s other essays: