In his book Drive Daniel Pink writes about two kinds of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Autonomy, mastery and purpose motivate us from within. Money, praise, status and all the rest motivate us from outside. Writing includes both kinds of motivation but I think what motivates us to write more than anything else is the need to be read. Why else would you write? But what happens if we aren’t read as much as we expect to be read, or worse, what if no one reads our work at all?
The danger of unchecked expectations like wanting to be read by so many people a day or to be followed by so many people in the space of a month or two is that, if they go unfulfilled and unnoticed long enough, we quit. It’s hard to stop and consider the possibility that we’re missing something. Maybe people can’t find our work because we haven’t marketed it enough or because we haven’t optimised it enough for Google and other search engines? Or maybe, like Steven Pressfield writes in Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit, “It isn’t that people are mean or cruel. They’re just busy.”
Also, as Seth Godin writes in The Practice, “people who are fairly satisfied say nothing.” If I like a newsletter or a blog post I don’t usually comment because I assume the author won’t reply and I’m wasting my time but for all I know that comment may just be what they needed.
So if people are busy or they don’t feel the need to comment and you don’t know what to think because no one’s giving you any feedback, why keep writing? I think William Zinsser can console us. He writes in On Writing Well:
“‘Who am I writing for?’ It’s a fundamental question and it has a fundamental answer: you are writing for yourself. Don’t try to visualise the great mass audience. There is no such audience – every reader is different person. […] You are writing primarily to please yourself, and if you go about it with enjoyment you will also entertain the readers who are worth writing for.”
As for those troublesome expectations I think the poet Robert Bly can help us too. When Bly asked his mentor, William Stafford, how he was so prolific Stafford replied, “I lower my standards.” I feel we can do the same with our expectations.
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