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The Artiste Attitude: If I Write It, They Will Read

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Dear Writer,

I have come across a certain attitude among many young writers and other sorts of artists. This attitude reflects an arrogance that what they have to say or create is of such a quality that they need not consider an audience. After all, it is readily apparent that their brilliance shines so brightly that any really intelligent person will be awed by them. And for those who are not intelligent enough to “get” them and their work, such low-lifes are unworthy of consideration anyway. Some of these artistes are not quite so blatant, but there is still a touch of Field of Dreams in their attitude. If they build it/sculpt it/paint it/write it, the audience or buyers will come. Of course, dear reader, this does not describe you or your attitude, but this writer is certain you have a friend or two in this category with whom you’d like to share this letter.

Unfortunately, people’s flocking to works of art because of the artwork’s brilliance is not how human nature works. Having the attitude is a perfectly normal bit of human nature, though. And some few people are able to make it work. But that is because they are both brilliant and very hard workers who create something very valuable, usually over several years time. These are the exceptions who make it seem as if the artiste’s attitude works. Many young artists and writers might believe their very spelling errors to be of inconsiderable value, but the truth is that value is measured in the market place by what others are willing to pay for it. While a few people may have tastes in line with the marketplace and create for that market automatically, most young writers and artists have to be trained to understand and consider their audience.

When this writer went through school, so very many ćons ago, Speech was a required course. And in that course, we learned and demonstrated the four communication goals: inform, persuade, entertain, and query. For a poet, novelist, or other sort of writer, the first three goals are common, and are often mixed. The one that is most needed in the world, though, is persuasion. Here we come back to human nature. Everyone has to be a salesman. To get a job, we must sell ourselves. To get a date, we must sell ourselves. To get a book or poem published, or even looked at, we must sell ourselves. Many might object to the term “sell.” One may call it “presenting oneself well,” but it works out to the same thing. Those who ignore this part of human nature, those who refuse to sell, those who go to an interview for a professional position wearing blue jeans for example, fail to have their desires met. And so it is with getting readers.

In writing, the first step is to consider the audience. When you decide on an audience, choose someone you know who is a good average representative of that audience, and write with that individual in mind. The second consideration is something that we all perhaps learned in that Speech class in high school or college. You need to get the reader’s attention. Ted Kooser, in his wonderful book, The Poetry Home Repair Manual, suggests that you consider your poem like a guest in the reader’s home. This writer would go further. Consider your poem as someone trying to wangle a dinner invitation into the reader’s home. Or, if it helps, consider your reader to be a very desirable person whom you’d like to date, seduce, or even marry. While there are many strategies for seduction or wangling a dinner invitation, very few people can pull off the braggadocio approach successfully. One shall not win readers with an attitude of, “My ideas are great; here they are; if you don’t get them, it’s your own fault.” Usually, a gentler and more considered approach may be more successful. Remember that your first line or first sentence is also the audience’s first impression of you, and many audience members will not bother with the second line if you manage to turn them off in the first. So, instead of objecting that the reader just doesn’t understand your brilliance, consider that you might be missing an understanding of an important bit of human nature. Polish up your opening lines to seduce your audience. Put on their best suit and tie and make their resume shine as you send them out in the world to meet your readers.

Of course, once you have captured your reader’s attention, you also need to keep it. You have to be a polite guest or continue the seduction. But we’ll speak more of that in another letter.


The Gnostic Poet

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