"Once you start conceiving of your book as a commodity, you start thinking about readers as potential buyers, as customers to be lured. This makes you try to anticipate their tastes and cater to them. In doing so, you begin to depart from your own inclinations rather than respond to what the Irish novelist, Colm Toibin, has referred to as “the stuff that won’t go away.” “It seems that the essential impulse in working is … to allow what haunts you to have a voice, to chart what is deeply private and etched on the soul, and find a form and structure for it.” Facing up to what haunts you and finding a form and structure for it can never be a commercial enterprise. That stuff’s too chaotic and unpredictable, too messy and gorgeous, to fit a popular template. But it’s the source of your originality and may well prove popular in the end."
Author Jeffrey Eugenides shares somewhat of a fact of creativity. it tends to work best when it's something we want ourselves. Which I think is problematic for the business we're in. Everything we do chases the whims of something or someone else. So our question then is how we "chart what is deeply private and etched on the soul" when it's not only an expression of something that burns within, but rather something meant to move someone else.
Not to get all emo on you, I think the answer is love. We don't have the luxury of chasing every eccentric act of creativity that crosses our mind, we aren't in the business of provoking for the sake of provocation. And frankly, very few can build a career on that sort of indulgence in any industry.
So love though, think of how you bought gifts for others this past Christmas. Did you hurriedly buy the first thing plausible you could find? Or did you have the most success in considering the tastes and fashions of someone you care for? Did you buy it to check a box on a list or did you buy it because you wanted to show that person that they hold some meaning for you? If your purchase is more considered, the act of both giving and receiving becomes more satisfying. Everyone wins.
The best strategists and creatives I've found are not only passionate about the work, but the joy of the work stems from something bigger than building stuff you like or building because you need a pay check. The best find something about those who will ultimately touch the things they make that they genuinely care for, admire and respect. The best work is not simply transactional, but an empathetic exchange of something of more import than selling a few widgets.
So that is the job for the New Year, to get beyond the scowls and politics, the holier than thou attitudes we sometimes take towards an audience who may seem far away and not of us. It is to stay out of the high rises and in the streets. To not imagine only soccer moms, tech geek dads and rich, extreme white teenagers when we find ideas, but to create experiences for how the rest of us, and the most of us, live, too.
Austin Kleon says of musicians, "You can ignore the audience as much as you want — just don’t expect to get on the fucking radio."
Ignore your audience all you want, just don't expect to be rewarded for it.