Of Writers and the Audience

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(Disclaimer: The opin­ions ex­pressed in this ar­ti­cle are the author’s own and do not nec­es­sar­i­ly rep­re­sent those of the SuperNerdLand.com staff and/or any con­trib­u­tors to this site.)

It takes a spe­cial kind of writer to be able to ac­tu­al­ly reach out and touch the au­di­ence. It’s far too easy these days to be clin­i­cal, de­tached, un­car­ing and un­feel­ing. When it comes to writ­ing, those writ­ers ac­tu­al­ly tend to be best at cov­er­ing news. Keeping as ob­jec­tive as pos­si­ble is nec­es­sary there. It can be soul­less work, writ­ing facts that are go­ing to just be read, dead­pan, by an au­di­ence. One doesn’t even have to wor­ry about in­flu­enc­ing au­di­ence thought with most cov­er­age; that is not what a good news writer should be do­ing. This is the one type of writ­ing where you want to keep your own soul out of it as much as possible.

Sadly, this is also the one type of writ­ing that gets abused the most; filled with peo­ple who can’t help but in­ject their own lean­ings. This is why we have such a bi­ased me­dia. Writers and ed­i­to­r­i­al staff can nev­er seem to re­mem­ber their place, and chose to line their wal­lets with click­bait and vit­ri­ol in­stead of ad­vo­cat­ing for the ob­jec­tive truth of an event.

Conversely, you have things like opin­ion and ed­i­to­r­i­al, as well as es­says, po­et­ry, and longer-form writ­ing. These are the ma­te­ri­als that are meant to touch the soul of the au­di­ence. Those writ­ers are meant to in­spire thought and emo­tion; to touch the au­di­ence in the most fun­da­men­tal ways. A good writer can make you laugh, cry, fear, and hope. A re­al­ly good writer can make you do all those at once. This is their job, at the end of the day.

Just as we have too many news writ­ers in­ject­ing their view­points, we have too many mediocre writ­ers in­ca­pable of find­ing the right vein to hit. I suf­fer from that, my­self. I’m hor­ri­ble at touch­ing the emo­tions of the au­di­ence, but I do try. We wind up with too much schlock be­ing print­ed, though it’s not a re­cent trend that leaves the ra­tio of hack to skilled writ­ers where it lies.

For every writer that in­spires, we have a dozen pump­ing out the next 50 Shades. That’s the na­ture of writ­ing, and a long run­ning his­tor­i­cal trend.

It’s just that mind-numbing con­tent has be­come the biggest com­mod­i­ty in this dig­i­tal age of pub­lish­ing we find our­selves in. Real thought doesn’t seem to be prof­itable, and is ac­tu­al­ly detri­men­tal to the busi­ness prac­tices of those out­lets that cater to emo­tions. They ex­ploit psy­chol­o­gy as well as any skin­ner box sim­u­la­tion of a game does, and get you com­ing back like it’s some bag of MSG laden corn chips.

Not that I’m putting the prob­lem pure­ly on the writer; the au­di­ence does have their own role to play. The au­di­ence has to give a damn, go­ing in. The au­di­ence can­not be pla­cat­ed cat­tle, fed a strict diet of cat pic­tures and click­bait and told what to read by the lat­est de­sign­er hash­tag. It can be hard to break into a new diet when con­sum­ing me­dia — es­pe­cial­ly af­ter years on it, but the Buzzfeeds and Gawkers of the world will con­tin­ue to give peo­ple crap when peo­ple keep com­ing for it.

There are hun­dreds of fan­tas­tic pieces of writ­ing pub­lished on­line every week, but it mat­ters not when the au­di­ence en masse seems to grav­i­tate to­wards the lit­er­ary equiv­a­lent of processed dog food. [Editor’s note: Alexander Macris of The Escapist Magazine got into a bit of this in his in­ter­view with us and his TEDx talk.]

The au­di­ence has to be will­ing to take a risk on the skills of the writer; to be will­ing to let the words in — and pos­si­bly touch a very scary part of them­selves. The au­di­ence should also think on work­ing hard­er to act as feed­back. To tell a writer what they do well, what they need to fix, and cor­rect them should they err. This is a sym­bi­ot­ic re­la­tion­ship we have here.

Sadly, the in­ter­net at large tends to be lax in this. A ma­jor­i­ty of peo­ple are far more like­ly to read click­bait and in­sipid im­ages that turn cul­ture into sound­bites. Everything is so much eas­i­er to stom­ach when it’s sil­ly pic­tures, top ten lists, and com­pi­la­tions of sound­bites. It be­comes a sort of hug box, where you only reach out to get your pre-existing no­tions val­i­dat­ed nar­ra­tive dri­ven news, or ab­sorb in­for­ma­tion that is use­less, non-challenging, and al­lows you to es­cape harsh­er re­al­i­ties. Hell, you’ve even got so­cial me­dia en­gi­neered to de­liv­er the quick­est dose of cat pic­tures, cul­tur­al sound­bites, and click­bait right to your face. The mir­a­cle of the hash­tag dic­tates what you want to read, and even what re­ac­tion you should have to it.

There’s no in­tel­li­gence, no ques­tion­ing of val­ues, no im­pe­tus to form a new opinion.

It’s not to say that that amuse­ment, en­ter­tain­ment, and dis­trac­tion don’t have their place. It’s just be­com­ing the norm, as even for­mal­ly well re­spect­ed out­lets fall to the prey of chas­ing ad rev­enue down a drainpipe.

The prob­lem is nei­ther on the writer nor the au­di­ence en­tire­ly. Both shoul­der the bur­den, be­cause this memet­ic sound­bite cul­ture we have is eas­i­er than ac­tu­al­ly cre­at­ing cul­ture of our own. It’s eas­i­er to make and cu­rate pic­tures of an­i­mals, Hitler, or John Cena than it is to ques­tion why we need so many of these damned things in the first place.

The writer can be lazy, only cre­at­ing for a buck, and not for the beau­ty of touch­ing the au­di­ence.  The au­di­ence can be lazy as well, con­sum­ing like Pacman, but nev­er once tak­ing the time to ques­tion why or tak­ing a risk to ab­sorb a dis­sent­ing opin­ion. When your cul­ture is a non-stop rep­e­ti­tion of thought boiled down to sin­gle im­ages, and your en­tire iden­ti­ty is awash in sound­bites, what con­cept of the life around you do you re­al­ly have?

So writ­ers, write some­thing. Touch someone’s soul. Feel the pow­er you have in your mind and heart, in­stead of the pow­er of the wal­let. Create be­cause it’s what you do best, be­cause you have that burn­ing pas­sion. Not be­cause it’s an easy buck. Audience, step out­side your com­fort zones. Read some­thing no one told you to now and then, some­thing that runs against your own view­point, some­thing that makes you ques­tion what you be­lieve. There’s no rea­son we should be stuck in a rut, lined by pic­tures of cats and the lat­est two min­utes hate.

A writer that can­not make an au­di­ence read is use­less. An au­di­ence un­will­ing to read is nigh use­less as well. It is the writer’s job to con­nect with the soul of the au­di­ence, to find some­thing to make them re­act; we have to make that con­nec­tion, be it with joy, sad­ness, anger, or fear.  The crux is that in or­der for this to func­tion, two things are need­ed: 1) The writer has to be able to touch the au­di­ence and 2) the au­di­ence has to want to be reached.

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I’m that crazy guy that writes things and hosts the Graded PointFive comics podcast.

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