the awkward power of actual community
It’s hard to sit and write. I clench at the very thought of it. Have you noticed this clenching phenomenon? I imagine it’s similar to standing in front of Tony Robbins’s 57° F plunge pool. You can’t think about doing it before you do it or you’ll just make a run for it. Then Tony has to tackle you, and that’s no fun for anyone—he’s bigger than I am. You just have to jump into that dark coffin-shaped aqua-prison and to hell with all the sensation in your extremities.
Writers, as a class, abuse plenty of substances, but ultimately what we all really crave is a pill to get us through that one instant. Something, anything, to push us through the clench and into the pool. After that, we’re usually golden.
My 8-year-old son is doing his first chin-ups and his 3-year-old sister has been trying to imitate him, with a little help from Dad. I find her determination to defy gravity inspiring. Brow furrowed, jaw clenched, she tries valiantly to draw herself up: “Princess … is … working!” (She was referring to herself in the third person, naturally. Royalty!)
It's my new start-writing motto. Whenever I feel the urge to avoid the laptop, I remind myself: Princess is working, Dave. Princess is working.
On Thursday, I attended the 800-CEO-READ Business Book of the Year Awards. (Janesville won.)
Familiar with 800-CEO-READ? They've played a key role in the business book industry for years, facilitating bulk sales for business book authors in ways specifically tailored to their needs. Amazon simply can’t compare.
I’ve talked before about how readers (and even book publishers) conflate All Things Book-shaped. Categories matter, a lot, not just in how you make a book but also in how you make a book work. If you publish business books, you're in an entirely different business than if you publish romance novels. You’re not going to do both well. Physically, you’re producing the exact same object, but everything else differs in important ways. 8CR understands this. They’re still going strong after all these years. (If you’re stuck—with your writing, your business, whatever—stop casting the net wider and ask yourself: How can I specialize even further?)
Because 8CR specializes in business books, they’re able to participate authentically in the community around these books. There were a lot of folks at the party on Thursday night and most of them knew most of the rest. Authors, editors, agents, publicists. All socially awkward. It was a bit like prom.
Lots of people talk "community” but there’s a difference, an enormous one, between a Facebook group or Slack mastermind channel and an actual community of actual people willing to go to the same actual location at the same time. For twenty years, a handful of technology companies based in Northern California and journalists based in New York City have tried to convince us that one is an effective substitute for the other. I disagree, and the vehemence of my opposition to this notion increases with each passing year.
You, the person reading this, are a part of this little community, and I do hope we get to see each other in person now and then. (I'm not ready to launch the Maven Game Unconference, don't worry.) Chances are we know each other, or that we know people in common, or that we at least do similar stuff, like write in our pajamas and microwave the morning’s coffee when we’re feeling lazy.
I don’t think of the Maven Game as marketing content. (What would I be marketing? Animated GIFs and snark?) This is a letter. I’m writing you a letter. I’m just also sending the same letter to a bunch of other people, too—that makes it possible to justify investing a huge chunk of my weekend in writing it. (I know—hard to believe.) Since this is a letter, I like it when people write back. Counting opens and clicks doesn’t compare. Hint hint.
I don’t know what you’re supposed to be working on right now, but probably something. Whatever’s causing you the most anxiety: that. Here’s William Zinsser in On Writing Well discussing the great H.L. Mencken:
The secret of [Mencken's] popularity—aside from his pyrotechnical use of the American language—was that he was writing for himself and didn't give a damn what the reader might think. It wasn't necessary to share his prejudices to enjoy seeing them expressed with such mirthful abandon. Mencken was never timid or evasive; he didn't kowtow to the reader or curry anyone's favor. It takes courage to be such a writer, but it is out of such courage that revered and influential journalists are born.
Take courage. Start writing. Forget technique—be pyrotechnic. Forget currying the reader’s favor and express your prejudices with mirthful abandon. And remember: “Princess is working!"
p.s. Check out the Maven Game site, now featuring Matthew Butterick's new Hermes Maia font, the one I raved about last week. Nice, right? But does it make my writing's butt look too big?