writing to please yourself, writing to please others, and writing to raise Yog-Sothoth from the Nameless Mists…

Remember chain letters?

Who knows? Maybe you still get one now and then. Personally, I haven’t seen one in the wild for years. When I realized this yesterday, it struck me as odd. I got a little wave of nostalgia, like, “Hey, remember when Bill Gates was going to pay you $245 just for forwarding an email to all your friends saying that he would pay each of them $245 for forwarding that very same email to all of their friends?”

(At the time, I found the idea that Microsoft could track a forwarded email ludicrous. Turns out that part was right on the money.)

Noodling on this, it hit me: the reason I don’t get chain letters anymore is that the whole damn Internet is one big chain letter. We’re all out here trying to manipulate other people into spreading our message indiscriminately. Some of us have a valuable message well worth sharing; others are pulling a scam. Regardless, the techniques in play are harder and harder to distinguish.

Don’t believe me? Do a blind taste test between a chain letter circa 1995 and an e-mail campaign for a course getting dripped down a funnel (funneled down a drip?) in 2018. Which is which? One of them might threaten you with a curse for non-compliance, but otherwise…note to self: A/B test black magic in my next email marketing campaign.

(“I’m not a Cthulhu worshipper calling for the return of the Great Old Ones to drown humanity in eternal darkness myself, but if associating myself with them happens to boost my conversion rates, well, there are some very fine people on both sides.”—Jordan Peterson, tomorrow)

It’s easy to justify any tactic, of course. Good, magnetic marketing copy “works.” I’m just cranky. As I get older, I find myself drifting toward what I can only call a spiritual approach to my work. Here, I define spirituality as: the attitude that I do not have to accept something I don’t like, even if it appears to be logically true or practical. I can, but I don’t have to. Conversely, I can hold to beliefs and practices I like, even if I don’t have a completely logical justification for them yet. Or ever.

By this definition, I am a spiritual person. Who knew? I don’t even wear mala beads or one of those big scarves. (Yet.)

I can’t make a great case for spirituality across all disciplines, but when it comes to writing, I feel like I’m on pretty solid ground. Ultimately, “I” am not the one doing the writing—that’s for sure. Tell me to lift my left arm or walk across the room, “I” can do that just fine. Tell me to write a chapter when the Muse has left the building and it’s a different story. No story.

We don’t really know what’s going on up there, do we? Anyone who tells you they’ve got their own creativity all sorted out and under control hasn’t been truly blocked yet and I hope they never have to learn that lesson the hard way. Take it from me: It’s a thing.

When it comes to creativity, you can kill the golden goose if you’re not careful, or at least put it out of commission for a while. It takes a spiritual approach to keep going. The way you handle your writing practice has to feel good to you, first and foremost. If that means forgoing the latest and greatest tactics for success, so be it.

Muse before metrics.