Maria Popova’s Top Tip to Create Something Meaningful and Fulfilling that Will Survive in the Long Run
The advice is so simple and crystal clear that it might feel that’s something is missing, and yet, listening to Popova, every words rang true and hopefully will for you too.
Popova applies this thinking to any act of creation, whatever the medium, and it sometimes feel that we get lost into trying to please a potential audience or distributors, or buyers, instead of creating what we need to get out of our system.
Below is the transcript of her answer, that she gave during a special Q&A episode on the Tim Ferriss Podcast, that is a sequel of sort of her first episode on Writing, Workflow and Workaround.
You can -and should- listen to the 30 min episode below, but in the meantime, applying what I’ve heard, here is my personal highlight.
Read, ponder, share if you think it might help others:
Maria Popova Top Tip to Create Something Meaningful and Fulfilling that Will Survive in the Long Run
“Write for yourself. If you want to create something meaningful and fulfilling, something that lasts and speaks to people, the counterintuitive but really, really necessary thing is that you must not write for people.
The second you begin to write for or to a so-called audience, and this applies equally to podcasting, and filmmaking, and photography, and dance and any field of creative endeavor, the second you start doing it for an audience, you’ve lost the Long Game.
Because creating something that is rewarding and sustainable over the long run requires most of all keeping yourself excited about it, which in turn of course requires only doing things that you yourself are interested in, that enthuse you.
I think the key to being interesting is being interested and enthusiastic about those interests. That’s contagious. That’s what makes people read you and come back, which by the way should and can only ever be a by-product of your own willingness to keep coming back to your work, to your creation, because if you do it for other people, trying to predict what they’ll be interested in, and kind of pretzeling yourself to fit those expectations, you soon begin to begrudge it and become embittered and it begins to show in the work; it always, always shows in the work when you resent it.
And there’s really nothing less pleasurable to read than embittered writing.
I’m reminded of Vonnegut who, in the 7th of his 8 tips on writing, he said “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world so-to-speak, your story will get pneumonia.”
First of all, God I love Vonnegut, always so witty and so wise, but when I first came upon this, which was maybe about five years into Brainpickings, it so elegantly crystalized something that I deeply believed and was kind of living by and operating by but hadn’t articulated this succinctly, even to myself.
Now sometimes I think people, usually younger people, can misinterpret that to mean “Write to please your teacher” or “your publisher”, or “the person you’re in love with” but Vonnegut really meant, write to please yourself.
And the other thing related to this, which is a major major thing is this: I bet you that if Vonnegut were alive today and was writing on a medium like a blog, he’d be approaching it the same way he did his fiction. And he, like any self-respecting writer, would never ever ever refer to or think about his writing on that platform, on any platform, as “content”.
On that platform, be it a blog, be it something else, which is just a medium for the writing, he would be writing things more in the spirit of Cat’s Cradle that in the inspired vein of Cat’s Listicle.
There is actually I think nothing more toxic to the creation of meaningful cultural material, whatever its medium, than the term content, which already implies like an icky external motive.
Content is something you produce and purvey to other people for a material that becomes currency for advertising and whatnot, and not something that you do for yourself.
Nobody does content for the joy of their soul. And the second you start thinking of your writing as content, you’ve altered the motive, you’re no longer writing for yourself.
So, to distill: write for yourself, stay interested and don’t ever let yourself think of what you do as content, or be bullied into viewing it, much less treating it as such.
And lastly, perhaps the best advice on writing ever given, which applies just as much to blogging, courtesy of Susan Sontag: “Love words, agonize over sentences and pay attention to the world.”
Listen to the full episode here: