Write what you want.

Write what will sell.

Write art.

Write truth.

Write entertainment.

There are a LOT of opinions out there on how writers should balance their own writing desires against the needs/desires/perspectives of their intended readers. In fact, just the other day, I read Jane Friedman’s insightful thoughts on this question in her book The Business of Being a Writer. (Get that book, by the way.) I tend to sit where Jane does – write what you feel passionate about BUT also realize that your passion might not be marketable and adjust your expectations accordingly.

But last week, I had an interesting conversation about this very thing with a singer-songwriter whose work has long been a staple in my music library. Denison Witmer writes soulful songs about longing and belonging, home and alienation, and I find I turn to his music in these autumn days when I want quieter, more introspective things.

Denison’s Wisdom

Here’s what Denison had to say about the life of a creative person:

I’m sure you understand the feeling of creating in isolation and not knowing if/how what you create will actually connect with others. It means everything when it does.  Create selfishly, give selflessly.  I live by this rule when it comes to writing.  It isn’t foolproof but its what has always worked for me and kept things has honest as possible.

Write Hot. Share Cold.

I really resonated with Denison’s words for three reasons:
  • So much of our focus as creative people is exterior – on marketing and connecting and engaging, but really, I think the work of creativity needs to be solitary. It needs to be about us and our moment and going deep within.  So there’s some selfishness required there. But the selfishness has the intention of pouring out, so maybe that’s not actually selfishness.
  • Also, there’s a way of authenticity in creating what drives us, what tweaks our thoughts, what keeps us up at night, what fills our days.  There’s a real value in sinking into our questions and our idiosyncracies and letting those fill up pages or melodies or canvases.
  • And yet, ultimately, if we are creating for readers or listeners or viewers or buyers, then we must think about those folks, too, but just maybe not in the creating. Maybe they come in during the production – the cold sharpening of our work for sharing. Maybe those other people, though, don’t go into the fire of creation with us.

So I’m sitting with Denison’s words as I begin the tiny finger-tappings of a new book project. I’m keeping it very close – like in my house close – because it needs to grow wild a bit before it’s ready to share, because I need to write whatever I think and pour out what dances against the sides of my heart without fear or masking or the consideration of what will sell.  Those things will come, but hopefully, they will be tempered by the heat of an honest creation.

May your work be so tempered, too.

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