October 20, 2011 34 Comments
I’m in Boston now and the trees are changing colors. I love fall colors, especially as someone who grew up in a place where the use of the words “colors” and “fall” in the same sentence usually referred to a spectrum of ephemeral yellow hues sprinkled among forests of green cedar trees and darker green live oaks. When I was in New England this time two years ago I was dazzled by the reds and yellows and oranges, the hills aflame, and the leaves that danced in the air on cold winds from the north as I rode the commuter train into Boston. But this time, I’ve hardly taken note. Why? Because I lost the habit. It happens that quickly. I wrote hardly a word for two months and I forgot how to see. Writing puts me in the habit of looking for what stands out in this world, or striving to see what’s beautiful and unusual in the ordinary things that surround me. When I don’t write, I forget to notice the details.
Since I stopped blogging a couple of months ago, I’ve come to realize the ways in which blogging changes how I think, what I attend to, and how I decide what to write about. Take my post on Monday, about pain. I don’t think I would have written that after having blogged for a month, because by then I would have returned to my old habit of trying to lace my writing with optimism and hope. I would be thinking about how others would receive my words and not just about how I felt, and it would occur to me that maybe nobody wants to hear about pain and other such matters that have no simple resolution. Maybe I would be wrong to make such assumptions, but I fall easily into the habit of obsessing over what I think other people would want to read.
Is it OK to think about “audience”? I think so. It’s import to think about what other people would want to read, how they’ll react, whether my writing will brighten their day or trouble them—because if I think that the people who read my writing want to be happy, then I’ll try to make them happy, and in the process I’ll lift my own spirits. If I think that they want inspiration, I’ll try to inspire them and so inspire myself. If I think that they want to contemplate, then I’ll have to contemplate, too. So yes, audience matters. Thinking about audience helps me focus my thoughts and senses, to winnow the chaos that sometimes besieges me.
Writing begins with the meticulous gathering and cataloging of the world’s oddities. In this sense, all writers are collectors—of thoughts, feelings, experiences, memories. Their function, more than to write, is to see what most of us don’t have time to see and to tell us about it. Nothing helps me to see better than to think about the people with whom I want to share my tiny collection of oddities.
*All pictures are from Fall 2009.