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On Audience, Authenticity, and A’s

Writing has become part of my identity, so it’s been difficult to poke holes in it. But it’s made me realize, ever increasingly, that I have to get back to my original desires — and only those desires — and ditch the “audience building” and “content making”.


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Jonas Ressem

4 months ago | 4 min read
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Aka, how to be a better writer (and human)

I’m done trying to get my articles read. I just want to write them, you know?

I’ve been writing for four years now. Back when I started, I did it mostly for me. I had gone through a breakup, was engulfed in depression, and in that state I was desperate to try to understand what was going on.

And that’s when I found writing. Instead of imploding by thoughts, there was relief in exploding my words into the notepad of my phone.

After reaching a decent level in my recovery, I began to feel the need to express myself. Coupled with the idea I could share what I’d learned with others in similar situations, I published my first words to the world. I was now writing for two actors.

This was a good start to my writing journey; a meaningful way to spend my time. About a year later, however, I made that horrid decision to try to make a living as a writer. Because with it, I concluded I had to get my articles read.

Although the original desires were still present, I began lusting for a new one: building an audience. And so, I started writing the kind of hyper-aggressive self-help articles that were popular at the time.

(I was reading that kind of articles myself so didn’t think too much about it. I guess when you first get into trying to understand and better your life, everything shines).

As I trended my words towards the popular, I began to gain some traction. My articles were read by more and more people, and the little number on my profile page increased ever so slightly. It felt nice; perhaps I was making a positive impact.

In my third year of writing, the aggression eased out, and I further developed my skills as a writer. Although the original desires resurfaced a bit, I couldn’t help but stain my articles with the new. I was in too deep.

Sure, some of these articles were good, which I proudly look back on today, but many I could have been without.

On this fourth year of writing, I’ve developed a distaste for this whole “self-help” scene. I’ve contracted the content disease; that twisting in your stomach when you encounter content made for content’s sake. (I believe it’s gotten worse since I began, and suspect it will get even worse).

I’ve been wondering how I got here. Writing has become part of my identity, so it’s been difficult to poke holes in it. But it’s made me realize, ever increasingly, that I have to get back to my original desires — and only those desires — and ditch the “audience building” and “content making”.

Sure, I might get fits of it in the future, as making a living as a writer is still a seductive idea. But I’m going to pay more attention to it. And eliminate it if I can. I’m going back to writing for you and me, because I’m done trying to get my articles read. I just want to write them, you know?

From this whole realization, I have some complimentary notes:

On Audience

  • Writing for an audience is writing for a third actor, but it can quickly become the villain. Gaining followers isn’t the same as making an impact, because it’s not so much writing for other people as it’s writing for a simplified idea of people.
  • Writing for the sole purpose of building an audience doesn’t make for quality writing. Yes, the modern writer learns copy and community-building but doesn’t become a marketer in the process.

On Authenticity

  • It’s become popular to write about one specific theme, in order to give one’s audience consistency and predictability. But I don’t want to do that. I will lay out the complexity of everything and let my personality be the consistent factor, rather than limit myself to writing about the same things over and over. As a reader, you can expect articles like this, but also articles about psychology, literature, business, music, and maybe even a poem or two.
  • I realize I might lose out on readers because of it. Complexity is a fiend for followers. But I’m taking a stand. I want real writing from and for real people, not content made by automatons. Now, I still see the value of “self-help” articles, but they have to be thorough. They can’t come from a place of selling a lifestyle or product, but from a genuine desire to serve others (and oneself).
  • A quote I like: “Ernest Hemingway was surely aware that ‘good writers do not write like this.” But fortunately he moved toward being Hemingway, being himself, rather than toward someone else’s conception of a good writer.’ — Carl Rogers

On A’s

  • I want to get better. And a step towards that is doing better. Writing should be about producing high quality work. A’s. The kind of work where you sit with the anxiety just a little longer than you want to. As a future reference to myself: I’m starting this piece at 07:36, on Friday 29.10. I will fill out this bold text when I’m finished: 8:14, on Wednesday 10.11
  • A quote I like: “Quality tends to fan out like waves. The Quality job he didn’t think anyone was going to see was seen, and the person who feels it is a little bit better because of it, and is likely to pass that feeling onto others.” — Robert Pirsig

Implications for The Future

  • I’m launching a paid newsletter option (some articles will still be free though). There’s something about charging people that acts as an incentive for better writing. It helps change the equation from followers to quality (I’m only human, and I will take any aid in doing this properly).
  • I’m also building a community for like-minded people; real humans and creators. A place where you can share your experience, discuss important topics, and most of all just feel at home. Those who subscribe to the paid newsletter will be invited.

If you made it this far, I guess I’ll see you around.

— Jonas

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Jonas Ressem

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From Norway. Building onliving.life. Exploring life through psychology, philosophy and entrepreneurship. Come explore with me: http://eepurl.com/dAtfdv


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