If you want to build an audience, publishing experts say, you need to give readers practical information. But if you want to satisfy yourself, you also need to hold onto the reason you write in the first place.
When I finally came around to learning something about the business of platform-building, I soon discovered that there is a mountain of advice out there.
But one point, above all, seemed clear: If you want to attract an audience to your site, you need to offer something people want. Writing advice. Financial advice. Relationship advice. Parenting advice. Leadership advice. Cooking advice.
I’ve never imagined myself qualified to give other people advice—or even particularly interested in it. I just happen to be someone who finds the process of discovery more interesting than how-to tips. But I fell into it all the same.
And the result, for me, was not good.
In grief about the loss of my dear mother, saddened by the demise of a significant relationship, worried about how climate change will affect my children and others’, I started thinking about how to channel what was present for me into something that would be useful to people. And that led to a tagline about how people rise to challenges big and small.
Of course, this was not entirely false. I am fascinated with what loss teaches us; how we grow from facing the reality that things often don’t go our way; and how many seemingly ordinary people do rise in extraordinary ways to the challenges they face in life.
But when I was honest with myself, the truth was I did not feel like a person who should be trying to dole out insights and inspiration to other people.
I am still in grief, I am still sad, I am still afraid, and I am often confused.
Attempting to offer insights to others from this place, even if I was basing it on other people, seemed ridiculous. It also seemed like only half the story: an offering of the light without the dark in life. In a word, it felt fake.
That, I realized, was why I was experiencing writer’s block. Why I was starting and stopping. Going in circles. Feeling unable to push the “publish” button.
And then I realized, or more likely rediscovered, that it was OK to let the idea that I should put things in a pretty box go. The writing I did from those dark but deeply human places of grief, sadness, and fear was actually the writing that most interested me. It seemed most real, most meaningful—and contrary to what I might have expected, not depressing or self-absorbed. It usually went somewhere. It tended to be healing in itself.
So I have decided to let myself out of my self-imposed prison. To give myself permission to write just what is—knowing that this is the plane on which many of us would rather connect anyway.
This is not to say I think writers can disregard the realities of publishing and audience-building in today’s platform-crazy world. But it is to say one must not let it overwhelm the reason one wishes to write in the first place, which for me is the desire to explore, and the hope to connect.
(This post originally appeared on JaneFriedman.com)