A few months ago I closed the reading room space to have a short sabbatical from my editing business. It was one of the scarier things I’ve done in my life, coming in just short of the things that have involved actual threat of injury or death. And it has been a real gift. It allowed me the space and time to go back to my roots, and also to ask important questions of the business and myself. For example: Why am I doing this?
As editor, I often find myself asking a client, ‘Why are you doing this?’ It’s a terrific question to ask at the beginning of a working relationship, because the answer gives me a good indication of the commitment and clarity the client has towards the project — clarity of purpose, and commitment to going to the distance required to serve the audience.
As writer, I identify with the answer I most commonly receive: ‘You know, I don’t know,’ they say, ‘I ask myself that all the time.’ As writer, I ask myself that question all the time too.
But if we’re asking all the time, why haven’t we got the answer? The issue is tone.
Hear it. Feel it. See it.
Picture it. You’re sitting in front of your computer feeling that agitated tight, scratchy sensation – frustration – and perhaps that rubbery, suffocating, hollowed-out feeling – self-doubt. You’re at your wits’ end and you ask yourself plaintively (or perhaps the gods), ‘Why am I doing this?’ It may be more of an interrobang moment: ‘WHYAMIDOINGTHIS?!’
But you’re not really asking. It’s a sound you’re making, not an interrogative sentence.
What you’re really saying is ‘Aaargh!!’ This is a moment of extreme frustration (as opposed to the mild kind, just ask this culturonomics duo). What happens if you give yourself time to feel the frustration, watch it fade and ask again?
Evidence is everything
What happens if you really ask yourself this question in a moment of calm, meaning each word of it, and listen to the answer? You get to the crux of your project — which people this publication is really for and what you want them do/say/think when they receive it.
First responses are gold (even if they sound nuts) and so is evidence — past journals or blog posts, or conversations with friends and partners can prove valuable sources of ‘the point’ even though it has seemed elusive to you for weeks or months. In gathering evidence, you’re asking ‘What am I doing?’ not ‘What am I thinking I’m doing?’.
Don’t be afraid if the evidence doesn’t correlate with what you thought your plan was in the beginning. We write for the same reason we live every part of our lives: to learn something. If you’re doing that, and it you can feel it, you’re on the right road.