The Craft of Connecting With Your Audience

We don’t seem to reward slowness in our culture. I have been considering the craft of connection (how a writer connects with their readers.) The design of meaning (what separates the ordinary from the extraordinary.) The process of refinement (how we turn the good to the great.) And what productivity means when measured by quality, not just quantity (not just doing more, but doing only what matters, and doing it incredibly well.)

I recently finished reading A Field Guide to Now by my friend Christina Rosalie. She writes:

“It may be reasonable to say that we have more time now since we have invented machines to do the work we used to do. But what are we doing with all the time and ease we’ve gained, as our lives become easier and faster every second? Now that we no longer need to scrub our shirts or writer letters by hand, or walk to the general store for flour, coffee, and gossip, how are we using those precious minutes saved? The truth is, we fill most days as quickly as possible – as though the world wont wait if we go slowly; as though there isn’t time to simply be right there with reverie and focus.”

“The heart is not a machine. It does not have the capacity to love at any greater speed, or to feel anything more deeply when the pace is doubled. While fast is better for machines, we’re fools to live by such a rule set every day. Rushing every second, we forget that we’re capable of a certain quality of joy that can be arrive at only slowly, as time unfolds.”

When I work with writers and publishers, I am focused on providing two things: an immediate positive impact, and a meaningful long-term legacy. So I am always considering the quality of not just the work a writer shares, but how they share it, and the ways their identity, their brand, and their platform represents something more than just “great content at a great price!” (said with a saleman’s voice.) This goes deeper.

Sometimes, we talk too much about bestseller lists; about follower counts on social media; about metrics that are really just for our own vanity. We feel smart talking about these things, they sound professional and strategic. Don’t get me wrong: I teach courses about these topics, and realize how powerful they can be. But, much like Luke Skywalker’s mission at the end of Star Wars, there is something to be said for turning off the navicomputer.

I am thinking a lot more about being present. Of experience. Of in-person vs online. The qualitative nature of what constitutes a relationship. I see a lot of friendships online formed around a value proposition. If someone has a lot of “followers” and are considered an “influencer,” if you have a single interaction with them, you begin calling them a “friend.” Here is a great example of that from Marie Forleo (someone I really respect) introducing Chris Guillebeau (someone I really respect):

“We are going to talk to an amazing author. Someone I am friends with – just became friends with – but that I have known about for awhile.”

We talk a lot about community when we mention connection, both online and off. That an author needs to engage their community; that a brand serves a community. But what is often not mentioned here is that to serve a community requires sacrifice; it requires balance the needs of the many, not the few; that profit is the last thing to be valued; that it is more about giving than taking; that a thriving community does not all agree, is not all friends, and has a wide range of opinions; and that the process of connecting in that community is more important than any specific outcome.

Many conversations in the writing and publishing worlds are too focused on the wrong outcomes: revenue and sales as validation; popularity as the definition of good art; and pretending that the web has inherently changed the nature of relationships between people.

As we feel the pressure to rush, to do more, to achieve more in quantity, I am focusing considering how writers can find success, while also creating meaning. That this is the fabric of our culture, and the legacy we leave.