On December 27, one month before my 50th birthday, Showtime aired a documentary called There’s Something You Should Know about the life and career of Duran Duran spanning 40 years. Of course, as a fan for 36 of those 40 years, naturally I watched with nostalgia and enthusiasm as it brought back happy memories and made me psyched for my friend David O’s party celebrating the one-year anniversary of his podcast (and, in some ways, a new movement) called “The D Side,” which I’m attending in Atlanta on January 10, 2020. And although it’s a given that Duran Duran is going to inspire me in one form or another every time I listen to or watch something involving them, I didn’t expect the impact of this bit of reflection and advice from front-man Simon Le Bon that seemed directed specifically to and for me:
“The first time it [commercial failure] happens, it’s really scary because you thought you would carry on forever. ... And the next time it happens, it’s not so bad, and the *next* time it happens, it’s not so bad. And then you get to a point where you just relax and think, ‘You know what? Let’s just do what we do. Do we believe in the music we make? Yes, we do. Can we go in and write new stuff? Have you still got stuff inside of you that you want to say? Yes, I have. Yes, we can.’ Then you do it.”
When he spoke that first truth, I sat and nodded with recognition and validation, flashing back to two years ago when the cloud of success I’d been floating on turned into a brick and plummeted to the ground. In fact, I’d spent the better part of 2019 finally dealing with the pain and the grief of the crash. And since then, subsequent bricks have dropped. But as Simon continued, I felt as if he was putting an arm around me, assuring me it was going to get better. And by the time he said “Then you do it,” a wave of calm crested over me, and I knew exactly what and how I wanted to live for 2020 in terms of being a writer and a published author: Let’s just do what we do.
Do I believe in the books that I make? Yes, I do.
Can I go in and write new stuff? Have I still got stuff inside of me that I want to say?
Yes, I have. Yes, I can.
One thing about Duran Duran that has always impressed and inspired and motivated me was their singular, directed vision. They had a definite chief aim. They didn’t just aspire to become a successful pop band; rather, they intended it. They made plans. They believed in themselves and their music and their style and their look. They wanted to be “the band to dance to when the bomb drops,” and they played (while we danced) as if they were, as if there was no other choice. And in the span of 40 years and fourteen (soon to be fifteen) albums, they refused to play it safe; they set the trends rather than chase them; they continued to believe in themselves, even when their clouds turned into bricks. They never wavered from their vision. They never looked for fallback jobs, never cowered from their critics, and never got stuck pining for their glory days. They moved forward, one foot in the other, even when it seemed as if no one was dancing anymore. As if the bomb had already dropped.
In late 2010, and by age 50, Duran Duran had made and released All You Need is Now, an album that pretty much defined the first half of my forties. Heck, if they could do that at 50, then what could I do at age 50 with a singular, directed vision? What could I do if I believed in myself and the stuff inside me? What could I do if I just relaxed and said “You know what? Let’s just do what we do”?
I could make something really special. I could make something that dances rather than chases. I could make magic.
This is the note I needed to end 2019 and begin 2020 on. This was something I needed to know.
This is where I am and where I’m going. Because here’s the thing about bricks: when they drop to the ground, they can become roads. You can even dance on them.
Well, here I am again. Wanting to write a blog post, wanting to keep a blog going with some degree of consistency, and still not knowing what to write about, or how to “tie it all together” with being a novelist and an author.
I let procrastination get in the way. Again. I let inertia get in the way. Again. I let indecision get in the way. Again.
So why do I keep coming back? Why do I keep trying? Why do I keep wanting to “get it right” this time?
Well, quite frankly, because I love to write.
I love to write, and I want to keep doing it any way I can. And this time, instead of wanting to reach the masses, I want to connect with one reader at a time.
My husband and I went to see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood over Thanksgiving weekend, the film based on journalist Tom Junod’s Esquire feature on the late Fred Rogers, or, as many of us knew him, Mr. Rogers. I remember reading that piece years ago, when I was still teaching college freshman writing, and assigning it to my students. I remember tearing up when I read it, and tearing up even when discussing it with my students. One thing that has always stuck with me was learning that when Mr. Rogers faced the camera and began talking, he never imagined talking to lots of children, but rather just one child. And even now, as a forty-nine-year-old, when I watch those episodes, I still feel as if he is talking to me. Not the child in me, but me. It was about connection. It was about communion. It was about the space between him and me. Still is, right now, every time I see him on the screen. He is as alive to me in that moment as he once was.
The older I get, the more I want to have this same relationship with a reader. Many times I’ll come across advice for writers along the lines of this: figure out who your ideal reader is. Read the analytics of your Facebook page or your website, look at who most replies to your tweets and read their profiles and news feed. Figure out where they live and shop and what other books they read besides yours. And then make up a sort of avatar. Give that ideal reader a name and an age and a job and a marital status, etc. And then write for that avatar.
It’s not necessarily bad advice. It’s just never worked for me.
What has worked for me, especially when I’m not even trying, is writing for someone I already know. Sometimes he’s male. Sometimes female. Some are closer to me than others. Some I’m no longer in touch with. Just about every book is different. But my favorite letters from readers are the ones who somehow innately sensed this connection and responded with “I felt as if you wrote this book just for me.”
And, I don’t mind telling you, there’s another reader I write for: me.
Because one of the first and perhaps best pieces of writing I ever received was this: Write the book you want to read.
Or the blog post. Or the letter. Or the Facebook post. Or tweet. Or perhaps, coming soon, the podcast I want to listen to (hint hint?).
Because it turns out that is a very intimate relationship as well. And it seems every time I stray from that and try to post things on Instagram that will generate a lot of “likes” (or, as it’s known in the best practices circle, “epic content,” whatever the hell that is) or come up with a bestselling idea as opposed to an idea that I really love, I seem to get results counter to what I aimed for.
Which is something else I’ve been thinking about that Mr. Rogers taught me. After seeing the movie (and please, give yourself that gift this season if you haven’t yet, and watch last year’s documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor, while you’re at it), I dove into YouTube and found all kinds of interviews and commencement speeches he gave. During a conversation with Charlie Rose, he talked about the importance of parents doing what they love and are passionate about with or in front of their children. He spoke about how many parents wrote to tell him that their children wanted to play the cello after seeing Yo-Yo Ma on the Neighborhood because they responded to the energy of Yo-Yo Ma’s passion. And how, when a guest sculptor visited a nursery school and worked with clay in front of the children for a semester (didn’t teach them how, just did it), the kids’ own clay creations were more inventive and imaginative than any other semester.
No doubt there are times when writing is a labor. It can be arduous, even stressful at times, especially when there’s a deadline or a grade or royalties on the line. But I have never, ever wanted writing to be something to dread. I have never connected with writers who talk about the dread, the work, the slog. This year, when I took a sabbatical from writing, one of the reasons I did so was because it had stopped being fun. And that was one reason why I had become so sad. Because I’d never wanted writing to be anything less than joyful. Even during the labor.
Day by day, I’ve been reconnecting to the joy. And it feels very much like a Mr. Rogers moment, when he looks at the camera—at me—and sings “It’s You I Like.” We’re singing it to each other, writing and me.
So yes, I’ll keep trying to do this thing. Consistently. Engagingly. Joyfully. Because it’s writing I like. And because it’s you I like.
I'm an author of commercial women's fiction and a writing instructor. My claim to fame: I can say the alphabet backwards.