“You have the minimum amount of my attention.”
How does that phrase make you feel? This is a quote from the movie The Social Network, where the character of Mark Zuckerberg explains why he is not focused on the legal proceedings of those who are suing him:
When I work with writers, I am focused on helping them find their ideal audience, and develop communication and trust with them. I tend to call this “platform,” but others refer to it by other terms.
What sometimes surprises me is the missed opportunity by those who want to give their readers only the “minimum amount” of their attention. In other words: I will give you JUST ENOUGH attention to get you to buy my book, and then: nothing more.
Sometimes, these are just fearful justifications from overwhelmed authors. Someone who is:
- Trying to master the craft of writing.
- Publishing their first book.
- Navigating the publishing process (traditional or self-pubbed)
- Um, they have a day job.
- And a family.
- And a home to maintain.
- And they want to sleep…
I never want to forget that writers don’t practice their craft in a vacuum. The context of their entire lives is ever-present.
But is it okay to phone it in? To do only the minimum amount of what is expected? To show up, but just barely?
To be honest, this looks different today than it once did. It is easy to feel like we are fully engaged when we really aren’t. It is easy to:
- Schedule 3 tweets per day to be posted on Twitter, and do so weeks in advance.
- Link to every TED talk that is posted, and feel smarter for doing so, especially if you shared it a few minutes before your friends did.
- Mention Amanda Palmer a lot, because suddenly she is the model of cool (and deservedly so.)
- To “curate” an ironic Tumblr of cats reading, and feel the cool wash of validation with every reblog you get.
Writers sometimes come to me looking for the “best practices” for using social media or crafting a platform that require the minimum amount of their attention. And while I respect their very limited resources in both time and energy, my first response is usually: “Why bother?” Why bother doing what everyone else does in only the minimum amount? How will this serve your writing, your own goals, or connect you with readers in a meaningful way?
So I often talk to them about crafting their voice, about connecting one-on-one with others in a way that builds relationships, about what it means to develop a platform that considers the next 5 years of their life, not just getting someone to repin something on Pinterest today.
I was listening to a webinar with Seth Godin the other day and someone asked him why he doesn’t actively engage with Twitter. His response was that to do it well – to really put his creative energy into honoring it – that it would require 2 hours of his time per day. And that means he would need to take 2 hours away from some other activity, and he wasn’t willing to do that.
Could Seth do the “minimum amount” of engagement on Twitter? Sure. But why bother? Why be more noise in the lives of those you truly want to serve?
On the flipside of that is someone such as Susan Orlean, who does fully engage with Twitter. Here’s how she explains her reasoning for finding the time & creative energy for it:
“I didn’t say ‘I want followers.’ I am a writer, I write because I want to be read. Because the private act of writing doesn’t feel sufficient to me. What is sufficient is for the circle to come around, and to feel heard. I am excited by the idea of being heard. Of making someone think or laugh.”
There is a responsibility in these actions, to yourself and others. You can view this as a heavy unwanted weight, or as an opportunity.
When you consider giving your readers something more than the minimum amount of your attention – I feel that it tends to expand how we consider the effects of your writing. That it goes far beyond the sale of a book, to truly helping readers craft an identity, take actions, and make connections that become the fabric of their lives.
What does being “fully engaged” mean to you? And if you fall into the minimum-amount-of-attention camp, we’d love to hear you speak to that, too, for better and for worse.