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Willful Ignorance (and finding time to focus on QUALITY, not an endless list of to-do’s)

Image by Jeff Kubina
Image by Jeff Kubina [1]
What if you stopped reading this right now. What if you didn’t read to the end of this post, didn’t allow yourself to be sucked into the potentially awesome thing I am about to tell you? What if…

… if you became willfully ignorant.

This all came to my mind this week after reading that Ira Glass had no idea who the editor of the New York Times was [2], and hadn’t even heard about the recent drama with the paper’s leadership:

Interviewer: Jill Abramson was fired.
Ira Glass: I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Interviewer: Jill Abramson got fired from the New York Times.
Ira Glass: Okay. And she was who?

Interviewer: The executive editor.
Ira Glass: Okay. I read the newspaper, but I live in my own little bubble. When did that happen?

Interviewer: Wednesday. And it’s been a massive … the blogosphere is going wild.
Ira Glass: I hate reading media news so I actively sort of — I’m not interested in someone getting fired. No disrespect to people that are, but I literally had no idea who she was, or that she got fired until this moment.

Interviewer: Really?
Ira Glass: Yeah. I live in my own little world and we’re putting together a show that we’re putting up at the Brooklyn Academy of Music; I was rewriting the thing here at the Peabody’s that I’m doing today and we are doing a radio show, so it has been pretty busy. I’m so sorry that was either the worst possible quote or a possibly useful quote. Am I, like, the only person in New York who hasn’t heard this?

Interviewer: Maybe.
Ira Glass: Well, I take that with pride.

Interviewer: She was the first female editor of the New York Times.
Ira Glass: Okay.

Interviewer: It was this big unceremonious firing.
Ira Glass: Honestly, like, I’m a superfan of the New York Times, but I know nothing about how they put it together and I really don’t care.

I found this via Jason Kottke [3], who commented:

“There is very little about the Times’ story that isn’t just straight-up gossip. And for someone like Glass who traffics in ideas and is busy producing something of high quality like This American Life, media gossip just isn’t that important.”

Now, there is a flip side to that reaction in that the Jill Abramson story represents a deep fissure in our culture, and that knowing about it is critical to resolving many unaddressed issues about how women are compensated in the workplace. That this is an important issue, and knowing about it raises awareness that leads to progress and change, and gives voice to the millions who are affected by the problem.

What I find intriguing about the interview is that, regardless of this, how calm, honest and unapologetic Glass is. He is being interviewed by the media, knows that as he is expressing his ignorance that it is being recorded for publication.

Yet, he is confident that his ignorance will not embarrass himself, that he is focused on enough of the right things, that if he doesn’t know EVERYTHING, that he is doing just fine. That there are limits to what he can know and care about in a given week. Not knowing about a news story days after it happens does not incite fear into him that he is uncaring or out of the loop, and it likely has little reflection on his personal attitudes of the issue itself. He was just working, head down on projects of high quality, and has forgiven himself it that means he misses things.

Let me guess, you do a lot.
You study the craft of writing.
The options and methodologies of publishing.
The strategies around marketing.
And you keep up on the latest publishing news and all the latest trends that will make you feel aware and educated.


What matters in the long-term?

Can you tell me about the big publishing & writing news everyone was talking about on April 7th, 1977? How about more recently, on August 15, 2011?

Now clearly, I am not against “news,” and certainly not against “education.” I understand that there is incredible value in ALL of these things, on being informed, being engaged, because these things can absolutely affect future actions, and therefore, success.

I suppose what I am intrigued by is the limits of human capacity, and the capacity of what ONE writer can focus their time and creative energy on.

For finding my own focus to create, I find that..

I’m usually ignorant of publishing news in the first few weeks it happens.
I am usually a late adopter to new things, including social media channels.
I’m usually REALLY skeptical of graphs and charts that try to show trends.
I pretty much never believe that there are two clearly defined sides to anything, and that one is all evil, and the other is pure of heart. This saves me from the daily consternation of posting to Twitter, “OMG, can you believe what X is doing to Y!? We have to stand up for this!”
I get skeptical of most media who try to get me to feel the sky is falling or that some amazing revelation just happened.

What do I really care about?
People who are enthusiastic about these two things. (EG: publishers, agents, booksellers, etc)

What if you didn’t know the latest trick to take advantage of on Amazon?
What if you missed the boat on the newest social media channel?

What if you just kept creating and sharing stories?
What if you just found new ways to improve the quality of your craft?

What if you just kept talking to readers?
Finding like-minds who are entranced by the same stories and characters that you are?

What your days became more about creating stories and conversations around them, and less about everything else that pretends it connects those two things?

Is it intriguing to read about new trends and (let’s face it), pure gossip?
Yes. Yes it is intriguing. And it can be very useful.

Is it “the center” of what you should do?

I can’t answer that for you, but I think it is a question worth considering. Too often, we pretend we HAVE to do all of these things out of obligation. But it is a choice. Seth Godin just shared a post [4] outlining this:

“No one can be responsible for where or how we each begin. No one has the freedom to do anything or everything, and all choices bring consequences. What we choose to do next, though, how to spend our resources or attention or effort, this is what defines us.”

The reality is that this is rarely a dramatic and enthralling decision. To NOT read the news; to NOT show up to a conference or event; to NOT join Tumblr. It can feel like a lonely decision, and perhaps one that gives up an opportunity. One where you feel left out.

The value of that decision (and habit) can only be seen in subtle ways in the work itself – the stories you create – months, perhaps YEARS later. And no one will recognize these decisions, or reward you for them overtly. And, unfortunately, you will never know which is right and which is wrong.

But making a decision – taking an action – to NOT just follow along with all the standard obligations, the “best practices,” is something many people never do.

Doing so – taking control of your creative resources – immediately differentiates you from others, in a way that gives your books and your stories a unique chance to grow and find readers.

Like Ira Glass above, he says he lives in his own little bubble of creating things. From what I can tell, these things are both of high quality, and his process is very social. And for the many important things that he can’t allow in to the bubble, these only make his work more focused, more refined, and more likely to connect with people in a profound manner.

Tell me about your creative bubble. What gets let in, and what tends to get left out?


About Dan Blank [5]

Dan Blank is the founder of WeGrowMedia [6], where he helps writers share their stories and connect with readers. He has helped hundreds of authors via online courses, events, consulting, and workshops, and worked with amazing publishing houses and organizations who support writers such as Random House, Workman Publishing, Abrams Books, Writers House, The Kenyon Review, Writer’s Digest, Library Journal, and many others.