Sunday, September 20, 2009

Defining Success: how and for whom?

I've spent the last few weeks trying to decide what I want to do with this blog to make it more interesting, and even profitable. I've made some changes to the layout. Eventually I'll post a photo and update my profile. But the puzzling question of how to make this blog different and unique from all the other thousands of blogs readers could spend 10 minutes reading is related to a major dilemma all writers face: how to find the balance between writing what I think is important and relevant and writing what I think will please readers.

What can I write about that hasn't already been done in other arenas by much more talented writers?  Originally I was going to focus on spiritual issues and issues of faith. That's hardly fresh or original. What my creative non-fiction professor would say is that the challenge is  not in coming up with an original idea, but in how you present it. That's why all 15 of us show up for three-hour creative non-fiction class every Monday night - because no of us knows the answer to that question yet.

Perhaps teachers struggle with similar issues. It's most often not what they are teaching, but in how they  present what they are teaching to make it engaging for all students, that is most challenging.  Both teachers and writers have an audience. Every student walks into the classroom with a different background and level of experience and expectation, much like the average reader.

Aren't teaching and writing both artforms? And aren't all artforms subjective? So just how does a writer and a teacher define success? What one reader hates another loves. What one student loves another hates. Unfortunately, our culture always defines success  by the Almighty Dollar and test scores. Assessing student progress using only test scores is like measuring the talent of a writer based only on book sales.

A teacher might define success as a student approaching them and telling them how much he or she learned in the class, even if test scores were consistently low. I would consider myself a successful writer if a reader approached me to tell me they felt less alone or more understood or made different choices in their value system after reading my work, even if I never made any money with the material. 

Perhaps the real question I struggle with is not so much the what and the how, but rather in harnessing the power.  Being bold about what I think is important, without worrying about being offensive. I've been given a love for words and a desire to use them, but how and for whom? Is writing about God uninteresting and irrelevant at the dawn of the 21st century compared to David Letterman's latest top ten list, the Emmy Awards or health care reform?  What should intelligent, inquiring minds be focusing on?


manhattandoula said...

Hey, you're back! This is such a pertinent question -- for me, too. Since I'm just writing for fun and as a pressure valve, I don't worry about my readership too much. If 100 people check out my blog, I'm pretty happy. I love your idea about success: that if you change one life, you will have succeeded. Hey, your writing is beautiful to me -- does that count as a success for you?

flaherty515 said...

The most successful teachers I ever had were the ones that drew me into their world with the love they had for their subject matter. Just share yourself with us.