May 29, 2018

You can’t contrive a creative success

Posted in Connecting with readers, Creativity, Ideas, music and writing, performance, publication, self-evaluation, Success tagged , , , , , , at 6:35 am by Rebecca Hein

The success of “Compose Yourself” was spontaneous. Beforehand, I had no idea it would elicit so much more appreciation than did my other columns, which were nearly as good—as far as I could tell. This spontaneity was what I temporarily lost during the months I spent trying to equal the impressive effects of “Compose Yourself.” Now I know why.

Rather than writing from my deepest passions, I was trying to play to the crowd. It was a subtle change in direction, and when it didn’t work, I abandoned the effort and accepted the obvious fact that I couldn’t predict the effects of my writing.

However, in music performance, there’s nothing wrong with playing to the audience, in a certain form, and I’m sure we as writers can learn from this phenomenon.


May 22, 2018

If writers are really the worst judges of their own work, how can we be sure of engaging readers?

Posted in Connecting with readers, Depth, Ideas, performance, publication, self-evaluation, Success tagged , , , , , , at 7:50 am by Rebecca Hein

When I finally quit trying to replicate one successful column, I settled back into writing-as-usual. For me that means getting in touch with my best ideas, developing them, and eventually producing finished pieces from them.

In this process, I’m not thinking about what will please readers, although I aim for clarity, simplicity, and good organization. My motive power is the passion I feel for the idea. With my very first column, I’d discovered that if I wrote from my deepest convictions, this reached to an equally deep place within a significant number of readers.

Thus, in the aftermath of “Compose Yourself,” I rediscovered what engages readers. However, the mystery of that episode remained with me because while writing “Compose Yourself,” I hadn’t been aware that its central idea came from an unusual level of depth or passion.

So I still haven’t figured out why that column succeeded, but recently I saw a possible reason why the next few columns didn’t reach as high.

May 15, 2018

A success I couldn’t replicate

Posted in Connecting with readers, performance, publication, self-evaluation, Success tagged , , , , , at 7:01 am by Rebecca Hein

After a long silence from readers, the morning one of my best columns was published, titled “Compose Yourself,” I received three emails about it. These readers all thanked me, and said the same things about the column: it was wise, sensible, and encouraging.

If one letter represents another 99 people who also appreciated a piece of writing, my batting average had just soared. I wondered how I could get this to happen again, and for the next six months worked diligently to write even better columns, full of what I hoped was more encouragement and inspiration.

Nothing happened beyond the normal, regular but infrequent, level of compliments that emerged in various conversations and interactions with people in my community. That was when I told my mentor that I was bewildered because I hadn’t been able to repeat my success, even after careful study of “Compose Yourself.”

After he told me that writers are the worst judges of their own work, I wondered, therefore, how can we figure out what will engage readers?

May 8, 2018

The newspaper column that rose above the others—and I still don’t know why

Posted in Connecting with readers, publication, Success tagged , , , , at 6:15 am by Rebecca Hein

“Writers are the worst judges of their own work.” When a mentor and friend said this to me years ago about a recent episode in my writing life, I was forced to conclude that he was probably right.

I had just discovered that I couldn’t predict reader response to my monthly newspaper columns, even though I’d tried hard to analyze and repeat one of my successes. I’d been writing arts columns for my local paper, the Casper [Wyoming] Star-Tribune, for 5 ½ years, and had progressed through several stages in attracting a readership.

At first, many people thanked me for my unique perspective as a cellist and my new role as arts commentator. One of my best-educated, and most jaded, readers told me that he sensed a freshness in my ideas that he hadn’t seen in a long time.

Gradually, people stopped calling and writing to thank me for a column they’d especially enjoyed, but I was always running into salespeople, bank tellers, neighbors, and associates who commented on recent columns or on my work in general.

Eventually this latter phenomenon died down to a low murmur and I began to feel that readers were taking me for granted. Then I wrote a winner.

May 1, 2018

I refuse to apologize for wanting to be a more successful writer

Posted in publication, Success tagged , , at 8:26 am by Rebecca Hein

Although a few scornful people seem to think that writers are not entitled to big dreams, I don’t intend to apologize to them. Equally, I see no reason to engage them; I need my energy and attention for writing.

I would love to write a runaway best-seller, and I don’t care who knows it. I work hard toward this goal, and I’m happy that my writing life has shown me I can connect with readers.

I want to expand my readership, and also my vision for my writing. Why should I try to go in the opposite direction? Certainly not to defend myself against the digs of a few people who apparently don’t understand the creative person’s drive to progress, excel, and succeed.

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