Thursday, December 26, 2013

Getting the right kind of attention with your writing

When I was nine years old, my family moved to a new town and I switched schools. As an only child on the verge of puberty, I was just beginning to discover how life could get worse once I had to interact with other people and discover that I wasn't really like everyone else. I know now that it's because I'm introverted and a writer. But back then, I just thought there was something wrong with me.

I made a new group of friends pretty quickly, but got frustrated when I learned I wasn't always going to be the center of attention. Most of the kids in my class were more interested in chasing boys (or girls) and getting the newest gadgets than pretending their backyard was full of dinosaurs. So, like I often did when I was little, I ended up entertaining myself alone.

One day at recess, I got upset because my new friends would rather watch two of our classmates kissing behind a tree than play with me. Every time I tried to pry their attention away, I only got shushed or ignored. So the next day, I decided I was going to get them to pay attention to me, no matter what. Before school, I raided my mom's makeup collection.

Looking back, I don't remember what she said about it, if anything. But I do remember that at recess that day, there was more attention on me.

"Um, Mary," several of my classmates said, "I think you used a little too much eye shadow."

I pretended it was an embarrassing flub, but secretly I was thrilled that they were finally paying attention to me. Even if it was for less-than-ideal reasons.

It's human nature to feel like the world should revolve around us. When we're younger, especially when we grow up in small, close-knit communities, we get the impression that we're the center of universe. Then we get into the real world, and we're just a blip on everyone's radar. So how on earth do we stand out? Some take to drastic measures, attention grabbing antics. The grown up equivalent of putting on too much of mom's makeup.

In writing, it's tempting sometimes to reach for these antics to get an audience. We want to write something controversial or sensational just so we can get more attention, so the spotlight will be on us, even if it's for the wrong reasons. It can get so tiring slaving away for months or years on a book, only to have nobody else want to read it. But throw in lots of gratuitous sex and violence, and suddenly people are lining up to read it.

But here's the thing: People who do things just to get attention, not for the right reasons, only get temporary and fleeting notoriety. Everyone complains about outrageous celebrity antics and how people would rather read about the Kardashians' family drama or Justin Bieber getting arrested than to sit down with a good book. But this time two or three years ago, nobody cared about the Kardashians or Justin Bieber. They cared about some other stars who have since faded into oblivion. And chances are, five years from now, nobody will care about today's celebrities. And if they do, then clearly they were doing something right that their naysayers missed.

That same year I used makeup as an attention grabber, a little movie called Titanic was released. My classmates loved singing My Heart Will Go On at the top of their lungs on the playground and ogling Leonardo DiCaprio (can't say I blame them for that one, though). That was 1997, and people are still watching Titanic. Kids who were either babies or not yet born when it was released are just now starting to watch it, and they're just as interested in it as we were in 1997. And it's not just Titanic -- there are dozens of other classic novels and movies that have stood the test of time and been remembered for the right reasons.

This doesn't mean, of course, that a book is no good if it's not remembered ten years after it was published. There are so hundreds of thousands of books published every year, and it's impossible for all of them, even the best of them, to make a lasting impression. But don't fret over the latest celebrity news or resort to gratuity or sensationalism to get attention. Because striving for a better kind of attention is not only more fulfilling, but it can last a lot longer.

1 comment:

  1. This was seriously a fantastic post. I'm trying so hard to write a book that'll stand the test of time! It's all about not being the flash in the pan, but something bigger.