A writer’s arsenal consists of necessities, luxuries, and preferences. I contend that there are really only two necessities: a medium to record the words and a chair to anchor me in front of said medium. Having a defined topic and all the facts I need to write about it intelligently, those are luxuries. Everything else—home vs. Starbucks, alone vs. in a crowd, pen & paper vs. computer, online vs. unplugged, business casual vs. business pajamas—is a matter of preference, and the choice usually depends on the subject, tone, and purpose of the copy. One of the big preference battles for me is silence vs. music.
I almost always choose music over silence when I write. (At the moment, it’s an iTunes genius mix based on “Forever My Friend,” by Ray LaMontagne.) Some of my friends absolutely cannot write with music in the background. It’s too distracting, they say, and I agree it can be. But music tends to put me in the proper emotional context to write with an immediacy and focus I just can’t produce on my own. To me, hitting the emotional mark is one of the most crucial objectives for any writer.
Some instances don’t require a lot (or any) emotional consideration whatsoever, but those aren’t the forums I typically tackle. I write appeals, articles, stories, devotionals. The facts of the matter usually comprise the skeleton of the copy—without them, my words are just a flabby mess of sappy sentiment— but emotion is often the meat on the bones and always the heart and soul of what I write. You don’t need music to write like that, but I prefer it. And that’s not really the point.
My point is really something that illuminated before my very ears this week as I made my musical selection in preparation to write. It struck me that my initial song choice was typically something sad: Patty Griffin, R.E.M., Counting Crows, blah blah blah. Seemed odd considering that I was writing things meant to uplift, motivate, intrigue, and compel. Then it made perfect sense. I usually write to sad people. Maybe not chronically depressed people, but people who have some corner of their heart darkened by sadness or doubt or the lack of something. (Would it surprise you to know this revelation came while I was writing for my Cubs blog? I was shocked..)
I realized that I usually try to put myself in a sad state of mind to better connect with the people I most want to reach: people who are dissatisfied or discouraged in one way or another. My goal, after all, is to satisfy them either through some product or opportunity I’m promoting or by the content of my writing itself. It explains a lot about why starting is the most difficult, depressing part of any job while finishing is absolutely exhilarating. I start sad. I end inspired. Not the most fun process, but it helps me hit the target.
Maybe I’d be better off writing to happy people, but that would be like opening up a hospital for the well. It would undoubtedly be cheerier, but what would be the point? I’d much rather manipulate myself into sadness, brave the inevitable mini-bouts of depression, and help a few people feel better. It has its pragmatic business advantages (people who are suddenly happier make very good customers and donors). More than that, though, it’s a nice way to treat people. If I never convince a single reader to give, to buy, or to think or act the way I want them to, I can at least find satisfaction in knowing that my words left that reader a bit happier than when they found him or her. Whether they start sad, angry, or jubilant, I hope whatever I write for whatever person will make things at least a little better.
That’s not a bad plan, is it?