You might have heard of this quote from Marty Neumeier, author of The Brand Gap:
What he means by that is that no matter how much you want your product or company to be perceived in a certain way by the public, what really defines your brand is what people actually think and say about it. This is surely true for brands, but it is also true for all the pieces of work we put into the world as creators. Be it an idea, a song, a drawing, a video, a website, or any written piece – you as the creator are not the one who ultimately decides how your work resonates with other people or if it is perceived as “good” by an audience. Of course, you might personally feel that your work is of high quality and also have a gut feeling that it could go down well with others. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that others will feel the same and, consequently, there is no way you can plan for something to become a hit.
What a piece of work really means is not determined by what you want it to be but by what happens when people interact with it. As Marcel Duchamp wrote: “All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.” In other words: Only by publishing your work and placing it out in the world and in front of other people it is truly complete.
So does this mean that we should listen to what they say? Many people indeed try to adjust their writing to what others might like. You could call this the SEO approach to creation: You try to meet the taste, opinions, and standards of others to get their attention and approval. There is one huge problem with this approach, though: The more you adjust your writing to the expectations of others, the more it will, inevitably, lose character. Your work will be stripped of your unique voice and will become generic and disposable.
We all want to create successful work. We want our voices to be heard. We all want to be recognized or, at least, respected. But instead of trying to please everyone, you should deep down inside of you accept the fact that it is not yours to decide if others like your work. This will give you immense freedom. Suddenly, you can start to just write, without worrying whether your readers like what you’re saying or how you are saying it. You can write whether or not the reader is in line with your values, your vision, or your sense of humor. You can write about what you deeply care about. Your process, your struggles, your opinions, your passions. You can focus on clarifying your thoughts, establishing your individual writing style, and getting better with each piece. Just do your best and create work that is genuinely you. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you stop thinking about what might be of value to others or that you can’t be open to feedback anymore. Not at all. Just don’t let this be the sole objective. Write about what is most important to you in the first place and create the opportunity for people to learn and reach their own conclusions. Oh, and don’t forget to publish your work. Ideally on your own site.
If your work resonates with a like-minded audience – and if you share your experiences and tell a story, I guarantee you that it will – great! If only a few people like it, great as well! And even if nobody gives a damn, never mind! You can still decide to continue working on what you care about because you enjoy the process of writing or you are convinced of an idea. That’s completely up to you. Because regardless of what they say, it is still your work. Your writing.