“Write Like Nobody’s Reading…”

I ran across a Medium writer who had that as her motto on her profile, and admired the play on the old “dance like nobody’s watching…” line. I’m still pretty new to this platform, and pretty computer-illiterate. My stories have had patchy responses. Those “viewed” stats go up and down like the bouncing ball on the TV screen (“follow the bouncing ball!) when my family watched the Mitch Miller show.

The bouncing ball in that instance followed the song’s words in superimposed text on screen so you could sing along. None of us sang along; that just seemed too schmaltzy for words, but still we gathered to watch every week. (I suppose you could say we didn’t choose to “sing like no one is listening…” to complement this headline and line about dancing.

As for the bouncing stats here, I have read some posts recommending we ignore them as an algorithm gone amuck, and focus on the “views,” “reads” and “fans” of individual stories to get some idea if anyone out there is, in fact, reading. Some of my posts have been viewed, and read, and applauded, and even commented upon favorably — the latter is like mother’s milk to a writer.

All my life I have remembered a quote from my grandmother and others about writing:“He who writes but for money is a fool.” It was attributed to Dr. Samuel Johnson, and cited to prove writing for money alone was a mug’s game. I even recall a “comma” debate about this phrase. Some reporters I knew insisted there should be two: “He who writes, but for money, is a fool.” Changing the whole meaning. Either way, the saying had a pleasing, archaic rhythm. And the comma debate, fueled by post-deadline liquor, pitted the two philosophies against each other.

For instance, Erskine Caldwell recalled in his autobiography a time when he was an Atlanta Journal reporter alongside Margaret Mitchell, who was a favorite feature writer of the city editor. That worthy was infuriated by her decision to quit, and begin work on a novel of the Civil War. Predicted she would slink back to paid writing when she figured out she could not eat a manuscript. I can almost hear the editor using that phrase and inserting the commas. In that instance, of course, Gone With the Wind proved him spectacularly wrong.

Imagine my surprise when online dictionaries carried Dr. Johnson’s quote and it bore almost no resemblance to the long-debated passage: “no man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money” Well, damn. Simple and pithy, but without the rhythm and ambiguity of the one attributed to him all my life. I like the misquote better. As the newsman told the senator (played by Jimmy Stewart) in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, when the legend becomes truth — print the legend.

This sort-of treatise is why I like this medium with a capital M so much. You can just start writing away, and before you know it all sorts of unconscious connections and associations flow out of the brain and onto the screen. You can, indeed, write as if no one is reading. And the odds are good you’re right.

I began this exercise tonight to see if I could add “links” from some of my earlier writings to a new post. I had written earlier about my “stories nobody liked” and entered a partial list. Readers suggested interest in the missed stories. One said she could not find them! I had imagined that readers clicking on my “page” would find the list I find when I do that — all the way back to my very first entry. This reader suggested “linking” the stories she could not find. Great — I had no idea what that meant. Another reader kindly took me through the steps. So I experimented with a handful of stories that got zero views, zero reads.

Eight in all, from the past two weeks. In most case the “link” feature resulted in the headline and photo (if any) of the old story appearing below. In two cases, just a brain-numbing string of what must be computer code. So, having had my daily writing exercise, without further ado I will post this. In fond hope readers will actually read it, and even click on the links, if for no other reason than to let me know it worked.

A final note: the first story link below, the platform grabbed the caption to the photo and made it my headline. And simply refused my attempts to edit. So it went up with what has to be the most unattractive headline in my file. It was part one of a two-parter, and the second part got some attention. But the weird-headline piece was roundly ignored.

https://medium.com/@billburkett/99-cent-vacation-in-paris-972121eb4b7c?source=friends_link&sk=2da7409ab1e3e01a17d7c688f33a052e

https://medium.com/@billburkett/well-traveled-chest-waders-b72ebd46996d?source=friends_link&sk=d7d65cd609c049cdd89d112b901a60c6

Professional writer, Pacific Northwest. 20 Books: “Sleeping Planet” 1964 to “Venus Mons Iliad” 2018–19. Most on Amazon for sale. Il faut d’abord durer.