WARNING: Contains ruminations about writing, talent and what a writer owes his audience.
This week's #FridayFlash ("The Killing Song") is quite different from last week's #FridayFlash ("Mother's Day").
I've gotten some interesting feedback on both, comments here and on Twitter that were thought provoking. What is talent? Do you owe something to your talent, as you might owe something to your readers? Was I wasting my abilities on these pieces? Was I slumming in being soft and sentimental? Or was it when I was being dark and horrible?
Why is McDonald's so damned popular? Not because the food is all that great. It's because every time you go there, you know exactly what will be on the menu. Reliability and consistency are what they sell. 90% of their menu is the same as it has been for the past 50 years. Don't want to risk getting a distasteful meal? Go to McDonald's (or any chain-clone like Olive Garden, TGIFriday's, P.F. Chang's, etc.).
At the other end of the scale is 4 star restaurants, which are expected to be reliably excellent (although the one time I ate at Chez Panisse, the meal was only OK, the wine was hideously expensive and there were cobwebs in the corner of the ceiling). They might have the same menu for 50 years, or they might change half the menu every year, but you can rely on everything being terrific.
Why do so many new restaurants fail? Because they misjudged the market for Asian-Swiss fusion vegan, or Cajun-Polish brauhaus? Anthony Bourdain says that many restaurants fail because of inconsistent quality and they keep switching the menu around. Customers never know if what they ordered is going to be any good. Since the cost of a bad meal is a wasted evening (and wasted money), repeat traffic falls off, and new traffic stays flat because the place gets a reputation as a risky place to eat, a crap shoot.
I don't charge anything for this fiction I put up here. There's a core of repeat visitors who generally like what I do. Maybe not all of it, but in general. You spend a bit of your time here, the only real commodity any of us has. What does it do for you as a reader when you come here and read something you really don't care for? Maybe it was well written, but you still didn't like it. What do you do? Trust me that next week will be different and perhaps more to your liking? That calls for a lot of trust, doesn't it? I'm not a 4-star restaurant (not yet, anyway). Or does this blog become one of those that a lot of people "used to go to all the time, until it changed"?
Some people really liked the soft and sweet "Mother's Day", others disliked it. Some people were really put off by the grim and dark "The Killing Song", others liked it so much they went back and picked up my RSS feed of recent posts.
If I were to stick with one style of writing, many of you would stop coming. Sad fact, but there it is. The flip side is that I expect that the audience for that style of writing would grow.
So what do I do with everything that is NOT that style? Stop writing it? Not likely. Start separate blogs under various pen names (and perhaps Twitter accounts) for each style of writing? I don't have time for that approach, and each one would only get updated in a timeslice manner. Limit myself to sweet and touching on Mondays, noir and brutal on Tuesdays, funny and irreverent on Wednesdays, thoughtful on Thursdays, mysterious and atmospheric on Fridays?
Again, not likely.
What do you think? Is this the sort of thing to have to map out in advance, or should I just keep stumbling along, doing what I've been doing, i.e. playing it by ear?
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