It's Not All About You

by Mike Shea on 24 October 2010

30 second summary

You don't matter. No one cares about you or the minuscule details of your life. Stop creating things just for yourself and start thinking about what value your creation gives to those willing to spend their time, money, and attention on it. What are you giving other people that makes their lives better? Whether it's a tweet, a blog post, a Facebook update, a novel or a powerpoint presentation; stop making it just for you and start considering what value you're really giving to others for the time they spend on it.

Look over your creation and ask yourself if you really just made it for your own vanity or if you're actually giving people something they really want.

Longer pontification

Something occurred to me over the past couple of weeks. I've been sitting through an ungodly number of powerpoint presentations (good ones, but still a lot of them) and it occurs to me what makes the bad ones bad. It even occurs to me that this same thing makes bad blogs bad and bad tweeters bad. Hell, it's what makes all bad bits of creation bad. Video game creators, writers, poets, musicians, movie directors; all of them can learn from a simple lesson.

"Write for yourself first" has been a mantra in writing since the days of cuneiform but they miss the valuable next part. "Next, give your audience something they want."

People create all sorts of shit without ever considering who they are creating it for or what those people want to do with it. People love to build powerpoint slides full of crap they really love but they forget that the intent is to teach it to someone who might not know anything about it. They don't ask themselves what they would want if they were the audience. They never take the time to consider what is in it for the other guy.

Same with Twitter. We love to tweet random bits of stuff but we don't often ask ourselves what value someone else get out of it. What am I giving to someone else and why do they want it?

Same with blogs. People write blogs talking about their little yip-yip dogs with no understanding that even their loved ones rarely care enough to read it.

You don't matter

If you were Wil Wheaton or Gabe and Tycho, people would want to read what you write. You might read a movie review for a movie you have no interest in at all as long as the review was written by Roger Ebert. They are somebody. We're not.

Random people aren't going to come by and suddenly find great interest in the details of your life. Instead, try to write for their lives. Try to give something to someone instead of simply taking attention. Try to make their lives better instead of just shoring up your own.

Think how great social networking would be if people spent the time to think about what their posts gave to other people.

It's funny but most production in the blog-o-sphere, on Twitter, and on Facebook are simply extensions of consumption. They aren't really producing something, they're just putting out fish hooks to grab attention. How many Facebook friends do you have that complain and hope for sympathy? 30%? People are so concerned with capturing attention that they don't even spend the time to think about what they're giving to those people who give up that attention.

So sure, create stuff for yourself first. Make something you want. Write something you want to read. But then consider what it gives to other people. Are you entertaining them? Really? Are you giving them something that might improve their lives? Are you sure?

When you write a 140 character tweet, you owe each person that reads that tweet for the time they gave up to read it. When you write a 1,500 word blog post about your hemorrhoids, you owe every reader for the attention they spent thinking about it. What are you giving them in return?

If the irony of this article isn't lost on you, then you understand what I mean. I have a vanity blog. I have a twitter account where I talk about my dog. I have these things to act as a safety valve to ensure I don't fill up my topic-focused sites like Sly Flourish with my own aimless pontifications.

I've had this blog ten years and I have half the traffic that my D&D blog has for one simple reason. People don't give a shit about Mike Shea but some people sure do give a shit about D&D.