One of the many themes preached by social media gurus is that you need to create content that has value for your audience. The content-value-audience chain of connection is to be upheld at all times, lest your fans lose interest in what you’re doing, in what you’re selling. Is all this is true, then I’ve epically failed. You see, even though I’ve blogged here for nine years, I rarely think about my audience because let’s face it, my audience is mainly me. This myopic view may be the reason why brettworks has grown so slowly over time, and despite this growth, I’m convinced that a fair percentage of my audience is still spam bots. In addition to rarely thinking about audience, I rarely think about the concept of content either. The problem with content as imagined by social media gurus is that it’s by definition prefab information that one either hurls at others or has hurled at oneself. This hurling of information is the reason I’ll unsubscribe from a blog or newsletter if it gets too intense—if there’s just too much coming too fast and it all doesn’t add up to much that I can do anything with. Keeping in mind this reservation about content, I still think about what is valuable–that is, personally useful–when it comes to music, and I’m always on the lookout for music or interesting writing about it. For me, something that has value is something I can return to again and again and continue learning from.
One social media-speak idea that I do find interesting is that sharing your process is as important, if not more important than, sharing the fruits of your work. While it’s common to use social media to publicize one’s latest accomplishments, maybe the most useful way to use blogs, Twitter, Instagram, and the other apps (which I ignore) is to share the steps you’re taking as you work on whatever it is you’re working on. In other words, to document. If someone meticulously chronicled their weekly home dinner menus, I would probably enjoy reading that.
This idea of narrating where you are in your process isn’t new, of course, nor is it unique to social media and the commoditization of the self. Recently, as I was reading Geoff Dyer’s book about D.H. Lawrence, Out Of Sheer Rage, I noticed that what makes the writing compelling is Dyer’s constant interweaving of his own (often humorous) experiences into the narrative. Every few pages he lets the reader know where we are in his journey towards, around, and away from his topic, and for the first 90 pages we seem to be getting nowhere fast. This is wonderful because you forget you’re reading a book, an experience which is, in turn, proof that the book is weaving its magic. Dyer’s writing demonstrates the truth that we don’t want to read about a particular topic, but rather a particular interpretation and journey through a topic. For me, his approach to writing is a model for how to build a narrative out of one’s subjective and idiosyncratic experience. (This, by the way, is an interpretive approach that is often trained out of people when they go to graduate school.) I noticed a similar journeying through dynamic in Wes Anderson’s film, Isle Of Dogs. At several points in the story, the narrator (Courtney B. Vance) announces bits of key information about the characters and which part of the movie (Part 1, Part 2, etc.) is about to unfold. As with many of the visual details in Anderson’s films, the effect of the narration is both practical-useful and quirky-touching, and the viewer finds herself drawn into how the film was conceived and designed. Surprisingly, Anderson’s meta-commentary about the film’s action never negatively impacts our immersion in the story itself. On the contrary, it becomes part of the experience of watching it unfold.
So: there are several reasons why many of my blog posts examine my working process. One is that this is something that I do every day, and I’m trying to understand it better myself, or at least accurately chronicle my failures and have something to write about. Another reason is that among musicians, artists, and writers, process is often something of a guarded trade secret: the writer doesn’t want you to know how she maps her novels, and the painter doesn’t want to reveal his process for layering colors, and so on. Trade secrets. I get that process is often a personal and hard-fought thing, but it’s also sort of the main, most fascinating thing in that it contains within itself the steps it takes to get where it’s going. Process is inherently reflexive, referring back to itself as it goes along. Process is endless, and process can be shared. And what is music but processes unfolding over time? So too this blog is a process that circles around itself as it evolves, trying to document what I find interesting and what you might too.