The Line Between Sanity and Insanity

There’s a great Melville quote about the line between sanity and insanity.  It’s clear to see when the line is crossed, but where that line is is much like how each color of the rainbow blends into one another.  I think this applies to a lot of situations in our modern lives.  For one, I see this with beauty quite often.  Again, easy to tell when someone is no longer attractive, but there’s a line there where it makes you look, stare and think, “Is that pretty or ugly?” 

There’s a lot of behaviors that fall into this category as well.  Ethical behavior is another area that while we think of it as black or white, it ends up being more shades of gray than we would like. 

I think there’s a universal theme here about our ideas of things that we view as binary, black or white, right or wrong, left or right, good or bad, etc. It reminds me of a concept in Algebra with parabolas.  They will increase slightly towards the line, never actually touching.  Here we have a slow run-up to the line in question, and then a clear crossing point.  Does the same happen on the other side of the line, though?  Does the progression away from the line stay as subtle?  I don’t think it does.  Once we’ve crossed over, the progression seems to accelerate, if anything. 

Like most things in life, once we’ve recognized it, it’s hard to not see it anymore. 

I struggle with this same concept every day as I try to bring ideas to life.  It’s tough to see if an idea “has teeth” so to speak from its bare form.  I have to sit down and wrestle with it a bit to see if I can get it to take a form that I like.  Even here, a third of the way into my daily writing, I’m not sure.  This is why I had 365 daily writings and only 102 posts last year.  Not everything will come to fruition. 

I wish there was a way to see from the other side whether the idea will develop into something valid.  But there’s not.  Worse yet, I really don’t know what will resonate with people.  As I’ve said before, my favorite writings tend to get little to no traction.  That doesn’t surprise me, I’ve never been a populist.  That’s a recurring theme in my life.  However, it is frustrating.  It’s possible I just haven’t found my audience yet.  Clearly, they haven’t found me.  It’s also possible that the stuff I like, that I think is funny is just not funny at all.  I probably need to edit a lot more than I do. 

How, then, do we determine what idea will fly, and what will be DOA?  One would think it would have to do with the passion I have for the subject.  That somehow my enthusiasm for the idea comes through the keyboard magically and into my writing to give it life and reach and passion.  That’s not the case, either.  Some things I’ve written very passionately about have not had many views.  Others that I’ve written passionately about have done well.  No rhyme or reason to this.  Maybe it’s not the ideas, maybe it’s my lack of copywriting skills and headlines are the issue.  Very possibly. 

I have one article on Medium that is definitely on the line between ugly and beauty or sanity and insanity if you prefer.  Medium does a nice job of tracking readership.  So if someone reads the whole article, they count that as a “read” versus a “view.”  Then they give you a “read ratio” which is the reads vs views.  Horrible. Most of my articles do well.  Above 60% read rates.  But I have one, that is down in the 30% range.  And it’s the one about my creative system that one specific user asked me for.  Granted, it’s a long piece, but still.  So, I’ve been going back and rewriting it.  Editing.  I’ve broken up larger paragraphs into smaller ones.  I’ve deleted stuff that doesn’t add to the article.  No change.  I changed the title a little.  No change as of today.   

At some extent, there’s an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” problem I have to contend with, too.  If I change too much at one time, and something does resonate, I won’t know what to credit the additional readership to.  That’s just as bad.  I’ll know I fixed it, I just won’t know how. 

It’s possible the line Melville was referring to was one he had discovered himself while writing.  I feel that way today.  I’m not sure if I’m sane or not. 

Crazy? No, not me!

Everyone I happen to tell about what I do in the morning definitely looks at me like I’m crazy.  It usually starts off with them asking me why I get up so god-awful early.  I reply that I have things I want to get done each day, and that’s the only time I can make sure I get my personal work done.  I get probed about “what’s so important” that you have to get up at 4 AM.  Ultimately, in my defense, I spill the beans.  “I write.”  What follows is always, “What do you write about?”  That’s possibly one of the most offensive questions you can ask a budding writer.  If I had a book I was working on, I’d have an answer.  But since I’m just trying to build the skills to write every day so I can attack a bigger project, I really don’t have much of an answer. 

Maybe that’s the problem with my writing as well.  Jeff Goins makes it clear that you need to find a niche, a focus, and go after that.  You have to have a “why.”  I don’t really have one yet.  I may have mentioned that I’m a bit indecisive at times.  This would be one of those times.  I didn’t want to write about writing since I don’t feel qualified to do so. But I am qualified to document the journey as it happens.  But I have other themes that come out that I want to get out in the world.  Those are the ones that seem to be hit or miss. 

The real question comes down to, do those varying subjects detract from my overall writing experience or not?  Am I hurting myself as a writer by trying to vary my subjects?  My goal here isn’t the same as what Goins wants it to be.  I don’t want to be a hugely successful blogger.  I want to be a writer.  Ideally of fiction, maybe a non-fiction book or two on a few subjects that attract my attention.  But my primary focus isn’t blogging, it’s just a tool being used to test out ideas and find my voice. 

The need for others

Writing is very much the practice of testing out the theory of whether a tree makes a sound when it falls in the woods.  On the surface, of course, it does.  Sounds are made by actions.  The tree falling makes noise.  But then, from a philosophical standpoint, if no one witnesses the tree falling, what proof have we that sound isn’t just a construct of our existence? Writing is the same.  What proof do I have that I’m writing if no one is reading what I write?  Just because I think I’m pounding out words on a keyboard, doesn’t make it so.  Readers are what give writers life.  So while we try not to pander to readers, we care about them more than we admit.  Ideally, we find readers who think like we do, who share our experiences, who understand what we are feeling, and think, “he gets me.”  

But what if we’re so unique in the world that our experiences are not shared with others?  I’m so anti-populist that it’s possible my readership will always be a very small minority.  What then?  I suppose nothing.  I think at that point it will make my writing more intimate. If I know there’s a very small portion of society who will like and understand my work, that just means I can be more targeted and more personal.  I don’t think that’s the case, though.  I think there are a lot of people who are disenchanted with society today and need to see that others are feeling the same way.  I’m not so special, I just like to think on a keyboard. 

And I like to think a lot about things like nebulous lines and whether I’ve crossed one. 

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Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash

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