Episode #23: Say Who You are Reading
join the conversation and contribute.
One of my poetry professors would ask aspiring writers —often interrupting the young writer mid-sentence as he discussed grand plans and visions of literary fame—with the question “And who are you reading?”
“Who are you reading” is a check to make sure your world extends beyond just you.
The question who are reading? is translatable in many ways for you and the work you do in your life. You want to write a book? What books are you reading? You want to start a business? What businesses do you follow? You want to start a newsletter? What newsletters do you support?
For every goal, there is a community of people who have tried or are currently trying to achieve a similar goal. Looking at a finished product of something you want to do can be a valuable tool for figuring out how to get to a finished product of your own.
And yes, there is an element of knowing what’s out there in order to differentiate yourself—finding your niche—but there’s also a sense of community building that’s almost as important. Connecting with people doing similar things will draw in support for you and your mission.
In being curious about other people’s vision and attempts to create those visions you develop valuable perspective when you return to your own work.
Additionally, by engaging with people who have walked the same walk you hope to walk, you get a free check on your hubris. For example, I once met a person who said he wanted to publish a book of poetry. “Great!” I exclaimed, and following the words of my poetry professor, I asked “who do you like to read?” His answer, “Oh, I don’t read any poetry. I just write it,” failed the hubris test.
My interpretation was the he wanted to write a book to say “I have written a book!” which can certainly be a commendable goal. But as we pursue those goals we should also find avenues to connect with others who do the same thing we want to do (i.e., what is it you want to do?).
The implication is that when we undertake a project, whether personal or professional, if it’s guided by your vision, if it’s “your baby” you want to see through, how can you connect it to the work others have tried?
What can you add to the conversation?
By seeing your work as part of a conversation and not a singular expression of your legacy, you’re likely to encounter a little conflict with the original idea you had. It might change. It might get altered. You may need to workshop it again, or drop it all together. What was golden turned out to be iron, and is already showing signs of rust.
When we move our ideas into conversation with other ideas like it, you can use productive conflict to make that idea different—and difference is ultimately what adds value to the customer.
As you pursue your projects today stop and ask yourself: Who are you in conversation with? How are you different? How are you similar? Who are you reading?