Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit

Steven Pressfield shares his #1 lesson for anybody in the working world:

Nobody wants to read your shit.

He explains:

The market doesn’t know what you’re selling and doesn’t care. Your potential customers are so busy dealing with the rest of their lives, they haven’t got a spare second to give to your product/work of art/business, no matter how worthy or how much you love it.

What’s your answer to that?

1) Reduce your message to its simplest, clearest, easiest-to-understand form.

2) Make it fun. Or sexy or interesting or informative.

3) Apply that to all forms of writing or art or commerce.

When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, your mind becomes powerfully concentrated. You begin to understand that writing/reading is, above all, a transaction. The reader donates his time and attention, which are supremely valuable commodities. In return, you the writer, must give him something worthy of his gift to you.

In school anything you write or do will be read and graded by a teacher paid to do so. In the real world nobody wants to read your shit, and you have to earn their attention every single day.

Last year in a post titled You Have to Make People Give a Shit, I extolled blogging as a way to learn this value.

One way blogging makes you a better writer is it forces you to work hard for your readers' attention. On the web, it takes less than a second to close the page or click a new link. Your readers are busy and distracted.

This means you must engage the reader out of the gate and take nothing for granted. If you start sucking in the second paragraph, you'll likely lose the reader's attention. They click to a new page.

It's brutal. It makes you better.

18 comments on “Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit
  • Good post. Students don’t really have an incentive to make their work interesting because they know the teacher’s going to read it. Off the top of my head I can’t think of any ways to get around the problem, besides encouraging students to blog (and care).

  • Funny thing. I picked a Pressfield novel some years ago (Gates of Fire, I think), read a couple paragraphs of Greeks speaking in a very Anglo Saxon Greek, and put it down, never to pick it up again.

    He’s right: attention is the one indisputably scarce resource, and it’s hard to get any from people. Whether he knows how is another matter.

  • So what does it boil down to?

    Never try to engage people, distract them. Prove them wrong all the time by stronger arguments. Make them skid. Wack’em off the wall or give them a fresh perspective or even a bizzare brain wave – and they will stick with your shit. Remember people don’t always love to be endorsed; they aspire to be disproved and remade. Man is always the marble and the sculptor.

  • Great Ben. In my new book, The Leap, I get into a lot of the neuro-psychology that governs what we pay attention to, and what we do not. Specifically, Big, Selfless and Simple ideas are the most powerful.

    Big ideas get us to pay attention.

    Selfless Ideas evoke empathy, and create the urge to act

    Simple ideas are easily understood and quickly and broadly translated into action.

    In your blogging, your entrepreneurship, and your life, Big Selfless and Simple ideas can accelerate your impact.

    Rick Smith
    The Leap

  • It’s the same way in stand-up. Nobody wants to hear you talk. You better capture their attention in the first 30 seconds or they’ll start sending text messages, entertaining themselves.

  • this is a good point, I concur, and it really makes me think that first and foremost you need to make sure you give a shit about what you’re going to say/write/do. otherwise you won’t even get that 1 second of attention before they click close.

  • “You begin to understand that writing/reading is, above all, a transaction. The reader donates his time and attention, which are supremely valuable commodities. In return, you the writer, must give him something worthy of his gift to you.”

    No. Never.

    Pressfield wants to reduce the relationship between writer and reader to a commodity transaction.

    That may be the mindset of a successful copywriter, but it is not the attitude of an artist or of anyone who writes because he loves to write.

    No fucking reader bestows a gift on the writer.

    If an interested party can’t be found to give a second of time to parsing out the scribbles of the true believer (in himself), why should the independent writer care?

    An audience of zero means nothing to the dedicated auteur, because he doesn’t write for critics, or anyone else. He writes for himself.

    And above all, he doesn’t give a shit what factotums like Pressfield say.

  • Vince, that’s taking navel-gazing self-importance to the extreme.

    An “auteur” with an audience of zero is not one at all. Art is communication, not self-congratulation.

    A writer is a storyteller. If no one wants to hear your stories, you’re a lousy writer.

  • Vince – Art is a business, just like everything else. People see your art, you survive. People don’t see your art, you remain a part-time artist, living another life to pay the bills.

    Some artist say that monetary transactions are a way of selling out. It is a good thing that Leonardo da Vinci didn’t feel that way.

    If the Medici family wasn’t interested in da Vinci’s “shit”, one wonders if he would have painted the Mona Lisa, which came after the Medici family started supporting him.

    So yes, as you pointed out, the Mona Lisa is art, whether one person or a million see her.

    However, had someone not given a shit about da Vinci, the artist himself might not have even started that first brush stroke that created the lovely Mona Lisa.

  • CIRO, you’ve missed my point.

    I feel like I’m arguing with a bunch of drunken mercenary Philistines who work at a copywriting agency.

    I create art for my own satisfaction, not to make a living.

    Not every independent artist creates his art to make a living, and not every artist who doesn’t play the business game starves.

    Not every genius fucked Peggy Guggenheim to get somewhere, either.

    I shouldn’t have to make these points to sane, rational people.

    I suggest you all eat some psilocybin mushrooms, post haste.

    Jasper Johns may be a critic’s darling, but Vincent is my hero, and like him,
    I’ve never sold my soul.

  • Vince, not every artist creates for his own satisfaction. Some of us create to communicate. In fact, some of us don’t feel our particular creative act is completed until it’s connected with another person.

    That’s not to say that your approach of creating art for yourself is somehow less because it doesn’t connect, just that it’s one of several approaches to art. And for the approach that seeks to communicate, Ben’s take is dead on. There’s nothing philistine about it; in fact, it’s generous. If you’re going to ask somebody to give time and thought to what you’re creating, you owe him or her the very best you can do.

    Jenny, not a drunken Philistine who works at a copy agency

  • Thanks for your reply, Jennie.

    I wasn’t taking issue with Ben’s points, per se.

    The sentence I quoted was from Steven Pressfield’s post.

    I’m a person of strong feelings, and I had an emotional reaction to his statement that “writing/reading is, above all, a transaction.”

    I disagree with the idea that the relationship between creator and ‘user’ should necessarily be a commodity exchange.

    But if that’s the contract they have, it’s fine with this cat.

    Do you feel me now?;-)

  • This is awesome. You should start a “No one wants to read your shit” consulting service where you point out all the boring and unnecessary content on a site, then suggestion suggestions for improvement. This would help a client and a huge contribution to all of us that are tired of reading crap. Great post, Ben.

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