Yesterday, I got an email from a long-time reader.
Normally I’d ask permission to print this, but since there was only one mouse click from my inbox to here, I’ll keep it anonymous.
“Tim's constant reminder to share emotional life stories that are hard to write about won't work for me, either. I write happy, the way you do.
Thanks for your email. I read it first.”
(She’s talking about Tim Denning, my business partner. That part is irrelevant here.)
Focus on the suggestion that I write happy. That’s the part I find odd.
I feel like I haven’t written anything happy in 5 years.
Some of you know that in November 2017 I lost my sister-in-law to sarcoma. She was 40. My wife, my mother-in-law, and I were her caretakers in the final weeks.
And if you go back and read all my work, chronologically, you’ll see the shift.
Pre-November 2017: Todd blogs about personal growth and success, mantras and money.
Post-November 2017: Todd publicly wrestles with the tragedies of life and how to handle them.
After November 2017, my rapid follower growth screeched to a halt.
A lot more people want to read about making money online than how to emotionally cope with the death of their grandparents. This seems absurd because the second topic can help you with the first topic. Not the other way around.
But it’s fine.
The pivot reminds me of why I started writing to begin with. In the beginning, I wrote about my granddaddy’s death by car crash. Probably would have gone nuts if I didn’t.
To this day, what I’d refer to as “happy stuff” generally doesn’t interest me as a writing topic.
Example 1 — a book I helped ghostwrite a book that won a “business book of the year” award and I didn’t jump on Twitter explaining how I did it.
Example 2 — Kate and I celebrated 10 years of marriage last October and I was never LESS interested in writing anything.
When I’m happy, I don’t think about writing.
I try to just… you know… be happy.
I DO love to write the HOPEFUL stuff. (I actually think this is what my beloved subscriber was saying in the first place.)
In order to find hope, you need tragedy. Or struggle. Or sorrow.
I put pen to paper to sort out the horror of living.
(Or to help people learn how to do the same)
This eulogy I wrote for my brother.
It’s not at all happy.
But I think you’ll like it anyway.
Much love as always,
-Todd B from Tennessee
Todd, this reminds me of one of the things I love about my favorite author, Guy Gavriel Kay. His books so often tackle the competing emotions that come with being human, and how we deal with those things. How we are, as he puts it, "powerless to amend a broken world" and how it still has so much potential anyway, in spite of it all.
I think someone who is ecstatically happy might indeed create some bad writing. It reminds me of one of the truths about stand-up comedy: there always has to be a hint of anger in it, or it has to be coming from a place of dissatisfaction. That's why Christian and clean comedians often suck (with exceptions: the great Brian Regan). I think the important things in writing are: being absolutely naked about what you are saying, and having the word skill to be able to get that across. If, in almost any writing, you're hedging in some way, or restraining something important, it will either fall flat or be evidently missing a key piece