Week 4: Doing the Playful conference, thinking about audiences

It’s been a crazy week, in a very good way. I’ve commissioned some more stuff for the paper, booked some more great guests, and had a great ideas-fuelled lunch meeting with a sometime collaborator. The colourful spectre of Playful has hovered over the whole week; I didn’t even have time to do my usual weeknotes on Friday because I was out at the conference all day.

This is where the boundaries between the blogs break down a bit. The biggest event of the week, nay month, for me, was the Playful conference – not least because I was going up twice. So in lieu of extensive weeknotes, I’ve written up what I felt about the bits when I was on stage on my other blog, and what I felt about the bits when other people were on stage on my other blog.

But some more general thoughts based on stuff I’ve jotted down as they’ve come up, this week, over the turn.

  • This feels like it applies to everything, but I’ve been thinking about it particularly in terms of performance, watching the League of Gentlemen recently. How much do you need to understand why something you’re doing is good vs accepting there will always be a blindspot. I think there’s a sense in which a blindspot in self-awareness helps comedy, because it leaves a space where the laughs rush in. People put it together themselves. Coogan’s performance of the Alan Partridge character is a bit too self-aware, whereas the actors in the League of Gentlemen seem to stare straight into themselves. Maybe it’s about tuning in to something more subconscious so you cultivate that blindspot.
  • Sometimes it feels like everyone’s telling you their time is worth more than yours. Now this is a right sod for people trying to make anything or get any kind of recognition for their projects. It applies to all media, but the book publishing culture is particularly rude and condescending, with some publishers and agents going out of their way to foster a total ‘us and them’ thing. These are people who know they have the power to make dreams come true, and send you through seven labours of love to achieve even a chance of earning a rejection. It’s appalling manners, this. Publishers’ sites are stacked with draconian rules encouraging you to give up, reinforcing the sense that you really are the least important thing to them, an absolute drain on their time if not a straightforward irritation. But it’s utter bollocks that their time is worth more than yours. It’s their only job to read your pitch and talk to you about how you can get something made. You might have dozens of jobs, loads going on. Yet the way it works is, you beg, and you do as they say. I’m not even particularly pitching a book at the moment, but just thinking about it angers me.
  • Don’t waste other people’s time, but do waste your own. By which I mean, it pays to have time for people (even when you don’t feel like it). It pays to make time for people. The people I respect and want to hang out with are the ones who don’t make me feel like they’re plagued by all the other possible things they could be doing at that moment. You don’t always feel like writing someone an email or having tea with someone, but once you’re there, it’s great – and it’s always worth it. In fact, it’s even more worth it if you don’t feel like it, I reckon, because then your own complicated motivations are out of the equation. I sometimes feel I’ve missed out on some of the development training around these basic lessons in Thinking About Other People, growing up the way I did. So to many I’m sure it all sounds obvious, just a description of being a decent person. It’s not something that comes very naturally to me though, so it counts as a lesson on here.
  • Don’t be a fan. Don’t be that guy. I see fans everywhere, the internet is full of them. The only winner here is the object of fandom.
  • See things as others see them. Realising, as a child, that I’d never get to see my own eyes was a revelation. But once you’ve released something to an audience there’s no point in even looking at those initial notes again, your plans and intentions are totally irrelevant. You are uniquely positioned between the audience and the creation, and the more you can understand what is being perceived, the better. Forget what you thought you’d made. Look at the photo, not the original. Never let your audience be a mystery to you.
  • Our peers are individuals but our audience is a single entity.
  • I’ve been involved in several really great collaborations this week. “I can see how you got to that but I’d never have thought of it” sums up the best meetings of minds.

2 thoughts on “Week 4: Doing the Playful conference, thinking about audiences

  1. Chris M. DIckson

    Am fascinated by your conclusion of “Don’t be a fan. Don’t be that guy. I see fans everywhere, the internet is full of them. The only winner here is the object of fandom.”

    Could you give a little more detail, please? I don’t know how you feel (and don’t want to get you into a debate) about authorial intent, but would you stand by an interpretation of “It’s OK to be a fan, but being a fan and being professional don’t go together”?

    1. leila Post author

      Thanks for commenting Chris. I think what I’m getting at is somewhere between “don’t be utterly uncritical” and “don’t be dependent”.

      There’s a lot of uncritical adulation around. It’s a cosy childlike state to be in, which I think is great, and yes as you say probably incompatible with professionalism. Also compelling, very difficult to have a conversation with someone whose opinions are totally polished and sealed.

      But look at yourself from the outside and you’re a fan, a FAN! You’re mouthing along to a brilliant song. You know all the words to a really great film. Some fantastic creativity comes out of fandom, and I do think it’s good to have heroes with qualities you want to emulate. But what you create in the shadow of someone else comes under the banner of enthusiastic amateur. To create something groundbreaking I think you need to be in a very different frame of mind.

      In short though, I think I was sort of setting up “fan” as opposed to “hero”. You can be both, but not both about the same thing. It’s better to aim to be your own hero than someone else’s fan.

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