“This was a trick I learned from Bil Keane,” the late creator of “Family Circus,” Adams tells Comic Riffs. “He basically taught me to stop writing for myself, which I realized I had been doing — writing a comic that I wanted to read.”This is a fascinating article from Scott Adams on the Trump phenomenon, and I would like to keep politics out of this discussion and instead focus on the above quote and Adams' pivot from writing "something for himself" to "writing for an audience" and then him finding success.
It is an amazing quote, and also a deeply disheartening one as well.
It is also one that seems plainly obvious.
To find success, must we abandon what we love? I would feel this is the truth, as 'commercial writing' for established genres and groups of readers walks a well-trodden and used path - it is easy to find readers in green pastures. But there is a deeper question here, even if we choose to write for an established genre, must we give up the things we like to write for the formulas and standard conventions of a genre?
It is deeper than holding your finger to the wind and saying, "Oh, this seems popular, now I will write YA books!" It is saying, "My thoughts are less important than the standard conventions of the genre."
In essence, Adams may be making that argument. He writes Dilbert to address the woes and hard life of office drudgery, and those struggles have deep meaning to his comic's readers. He brings a new perspective to the struggle, it is certain, and also a unique brand of irony and humor. Also, in a three-panel comic there isn't much room for expression, so he has to boil a joke down to the essence, but the feeling seems to be still there.
He starts with a premise and best tries to express the irony of that state.
He is not trying to come up with characters with diverse backstories and histories, all of his characters are stereotypes to deliver the painfully obvious punchline. If I wrote a similar comic for myself, I would fill it full of interesting stories, plots, and other elements that would give me great joy to follow along with - with me being an insider and knowing the meanings and punch-lines ahead of time, of course. Re-reading my masterpiece would give me great joy, because I could marvel at my ingenious nature and creativity.
But that doesn't appeal to a wider audience. Most people just don't get it.
If you write about the familiar, you are instantly more accessible.
If you write for yourself, you are shrinking your audience to yourself.
There is still wiggle room here to be individualistic, I suppose. Adams' humor is a unique brand, and he can setup and deliver a joke in the space the size of a credit card. That takes a lot of skill, and yet it still feels like his humor is unique, identifiable, and individualistic. I suppose when you do write for an audience, what you bring to the table is a unique way of looking at the material and expressing yourself within these limits. The required pieces must still be present, the genre conventions, the feeling, and the tone - but your way of expressing them is what makes you special.
It is an interesting statement and strategy for producing creative works, not to "write for yourself" yet still produce something that is individualistic and unique, with a perspective and voice that appeals to the established fans of the genre, as in this case, office humor.
It is also an interesting statement in the practice of "writing for yourself" and setting expectations for that practice. We all think we are geniuses, yet many times, the world doesn't seem to think so at all. Our brilliance only shines when we illuminate something with it; and in this case, Adams' brilliance shined when he turned his spotlight of humor on the world of cubicle politics and office life.