Nobody cares. Such a sad phrase, particularly when uttered by someone without friends or family. I recently read a marvelous short story that ended with that very concept, although not the phrase itself.
I’m not going to talk about that use of the phrase. Anything I say would be facile, because I don’t know your situation. And the phrase can mean that no one is close to you, or that the one special someone no longer is a part of your life. The solutions for all of those things are deeply personal, and I would hope that if you find yourself in that situation, you find some kind of help—whether it is a counselor or a trusted advisor or an organization that specializes in whatever it is that has caused you to feel alone.
I will also add that in various points in my life, I’ve been surrounded by a lot of people, and I’ve still felt like nobody cared. Sometimes I was wrong. Often, I had to face forward and deal with loss and grief. Occasionally, I had to seek professional help. In all of those cases, I got better, and so, over time, did my circumstances. I wish the best for you.
What I’m going to discuss with the phrase Nobody cares is a different usage of it. In my professional life and in certain endeavors, I have found that the phrase nobody cares is completely freeing.
I mentioned this to Dean, and he asked, “Didn’t I just write about that?” on his blog. So I went and checked, and yes, while he used the phrase, he mostly said that he didn’t care about the way others feel about his work.
It’s a similar concept, but not the same concept. If he doesn’t care about what other people think, that still assumes that they think something. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. But the assumption is that “they” care. And for someone like me, who was raised by a judgmental perfectionist, the idea that “they” care can hang over everything that I do, if I let it.
Nobody cares works better for me. It’s a relatively new mantra in my life, in fact. When I first moved to Las Vegas, I set a new schedule, which included a yoga class at the gym on Mondays and Fridays. I had never done yoga, but I knew I needed a regular stretching routine, so I figured I would try it.
That first morning, before I left for class, I ran around like a nut, trying to get my stuff in order, trying to get my routine finished, caring for the cats, and scurrying so that I wouldn’t be late. And then, suddenly, I realized that the only person who cared if I was late was me.
No one else did. The gym didn’t. It didn’t have instructions that any tardy student would be locked out of the room. The instructor certainly didn’t. I later learned that she was late half the time herself.
I’m finding Nobody cares gives me a lot of courage to try things. I took a dance class, taught by a member of the Broadway company of The Lion King that same year. I am dyslexic, particularly with spatial relations, so if you show me a physical movement, I’ll either copy it backwards or screw it up altogether. To call me uncoordinated is unfair to uncoordinated people.
But I wanted to take the class, not just for exercise, but for research. What kind of moves do dancers of that caliber make? What do they think uncoordinated middle-aged gym attendees can actually do? How do they think about the mental part of their work? Teachers let that stuff slip all the time, and as a writer, I find it useful.
So I went, and I stood in the back, and I tried every damn combination he threw at us. And rather than watch for someone more uncoordinated than I am (which I would have done in the past) or just stand and observe (which I would have done as a perpetually embarrassed teenager), I waved my arms and moved my feet, and managed—by the end of the class—to complete one combination without error. I considered that—I consider that—a victory.
And that class is one of the physical highlights of my time here in Las Vegas so far. I had a blast. And I wouldn’t have, if I thought someone was judging me and thinking badly of me.
The courage nobody cares gives me doesn’t just apply to physical things. It applies to things that terrify me. I am embarking on a new project, which I don’t want to discuss in specific terms yet. I do that sometimes, not because I’m worried that someone will care, but because I loathe answering stupid questions, and this project seems to bring out the stupid question in damn near everyone. (Except Dean and one friend who said (of everyone else), “Haven’t they met you?”)
I can be unfairly vicious when I get asked the same ridiculous question about my own life too many times. It’s a one-time question, so my unfair viciousness won’t go after the first five people who ask the question, but long about person twenty, who really won’t deserve the biting answer I would normally give.
Hence, vague-booking, at least for a while.
But…the point here, is that the new project had me terrified. On the magnitude of being-forced-to-step-on-stage-naked terrified. Yes, I realize that I’m the woman who wrote in one of my recent posts that the best way to have courage is to pretend to have courage. That really does work, but the one thing about pretending is that it doesn’t make that twisting feeling in your stomach vanish. You just cover it up better, until the feeling goes away and the courage remains.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to utter nobody cares to myself for this project. It got me out the door, but even before that, it helped me decide to do the project in the first place.
Nobody cares if I can’t do this project.
Nobody…except me. I care.
I care so much that I’m willing to put myself out there on this project. If I don’t try, I will disappoint myself. And try doesn’t mean one half-hearted attempt and then I’m done. Try means a full-throated launch into the project, giving it all that I have. And if I fail, I will know that I did the best that I could.
And knowing that, I’ve learned, is extremely freeing.
Perfection comes from the outside. I’m never reacting to my idea of perfect. I’m reacting to someone else’s. No mistakes, nothing wrong, everything technically right is perfect, maybe, but it isn’t interesting.
Interesting lies in the mistakes, the gaps, the little bits of individuality.
I know I’ve been very general here, but nobody cares does have professional implications for writers. First, on craft:
Yes, readers care on some level. They want the next book. They also want the next book (particularly in a series) to surprise them—in a good way. They want the same thing, only with something unexpected. What is that unexpected? Who knows? Well, except you, of course.
But do readers really care if you hit your word count today? Do they really care if the next book comes out tomorrow or if it comes out three years from now?
They will bitch if it takes a lot of time—and that’s out of love, honestly, because they want more Right Now, but they’re not going to stop reading if you don’t produce your next book. In fact, after they write you that cranky email demanding the next book right now, they’re probably opening their iPad or another book from their shelf and settling in for a cracking good—but different—read.
And many of them will forget that they sent the letter or the tweet or the email in the first place.
They care, but they don’t really care.
They also don’t care how long it takes you to craft a sentence. Or how much time it takes to put together that amazing twist in the center of the book. Some readers like to know this stuff in a director’s-cut kinda way, after they’ve read and enjoyed the book. But for the most part, they want the entertainment, not the angst of creation.
Your process writing a novel is as relevant to most readers as your process getting dressed in the morning. Yes, some people will be interested if you put it out there, for reasons of their own (which have nothing to do with you), but they really don’t care.
Even people who are paid to care don’t care. Critics? They have their own axe to grind. If they’ve declared in column after column that science fiction sucks, they’re going to think long and hard before saying anything positive about your latest sf novel—even if they loved it. They’re protecting their brand or their reputation or what they perceive that brand/reputation to be.
Do you care that they dissed your novel? Some of you do. Some of you care too much. Because you think that a bad review will “ruin” your work. Most readers don’t read reviews—even reviews on retail sites like Amazon. And those readers who do read reviews will often reflexively agree or disagree with a reviewer.
Reviewers have a lot less power these days. When TV movie reviews were in their infancy, a thumbs-up from Siskel & Ebert would guarantee more butts in chairs. But now? When every station has its own movie reviewer and anyone who wants to blog about movies can? A review doesn’t swing the attendance needle at all.
Just look at Rotten Tomatoes if you don’t believe me. A lot of movies—and I mean a lot—have a 35% positive score from the reviewer aggregate and a 90% positive score from actual moviegoers.
None of which will matter as to whether or not you will like the movie. Because you have your own opinion, and everyone else be damned.
It’s the same for books. All entertainment really. And pretty much most everything in your life. Some people are great verbal storytellers. And some people aren’t. Who do you want recounting their dreams? Well, you’d usually say the great storyteller, but every now and then the Average Joe has some kind of whacky weird dream that’s riveting just because.
And even then, after you’ve had a good laugh or you’ve all shared a what-the? in response to the dream, you’ll move on with your life. That dream might be forgotten as you get yourself another cup of coffee.
This is where Dean’s I don’t care what other people think comes in. It allows him to play in public. Just like not reading reviews or counting how much I’ve published over the years allows me to play in public.
It’s about what gets me to the computer. Gets. Me. To the computer. And writing what someone else says they want won’t do it. Even if I agree to be in an anthology, if I miss the editor will be annoyed, and maybe not ask me to write for their projects ever again. But do they care? They have other writers. They’re not building their anthology around me. Or if they are, they’ll figure out a solution.
I’ve watched many a Huge Bestselling Name back in the day when those names sold hundreds of thousands of copies miss deadlines, and no one held the anthologies for them. It was just a cost of doing business.
Ultimately, nobody cares about any of this—not after they’ve dealt with the short-term problem of a changed anthology or a missed deadline.
Which brings us to business. This was where I had the most trouble learning that nobody cares. If I screw up a contract negotiation, I will care, but I won’t know it (usually) until I get slapped with one of the gotcha clauses that I didn’t know about.
No one knows what’s in someone else’s contract, for the most part. What got added and removed from the boilerplate. How much they got paid or they didn’t. Every now and then, a contract goes through litigation, and we can all see it.
Every time I read a movie contract that hit litigation, I am struck in two ways: first, there are a lot of clauses that I want in my contracts. And second—always—I find clauses that make me wonder who the hell thought that was a good idea for the writer. Every single time.
Do I care? Not on the level the writer does. And if I’m honest, I care because someone pulled back the curtain on someone else’s contract, and I got a little bit of education on how contracts work for someone else.
But did the mistakes in that contract change my afternoon? Alter the way I live my life? No. I just have another tool in my toolbox.
It took me a long time to realize that there was no perfect contract, that the best lawyers can find loopholes in anything, and some lawyers can plug those loopholes before they cost the writer money. A lot of times, I’ve let really bad contracts that have my name on them expire. A few are still active. They annoy me, mostly because I forget why I made the mistake I did—a mistake I’m still paying for.
A mistake I care about.
But to a person, the person I negotiated with on the other side of the aisle? All gone. Fired in one instance, dead in several others, laid off in most cases, and the terms of my contract, negotiated years ago, are long forgotten.
Did that person care when he negotiated the contract? Enough to negotiate for someone in his company. Enough to by happy (sometimes) that he got a better deal for the company. Enough to feel sad (sometimes) that a writer signed that piece of crap contract. But did they care a month later?
Not unless the contract was under dispute.
No one cared.
That’s so freeing. Because it allows me as a negotiator to make mistakes. It allows me as a writer to craft the vision I want, not the vision someone else wants.
It allows me, the “dancer” to flap my arms and move my legs and be really, really happy that I managed the first combination.
Nobody cares is a tool I haul out to stop the perfectionism I was raised with. My mother said, “What will the neighbors think?” too many times. Turns out, I learned decades later from the friends I went to school with, that the neighbors mostly thought my mother was stick-in-the-mud for projecting her perfectionism on them.
(Her perfectionism came from having to essentially raise herself. Her parents died when she was young and she was shuttled from relative to relative in the Depression. So she learned out to behave by looking at people whom she thought were happy, never really discovering that people’s lives are messy and what they project isn’t always what they’re living behind closed doors.)
It’s tough to shed the perfectionism I was raised with. It’s tough to look at a difficult task, realize that I might not be up to it, and somehow stick with it anyway. It’s easier to walk away. That way, I can imagine the perfect, but not achieve it.
Because I never will achieve it. Nothing is perfect. No one is. And when someone strives too hard for it, like my mother did, then it alienates people rather than drawing them in.
As craftspeople, we draw in readers and maybe give them a respite from a hard day. As businesspeople, we do the best we can with the hand we’re dealt, hoping we can improve our lot with each deal we make.
We can’t do much more than that.
But we can remind ourselves as we look at what’s facing us: Nobody cares….
Well, there is one person who cares. I do. About my own work. And you care about yours.
If you’re doing work you don’t care about, then find a way to move on. Because you don’t care and nobody else does either, so why are you doing this again? Because you made up some perfect ideal, and now you’re trying to achieve it, and it’s only causing you emotional distress.
Do the things you care about to the best of your ability—even if you trip over your own feet in front of a room of dancers. Could I have done any better at that class? Hell, no. But I did achieve what I wanted: I have notes about dancers and some Broadway anecdotes, and how it feels (ineptly) to try to move in a particular way. And on top of all of that? I also managed one whole combination of steps without screwing up.
Do you care?
Of course not.
But I do.
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“Business Musings: Nobody Cares,” copyright © 2020 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © Can Stock Photo / SuslO.