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Write On! Spheres of Influence

Encouragement, Coaching and Prompts for Writers

A monthly blog by Eve West Bessier, Poet Laureate of Silver City and Grant County, New Mexico

Happy New Year! Here’s to a fresh start! Let’s treat ourselves to fun and courageous writing adventures in 2021!

Today, I want to talk about something I’ve been pondering of late. I’m calling it, Spheres of Influence. This post is a good companion to last month’s article on publication.

Like the tiers of publication, that’s tiers not tears, though both are applicable; Spheres of Influence also have a spectrum. That spectrum is an expanding circle from Small-Deep-Enduring at its center, to Large-Shallow-Fleeting at its outer reaches. In this article, I will mostly focus on these two extremes but there are also many degrees in between, as with any spectrum.

Let me explain what I mean by Spheres of Influence. At a basic level, influence is about the size of our audience. How many people are reading what we write? At a more profound level, it’s about the experiential effect our writing has on those readers. Generally, the smaller the audience the deeper and more enduring the effect. The larger the audience, the more shallow and fleeting the effect. Take commercial advertising as an example of a Large-Shallow-Fleeting Sphere of Influence. The message is designed to reach a massive audience, but the experiential effect is quite shallow and fleeting. It’s a targeted message aimed at persuading a percentage of the audience to buy a particular product or service. There is no depth or endurance of meaning. Sure, there are some ad slogans that stick in our heads, but there’s very little actual value in them. “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!” Clever, but so what?

At that more profound level, the spectrum of Spheres of Influence is also about the potency of the effect on the audience. To be clear, I’m not talking about the potency of the message itself, but rather the potency of its effect on the audience. When you concentrate something, like orange juice for example, it gets thicker and more potent. At the center of a Sphere of Influence, the effect of the message is at its most potent concentration. You could think of this as Tier One from my post about publication. The message is just for you, the writer, and no one experiences your message more strongly than you do!

Let’s use orange juice concentrate as a metaphor. A can of orange juice concentrate comes with directions as to how much water to add to make orange juice for a certain number of servings, usually ten or twelve per can. You could add more water and make more servings; but the more water you add, the more diluted the orange juice will be. If you keep diluting the concentrate, eventually you’ll just have lots of glasses of water with a hint of orange flavor. Interestingly, communication operates by a similar law of physics. The natural tendency of communications (and of all things, really) is dilution. It’s the physics of entropy. The more widely you spread a message, the harder you have to work to maintain the integrity and potency of its effect because you’re working in opposition to a natural law. It’s possible, but it takes a monumental amount of energy.

Here are two examples of contemporary writers who were able to step outside of the spectrum and achieve a Large-Deep-Enduring Sphere of Influence. Elizabeth Gilbert (“Eat, Pray, Love”) and Cheryl Strayed (“Wild”). Both authors wrote memoirs that became best-selling books and then films. Both are now Ted Talk superstars. In part, this is due to the universality of their messages; but mostly it’s due to a lot of hard work, serendipitous timing, strategic connections, and a hefty dose of just plain luck!

Such success stories are the exception not the rule when it comes to Spheres of Influence. Yet, I think many of us have an erroneous perception that we too can, and in fact should, have a Large-DeepEnduring Sphere of Influence. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of ambition, but it can lead to discouragement because that kind of success is not a likely scenario.

Why is it so difficult to maintain deep, enduring effects as you reach for a larger Sphere of Influence? Let’s explore what happens as a Sphere of Influence grows larger.

Let’s begin with a Small-Deep-Enduring Sphere of Influence: an intimate conversation between two close friends about an emotionally moving topic. These two friends are sharing a highly potent concentration of communication experience.

If that conversation was a recorded Zoom call and that recording was later sent to a few people who knew and loved both of these friends, the Sphere of Influence becomes a little larger. The potency of the experience is still fairly high for the additional audience, but it’s not as high as in the initial private conversation.

Now, let’s say that Zoom recording is converted to a YouTube video and made public. The 30 or 40 people who view the video will still have a moderately strong potency of experience because, let’s face it, for most of us, only those we know personally watch our YouTube videos!

What might happen if the two friends hire someone who is an expert at boosting YouTube videos and the video of their conversation suddenly gets 3000 views, mostly from strangers? Would the experience of each of those viewers be as potent as the initial experience of the two friends? No. Would it be as potent as the experience of the initial 30 or 40 viewers who know the two friends? Not likely.

Now, let’s say the YouTube video goes viral and gets 3 million views. The connection to the initial experience of the two friends becomes quite diluted, and most likely the potency of the effect becomes rather shallow and fleeting. This dilution of effect is compounded by the fact that our digital media addiction tends to give everything (even the most meaningful, touching, potent experiences) a 30 second or shorter shelf life. Much of our communication has become a media blip, a flash in the pan; in a way, just a personal commercial.

I find this sad and it leads me to question if, when it comes to communication, bigger is not necessarily better. Or to put it this way, if bigger is necessarily not better. Certainly there are stories we love that we will read or see as films over and over, but I’d be curious to know if their authors received greater personal satisfaction from the initial, Small-Deep-Enduring sharing of those stories; no matter how high the royalty payments from the film rights.

I personally know two authors whose successful books were made into films. One wrote a novel the other a memoir. Neither of these authors wanted to even see the films because they were so perturbed by how the screenwriters and directors had changed their stories. Interesting!

I believe there is another, more gentle way to step off the spectrum; to fool the laws of physics without fighting so hard, and to potentially achieve a Large-Deep-Enduring Sphere of Influence. I’ll call it the Johnny Appleseed approach. Plant one seed at a time. Plant lots and lots of seeds in lots and lots of places. Don’t worry about whether each seed you plant grows into a tree. If you plant enough seeds, you’re bound to create a thriving orchard in time. The down side to this approach is that you may not live to see that orchard, but you’ll be in good company. Many of our most beloved writers did not live to see the thriving orchards that grew out of the seeds they’d planted, but we are still enjoying the fruits of their labor.

So, as we start this new year, let’s think about our own Sphere of Influence. How large do we want our audience to be? Are we willing to consider the value of a Small-Deep-Enduring influence? These are important questions and important decisions to make as communicators, as writers. Believe me, the answers will go a long way in bringing a sense of peace and balance to our work and can help rid us of that tug of war in our heads and hearts about our creative ambitions. Clarity helps.

The writing prompt for this month of new beginnings is: What are my New Year’s Resolutions in regards to my writing? How can I temper them with my new understanding of Spheres of Influence?

Let’s jump into the new year with vigor and optimism! Wishing all of you the very best!

Scroll down to About The Author for more information and check out Eve’s website at:

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Southwest Word Fiesta™ or its steering committee.

Eve West Bessier

Eve is a poet laureate emerita of Silver City and Grant County, New Mexico; and of Davis and Yolo County, California. She served on the steering committee for the Southwest Word Fiesta, and has been a festival presenter. Eve is a retired social scientist, educator, and voice coach. She is a published author, jazz vocalist, photographer and nature enthusiast currently living in Alamogordo, New Mexico.
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