By Judy Clement Wall
I remember once upon a time in a conversation with Fear of Writing Maven, Milli Thornton, she told me that she was fed up with blogs telling her how she should go about writing, getting published, building a platform and generally living a creative life. She said she was so done with all the nonstop advice that she was going off the grid, deep into the wild to live with bears and honey badgers because, while bears and honey badgers have undeniably badass skill sets, they generally don’t blog about it. I agreed wholeheartedly, so Milli named me her official sidekick, and we headed off into the wilderness where we lived for many happy years, killing poisonous cobras and catching fast-swimming salmon with our teeth.
Okay, so that may not be exactly what happened, but we did have a conversation about the mind numbing number of experts offering advice to writers, and we did both throw up our hands. (See why I chose to tell you the other story?)
Anyway, I’m feeling that way again. The din from the mixed messages is deafening… so of course I’m going to weigh in.
Three Things The Experts Say
(followed by the part where I inevitably say something different)
- Write daily.
Actually I agree with this one. I do think writers should write daily, or something close to it. The trick is how to structure your writing time – when, where and for how long. I read a great post by Alex Franzen, titled “How to find your CREATIVE RHYTHM & get stuff done a bajillion times faster.” I like Franzen’s acknowledgement that we’re all different. Figuring out what your rhythm is, what time of day you’re at your creative best, and whether you work better for long stretches or short bursts is helpful when you really need to produce. She talks about how to figure all that out and it’s worth reading, but I’ll add something more. Like everything else in life, I think our creative rhythm changes. The key to making the most of yours may be staying open to what’s working for you right now, even if it’s something that has never worked for you before.
- Write a blog.
Yes… unless you don’t have the time or the energy or the inclination or the bandwidth, because here’s the thing. A bad or dead blog does more harm than good. I love to read the blogs of people who love to blog. I think it shows in their writing… just like I think it shows if you lack enthusiasm (or time). I do agree that a blog is a great way to get your work out there and build a community around it, but if maintaining your own blog is a struggle, consider guest posting, publishing your work on literary websites, and blogging as part of a multi-author blog. There’s more than one way to skin a cat. (And by “skin a cat” I mean “become more visible without the pressure of a daily or weekly posting schedule.” Of course I don’t condone the skinning of cats. And anyway, who would ever skin a cat? That’s a terrible phrase, now that I think about it. Let’s all stop using it immediately.)
- Amass huge social media followings.
I can’t deny that huge followings look good to agents and publishers. If I were an agent or publisher, I’d love to have writers come to me with their book-buying audience in tow, but I’m not convinced that’s what big numbers actually mean. The fastest way to collect Twitter followers is to follow people. Relentlessly. Breathlessly. I once attended a telecast where writers were advised to follow 50+ people a day, and to follow back anyone who followed them. There is no doubt that that will drive up your Twitter numbers, but I wonder what good it does. I don’t think frantic following increases book sales, and I know it doesn’t foster actual, meaningful connection. That said, if the effort involved doesn’t daunt you and you like the big numbers, go for it. At least for now, a ginormous online following will still make a lot of agents and publishers swoon.
I’d love to hear what you think, not just about these three things but about bears and honey badgers and any writing advice that drives you crazy. Oh, and feel free to suggest a replacement phrase for the skinning-a-cat phrase that I am no longer using. (Starting right after I type it into Google to see where the hell such a terrible expression came from.)
JUDY CLEMENT WALL is a freelance writer and course presenter for the Fear of Writing Online Course. Her short stories, essays and reviews have been published in literary journals and on some very cool websites like The Rumpus, Used Furniture Review, Lifebyme and Beyond The Margins. She recently finished her first novel, BEAUTIFUL LIVES, and here at FoW she chronicles the ups and downs of writing for publication. Judy is a staff writer at Milliver’s Travels, writes about living creatively at Zebra Sounds, and about love at A Human Thing. You can download her (Fearless) Love Essays here.