j’s Journey: Weighing in

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.

This is either the deep, deep wilderness, or a park near Milli's house.

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)

  1. 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.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.)


Β 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.

31 Responses to j’s Journey: Weighing in
  1. Fear of Writing
    Twitter: fearofwriting
    June 8, 2012 | 7:56 AM

    Ah, yes, all that journaling we did on parchment made from the bark of aspen trees. πŸ™‚

    I’d like to weigh in on “writing daily” on behalf of those suffering from severe fear of writing. Setting a goal to write every day can be too much to live up to (inducing feelings of failure) and too much pressure on the fear itself. Starting with twice a week is a more self-loving pace, until some of the fear issues have had a chance to work themselves out.

    Even then I wouldn’t recommend trying to write every day. Having a goal to build a writing life, and doing things more often toward that goal, eventually leads to a natural desire to write every day. Then it’s not pushing on the fear; it’s coming from desire.

    • j
      June 8, 2012 | 10:49 AM

      Those were the days!

      I agree with you that writers need to find a rhythm that works for them, and the goal shouldn’t be set so high that it actually stops them from writing. I maybe should have made that clear, but because my column is about “writing for publication,” I focused my attention not on building the practice as much as on developing a regular rhythm. I assumed the desire to write every day was already there.

      Thanks for clarifying, Milli.

  2. Marilyn
    June 8, 2012 | 8:23 AM

    How about once per month on 10K day? Kidding. But if I did set a goal of writing a couple times per week I think it would be so helpful.

    I am always doing something else and an idea pops into my head that I should write about. It may only be a title but a good start. I just had a thought though. Is there a phone app for writers to journal? I haven’t looked because I just had the idea. Milli, if there isn’t maybe you should do one.

    If I would take the time to jot down some of my ideas then I think it would prompt me to write more often. I almost always have my phone with me so I guess I should just put it in my memo pad.

    Blogging, I’m working on that one. I have several yahoo groups I follow, is that like blogging. Sometimes I just feel too old to keep up with this vastly moving computer age. I think I like the birch bark and charcoal way. You didn’t exactly say it that way but I like you thought.

    Amassing large number of followers. Hum, can’t hurt right? Unless you get the critics.

    You’ve got my vote, cat skinning is out of my vocabulary.

    Nice blog, thank you for opening my eyes.

    • j
      June 8, 2012 | 10:56 AM

      I love your phone app idea (and I don’t even have a smart phone)! And, to Milli’s point, if someone is working to build for themselves a writing life, I would say that every time you jot down an idea, counts. That is the very definition of building a practice. (And you should check… I bet there’s an app for that.)

      Keeping up with the computer age is daunting sometimes. I occasionally feel overwhelmed. Then I try to reframe the thought. Rather than think about how fast it moves or how much time it takes, I think of how many people I know now because of it, how many communities (like your Yahoo groups!) I’ve tapped into that I would never have found back in the days before the internet.

      You’re actually hitting on my point with this piece. (Thank you!) We can listen to the experts but, in the end, we have to figure out what works for us, the mix that keeps us doing what we love to do.

  3. Estrella Azul
    June 8, 2012 | 8:44 AM

    Good advice, j, I like your notes on these things. They’re among what bothers me as well, especially the “write a blog” one.
    I love blogging. I used to blog every other day – kept it up like clockwork for a long time. Then, as my time to do so got less every week, last year I decided to go with Monday/Wednesdays and my monthly Recipe of the month posts on Sundays. I also reserve the right to publish any time I feel like it, because you know, it’s my blog πŸ˜‰ And this works well enough now. (Although, lately, I keep thinking about reworking this schedule again.)
    But yes, having a blog when one doesn’t have time for it, or doesn’t actually care for it is useless.

    PS: so where did that phrase come from? Good thing we don’t hate it here πŸ™‚

    • j
      June 8, 2012 | 11:02 AM

      I love to blog and used to blog every day too. Like you, I couldn’t keep up that pace and I’ve scaled way back. You post regularly and have a loyal community. I think you must be doing it right!

      I also want to clarify here that I’m talking about writers who are striving to be published. A dormant or intermittent blog if building an audience isn’t your goal is fine. Some of my favorite bloggers are very infrequent posters. (Way, way, way more infrequent than you and me, Estrella.) xo

  4. Carole
    Twitter: cjtreggett
    June 8, 2012 | 10:38 AM

    I’m often overwhelmed with the plethora of writing advice and social media pressures out there too, j, and longing to go off the grid, especially lately.

    Regarding blogging frequency, I often second-guess myself/my writing and only end up publishing a few posts a month or so on my blog, only because I really, really don’t want to contribute to the din, just because the experts tell me I need to post at least twice a week. I want to make sure I’m convinced what I put out there is of added value, not only to me but perhaps a few others. Something that isn’t being said (well, ok, different from how some stuff is already being said lol).

    In regards to Tweetere, I follow/follow back those whom I have a sense of connection somehow,just as I would meeting them in person. Granted, easier to just click a button on Twitter than befriending strangers in tangible life. Occasionally there are the folks I have met out and about, like standing in line at the grocery store for example,have an instant rapport with and I feel like exclaiming, “Hey, we’ve barely spoken but having a great time here, can I follow you?” but alas, we exchange our pleasant salutations and push our respective shopping carts off into the sunset and that’s that.

    • j
      June 8, 2012 | 11:12 AM

      That made me laugh. I’ve had that experience – that instant rapport in the 3-D world that makes you wish it were as easy to establish a connection here as it is online. In the 3-D world, such following is called “stalking.” πŸ™‚

      I think you’re doing exactly the right thing with your blog because your purpose is to add value, expand or even redirect the greater conversation. That’s a wonderful goal, but very different than someone who is determined to get her work out there and build an audience/community around her work (in the hopes that they will ultimately buy her books).

      You’re making me think through my blogging “weigh in,” because I think what you’re saying is as the heart of what I’m saying… know why you blog. If your reasons are more casual, more fun or exploring or whimsical or soulful, your posting schedule can be all those things too. And you will build a community of the like-minded (which, to me, is the point of blogs and social media).

  5. Marilyn
    June 8, 2012 | 11:07 AM

    Yes Judy, that’s the greatest, bestest thing is talking to people all over the world!

    But you’re right, every little post, every little note. I guess then I am writing every day. No need to stress about setting aside time for it, it is happening everyday in spite of myself.

    • j
      June 8, 2012 | 11:14 AM

      Exactly! As Milli said, the little bits work themselves into bigger desires over time. (I totally give myself writing credit for the day if I rush to my notebook to jot down an idea. I am shameless in the number of ways I can pat my sensitive little writers back!) πŸ™‚

      • Fear of Writing
        Twitter: fearofwriting
        June 8, 2012 | 7:05 PM

        Peache ~ I’m hopeless when it comes to phone apps (I’m doin’ good just being able to send a text :)) but I’ll ask Brian about that. He’ll know where to look to tell me whether there’s an app that would already work for jotting up ideas on your phone.

        j ~ If we’re allowed that criteria (which I think we should be) then I want extra points for all the various locations I record my ideas in or on: sticky notes, scrap paper from printing bloopers, Backpack, Firefox Quicknotes, WD Planner and a spiral notebook with dividers. πŸ˜€

        • j
          June 8, 2012 | 9:18 PM

          You deserve extra credit for WAY more things than that, but yes. That too. <3

          • Fear of Writing
            Twitter: fearofwriting
            June 8, 2012 | 9:25 PM

            Thanks, j. :~) As long as my grandson Atreyu approves of me, I’ll be right with the world.

            I’ll be seeing him next week for the first time since he was 10 months old. And he’s at the age where his answer to everything is “NO!” (Including “Wanna talk to Gigi on the phone?” … which used to be one of his favorite things to do.) Wish me luck! πŸ˜€

            • j
              June 8, 2012 | 9:35 PM

              Good luck! (You will win him over with your sparkly real-life-ness.) #jpredictions

  6. Annie Neugebauer
    Twitter: AnnieNeugebauer
    June 8, 2012 | 11:32 AM

    I wonder if it’s something in the air, because I, too, have been itching to disappear into the wild lately. Or at least into a beach cabin with no internet. =) I go through phases of loving writing advice (giving and reading) and appreciating the joy of sharing what works for who and why… and then totally loathing the abundance of advice out there. I can think of at least two long, ranty blogs that I’ve deleted in which I bemoan the ridiculous quantity and tone of conflicting advice. So I sympathize. And now I just got distracted by a blog called “Tumblemoose” in the blogroll to the right of this… and I’m going to go click on that ’cause it sounds awesome…

    • j
      June 8, 2012 | 9:20 PM

      Maybe it’s the change in the weather… Outside has become so inviting. I’m with you, Annie. Sometimes I love to read the “how to” blogs, not just writing either. How to – be more creative, wild, happy, loving, fearless… how to talk to animals.


      Hope you had fun at Tumblemoose!

      • Fear of Writing
        Twitter: fearofwriting
        June 8, 2012 | 9:29 PM

        I saw on Facebook the other day that George’s (aka Tumblemoose’s) daughter Maddy – I think she’s 10 – wanted to start a blog just like her ol’ dad has. She nominated to call it … Tumblewolf. I visited and left some comments for her cute posts. Puts a whole new meaning onto the concept of blogging. πŸ™‚

  7. Nuttin'
    June 8, 2012 | 3:59 PM

    You know, I love that you consider blogging a good writing habit. As a blogger (which actually makes me cringe because of the self-indulgent connotations associated with it), I love to blog. I started my blog during a time of dark personal crisis and at the encouragement from an actual writer, Laura Zigman. My blog has changed as I have changed, my writing voice is reflective of the goings on in my mind.
    I try to start a poem each day, and add and take away until I think it’s right. Even when I can’t write stuff, I will dictate thoughts into my phone (which can be pretty harrowing later trying to decipher what I said and what the phone actually heard me say.
    I don’t need a “platform”.
    I don’t have a huge twitter following.
    I started a “fan page” on Facebook but rarely use it because it makes me feel self-centered (I need to revamp it and make it meaningful).
    But… as a reader and book buyer and PDF buyer, I get very turned off by writers who constantly give advice because usually those writers are the ones who should focus more of their attention on creating something worth reading. With the exception of Allison Winn Scotch, her writing advice is top notch and personal and not self-righteous.
    So… as a writer (and by “writer” I mean you not me), just do the damn thing, you know?
    If you write from the heart you don’t need any outside tips, people will see your heart and that will become the best platform of all.

    • Nuttin'
      June 8, 2012 | 4:37 PM

      Wait… I just re-read this and was worried you might think I was saying you’re self-indulgent, which you’re absolutely not and you give great non-self-righteous writing advice and you absolutely unequivocally write from your heart all the time.

      • Nuttin'
        June 8, 2012 | 5:10 PM

        … and your writing advice is great. Better than any other person in the solar system.

        • j
          June 8, 2012 | 9:25 PM

          Too late. I’m giving up my oh-so-brief tenure as contrary writerly advice columnist. (That crown didn’t really look right on me anyway.) πŸ™‚

          • Nuttin'
            June 8, 2012 | 9:33 PM

            You know in Harry Potter how Dobby hits himself repeatedly when he screws something up? Yeah… me.

            • j
              June 8, 2012 | 9:38 PM

              I was teasing. I offer you virtual socks (Dobby loved them) in atonement.

  8. joannefirth
    June 8, 2012 | 7:15 PM

    I wish I knew j. I only know that I write when I feel as though I have something to write. If I had to write, when I didn’t feel like writing, I wouldn’t be able to.

    I agree, there has to be a better way to express this cat business.


    • j
      June 8, 2012 | 9:28 PM

      I often have to write when I don’t feel like it, but I know what you mean. Every other creative thing I do, I do when I can, when I feel inspired, when the mood strikes me.

      As for “this cat business” (love that!), it turns out, as near as I can figure it, the original saying didn’t really have anything to do with skinning a cat. It had to do with boys goofing off in trees. Really. (Go figure!)

  9. Julia Munroe Martin
    Twitter: wordsxo
    June 9, 2012 | 8:04 AM

    I seem to swing wildly on the blog — sometimes it inspires me and sometimes I seem to keep it up because I’m fearful not to, a little like Twitter. Although Twitter has the added bonus of connecting me to all the wonderful writers in my community. But writing everyday? That is a definite must for me. Especially for my current project — I try to at least do something writing or research related otherwise I seem to get off track.

    • j
      June 9, 2012 | 10:47 AM

      I think maybe we all feel like that sometimes – like all our means of online presence are overwhelming and we’d like to just UNPLUG. I’ve been unplugging more often actually and it’s very good for the fatigue I think you’re talking about.

      And yes, I write every day too, especially when I’m working on a big writing project. It’s a momentum thing, I think. Yay you!

  10. Patrick Ross
    Twitter: patrickrwrites
    June 10, 2012 | 9:44 PM

    Hi j,

    I find it interesting that you hit on three tropes in your post, yet everyone is focused on the blog-related entry. A blog post discussing blogging that draws comments from other bloggers… it’s so meta.

    Anyhow, I think it’s evil, this message that writers have to blog. There are great writers who just aren’t suited to blogging, and there are great bloggers who (brace for it) aren’t really cut out for other forms of writing. It so happens that that Venn diagram does have a fair amount of people who fall in the overlap, but just because a writer is capable of producing a good blog doesn’t mean she should have to.

    I started my class on blogging specifically to help talented and skilled writers who were suddenly forced to learn a new form of writing. I’m new to personal essays, just in my second year of study, but I’ve been blogging since the mid ’90s, so I want to help. But, frankly, I do tell writers sometimes that they should probably not bother, not because they wouldn’t be good at it, but because their heart isn’t in it, and that will show, in the prose and in the silence surrounding that prose.

  11. j
    June 11, 2012 | 1:57 AM

    Exactly, that’s what I was trying to say and you said it better. Blog if you’re into it, but if it’s painful, that will show. There are lots of ways to do… well, you know, something other than skin a cat!

  12. Valeka Cruz
    Twitter: runningonheavy
    June 16, 2012 | 1:28 PM

    Great post! I do try to write daily in one form or another – sometimes structured as in a story I’m working on or sometimes free-flowing like my mind spilling it’s contents into my journal. And I do blog weekly because I decided that daily was too overwhelming for me.

    The amount of advice out there can be a bit much so I read it and then do what works best for me. No two writers are the same but there are some good suggestions to be found. The key is trying new things and seeing what makes you more productive as a writer.

    Thanks again for this post! I really enjoyed it (and the visual of you and Milli getting in “touch” with nature!!)

    • j
      June 19, 2012 | 11:22 AM

      I agree completely. Try whatever resonates, and then stick with what works! (If I’d just written this, my post could have been much shorter!) πŸ˜‰

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