When I’m giving my audience writing advice, I’m very careful to repeat one key phrase, no matter how many times I’ve written it before:
“This is what worked for me.”
I do this because I never want someone reading about how I accomplished x to assume my way is the right way. It’s not. In fact, I’ve done, and still do, a lot of things wrong. Many of those things, I was told, were “right.” They were right – just not for me.
I want to let you in on a little secret many writers don’t know: there is no “right” way to do anything in this business. Not really.
Because you’re just one person. So is the person telling you what worked best for them.
What works for someone with a large audience probably won’t be effective for someone with a small audience. Those with small audiences might actually get more engagement than anyone else. What works in one niche probably won’t do as well in another.
Every writer’s circumstances are different. So how do you really know that what you’re doing, because someone else told you to, is the best way to do it?
I’ve found that the best way to figure out what works, especially with a small audience, is to first learn what absolutely does not work, ever. There are unwritten rules of writing online that just shouldn’t be broken (mainly in terms of etiquette – or netiquette, I guess).
But then, once you know what never works, you have to go by trial and error. There’s something that’s going to work for your blog, for promoting your writing on social media, for selling books – whatever it is you’re trying to do to “make it” or however you want to phrase it.
I’ve tried many things I was sure would work, but completely flopped.
I’ve tried things I figured wouldn’t go over well, but they ended up succeeding.
I only know – as much as I can at this point – what works for me and what doesn’t because I kept trying different things until some of them stuck.
Stop driving yourself crazy trying to do things “the right way.” You’re only going to be disappointed when the things authority figures promised you would work never work.
Do things the way you want. Then keep doing the things that work out in your favor, and stop doing the things that don’t.
Don’t like writing listicles? Don’t write listicles.
Don’t like making infographics? Don’t make them.
Want people to engage with your content on Facebook but not on your site? Disable comments.
Do whatever you want. Really. Because that’s how you figure out what the people in your audience respond well to and what they don’t. Stop worrying so much about what you’re doing right or wrong. It might seem like the answers are easy to come by, but they aren’t.
I had to learn this the hard way. So I’m sharing what I’ve learned with you now. Figure it out. Learn by doing. Don’t rely on someone else to steer you in the right direction, because no one knows you, your work, or your audience the way you do. This is on you to figure out. And I know that seems scary. Don’t think of it that way. Think of it as an adventure full of discovery, failure, and – eventually – success.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.