First off, if you’re reading this, you’re doing a good job. You probably don’t hear that enough. A lot of the time, nobody sees the hard work you’re putting into your creations, and that makes it feel less fun and pretty lonely.
Second, I appreciate and empathize with writers at all levels. Like all of you, I started out with nothing, just a blank notebook and a gel pen (ah, the late ’90s). I’ve learned a lot since I started out. I’ve learned what works for me, and what doesn’t. I’ve learned how to step outside my comfort zone without psyching myself out too much.
I’ve also learned the writing strategies that don’t work — for anyone. They’re the things I see writers doing all the time, things I’m sure I did at one point without realizing I shouldn’t. And I thought I’d share some of my concerns with you. Maybe someone out there can help me better understand why these things are still happening, and what I can do better to teach newer writers why doing them doesn’t work — and what to do instead.
1. Commenting on random blogs with links to their blog without any context
Okay: *after commenting on the actual content of the post* Hey, I’ve shared my thoughts on a similar topic to yours in a separate post. Feel free to check it out.” *link to relevant post*
Not okay: Hey check out my blog *link to homepage*
I love when fellow writers reach out, engage with my content, and join in discussions with me and other readers. I do not love when random writers “drop by” just to promote their own work without adding anything to the discussion. It does not impress me, it does not make me want to “check you out,” and I really wish people understood the concept of “relevant yet subtle self-promotion.”
2. Only promoting their work on social media instead of their personal/professional brand
Listen, if I had a book out, I’d promote it, too. But that’s not all I would post about on Twitter multiple times a day until I published another book. People don’t follow writers just to see links to their work. They want to follow WRITERS — real people who post about relatable things, give snippets of advice, maybe crack a joke every now and then.
I’m not interested in your work if all you do is remind me it exists. To be invested in your work, I need to know a little about you — not that you’re a writer or that you’ve published x number of books, but that you love Grey’s Anatomy, that you’re a mom, that your dog is named Cheeto. I’m attracted to personalities. I know I’m not the only one.
3. Begging strangers to read their work for free
There are a few instances in which this might actually be acceptable. For example, if someone comments on one of my blog posts that they’re working on finishing a project (a goal), and they ask for advice on how to stick with it and I offer what I can, and they finish it and share that info with me (and a link inviting me to check it out) I just might have a look.
But this constant “hey you’re a writer can you look at this thing I wrote even though we’ve never spoken before” nonsense has to stop. I’m all for trying to get your work out there and being proactive, but there are good and terrible ways to do it. This is not a good way to do it.
I get it. Most writers really are doing the best they can, and I know there’s a lot of advice out there on the internet for what to do to succeed.
Here’s what I wish: I wish more writers were interested in connecting with other writers, instead of just promoting themselves all the time. I wish it were easier to exchange writing samples so everyone could get something out of getting their work read by people at their level. And I wish me saying all this didn’t sound like I know all and everyone else sucks.
Writing is hard. Not just the actual writing, but the trying to be a person who writes. If it were easy, we wouldn’t all have to try so hard. But we do. And it does pay off.
Maybe the best we can do is just to be good people who also write things. Doing our best to be less selfish, kinder, more patient. It’s what I’m trying to do. I don’t always feel like I’m succeeding, but those days will come, as a writer. You just have to keep pushing through.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.