On World Book Day, Ask a Writer What She’s Reading

A writer who reads …

Most writers do not discover stories by writing them. They discover stories by absorbing them.

I don’t know which came first: my parents reading old fairytales to me or sitting me in front of their animated Disney adaptions.

But as soon as I could, I started telling my own stories. The older I got, the more I learned, the more I read. The more I read, the more I itched to write my own stories — until I learned to do that, too.

And then I did it. Over, and over, and over again.

I still do. Daily.

For a long time, I wondered why it was easier to discuss books than it was to discuss my own writing. Sharing my own ideas became a source of creative anxiety. Yet sitting down to do a book report in school hardly felt like homework.

I do not like when people ask me what I’m writing. I appreciate it — and I always try to ask other writers I meet what they’re working on.

But there’s a question I like much more than, “What are you writing?”

I would rather ask — and be asked — “What are you reading?”

It’s not that this question is harder to answer than its more common alternative. At least for me, it’s easy to name the book that’s currently sitting on my nightstand.

It’s just more interesting.

Writing, even in its later stages, is still an unfinished product of a writer’s ever-scattered mind. Even a simple elevator pitch is intriguing … but a conversation stopper.

I find that when I ask people what they’re reading, conversations erupt in joy and excitement. Because talking about books — finished, published, circulated — is where all writing starts. When I ask people what they’re writing, they tend to give generic, incomplete responses … because many times, their writing isn’t complete yet. Some people don’t want to talk about it (yet).

Asking a writer what’s on their nightstand gives them an opportunity to talk about someone else’s words and life and ideas. While it’s true most people love talking about themselves, talking about what you’re writing can feel like you’re sharing a secret you’re not ready to tell.

Yet talking about other writers brings out their raw obsession with an idea — which is much more interesting than pressuring them to get into the logistics of their latest project.

Ask a writer what they’re working on, and their words will spill out accompanied by nerves. Ask them what they’re reading about, and their eyes will light up. It’s amazing to watch.

Some writers still aren’t used to discussing their own work. But chances are, they’ve been discussing the work of other writers for decades.

There’s something magical about a writer who reads.

A writer who reads has a stronger voice.

Their mind is open to more ideas; possibilities; beliefs and worldviews.

A writer who reads is less afraid to explore uncharted territory. They understand that not all conversations are easy, and that stories are tools we can all use to persuade, to shame, to praise, to spread acceptance, to highlight facts, to break down barriers.

Today, don’t ask a writer what they’re writing about. Ask them what they are reading. Ask them their favorite books, their favorite authors. Start with who and what influences and interests them the most. That is where passion for words and ideas begins. Sometimes, putting into words what you haven’t finished writing yet is impossible. But where your ideas come from, where your latest project had its first spark — a writer can discuss that for hours on end.

Most of us, before we can write well, read. That is how we fall in love with stories. And it’s what inspires us to start telling, and then writing, our own.

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.

Here’s What It Takes to Follow in the Footsteps of Writers You Admire

Are you willing to work for it?


Do you have a favorite writer? I have at least a dozen. For years, I searched for the right combination of habits, characteristics and strategies that would grant me access to the same level of accomplishment my literary heroes had long since achieved. I’ve learned a lot. And I’m more than willing to share my completely unscientific, but hopefully still useful, findings.

Here’s what it’s going to take to earn success, whether you’re an aspiring author, journalist, freelance writer, poet or any kind of creative human with a passion for words.

Spend as much time writing as possible

If you want to be a successful writer, you have to write – as much as you can, as often as you can, no matter what. As important as finances and socialization and keeping up with responsibilities may be, you have to find time to write. You can NOT improve if you do not practice. Don’t think anyone is ever going to read what you’re working on? Doesn’t matter. Don’t think it’s good enough? Still doesn’t matter. You can’t expect success if you don’t work for it. The difference between a dream and a goal is that a dream requires passive hope; a goal requires movement toward an endpoint, which requires persistent action.

Read and experience everything you can on things you want to write about

“Writing what you know” does not mean you only stick to writing about things you are already aware of. It means that if there is something you are interested in, and you really want to write about it, you must do all you can to learn about that thing before you have the knowledge and credibility to write on that subject. Read about it. Read everything. If it’s an activity, experience it. If I wanted to write about baseball, I’d read everything I could about baseball. I’d go to as many baseball games as I could. Maybe I’d even try playing it (I’ll take the risk of injuring myself, if it means learning how to do it right). Only once you’ve gathered background and experienced something firsthand can you return to your laptop and create the best possible story from it.

Have faith in your ideas

Too many writers never make it past the idea stage of creativity because they’re too worried about what other people will think. While it’s true that some ideas, further along in development, don’t always end up working out, you’ll never learn how to separate the good ideas from the bad if you never try creating something with them at all. There is no such thing as a stupid idea. There are ideas that don’t fit in a particular time or place. There are ideas that a specific person just isn’t fully compatible with. But if all you ever do is suffocate your own ideas before they get a chance to spread their wings, you’re going to face a lot of unnecessary disappointment in your life. You deserve better than that.

Be willing to grow and change direction

I started college convinced I was going to have a novel published by the time I graduated. Halfway through I felt drawn to a different kind of writing, and now only write fiction in my free time (with no high bars or expectations). I’m happier doing what I do now. It aligns with my personal and professional mission, whereas fiction does not. Whether it’s in one project or your entire career, you can’t hold yourself back from growth and change. A writer needs to grow if they ever want to succeed. And sometimes that means you’re going to change your mind. You have to be willing to embrace that. Writing is unpredictable, and so, your life is going to be, too. Accept it. Go with the flow. Follow your heart (within reason).

Do things the way they work for you

I once read an interview (probably one of many) in which John Green laid out his typical daily writing schedule. It was interesting, and as a fan of his work, I enjoyed a quick glance into his writing process. But my only thought once I finished reading was, “That’s great – but it would never work for me.” It’s interesting, and can even be motivating, to see how other writers get writing done on their own time based on their own personal circumstances. But you have to do what works for you – nothing less, and nothing more. There is no schedule, tool or method that is going to guarantee success for you. At the end of the day, it’s all a matter of whether or not you are writing. Because if you aren’t, you’re wasting time. Any writing is better than none.

Your success as a writer is dependent on many factors. But one of the most important is whether or not you are willing to put in the effort to increase your chances of success as much as you can within your own limitations. It’s not enough just to want it. You have to earn it. You HAVE to try your hardest. There is no excuse determination cannot dissolve.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-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.

Essentials of an Effective Plot Twist

PLOT TWIST: the writer is actually the villain. :O


You love and hate them – those twists and turns in your favorite stories that make you want to throw your beloved book across the room. It’s one thing to read them … but to write them effectively is both a challenge and a worthwhile creative adventure.

Here are a few essential elements to consider when working a plot twist into your novel.

A character acting or reacting in an unexpected way

Up until this point in your story, you should have developed your main characters enough so that a reader has clear expectations as to how they should behave in specific situations. It’s now your job to completely disregard your reader’s expectations – purposefully, of course – and have a particular character behave in a way that is, at least from the reader’s point of view, completely out of character.

We expect Jo (Little Women) to agree to marry Laurie when he asks. They’re good friends, they’re adorable together and WE JUST WANT ALL OUR DREAMS TO COME TRUE. But she turns him down. We might get the feeling she would say no, but we still expect them to get engaged because they clearly care about each other. It’s unexpected … but it ends up working out just fine in the end.

Circling back to a previous point of foreshadowing or backstory

Foreshadowing is possibly one of the more challenging, but extremely rewarding, methods of subtly building up to a plot twist. It’s hard to be subtle, especially when you know what’s going to happen, even though your audience shouldn’t (yet). But giving small hints creates intrigue, bringing small pieces of the plot puzzle to form, and as soon as that plot twist hits, all those pieces fall (satisfyingly, maybe) into place.

A little background can also help, as a means of foreshadowing or on its own. Backstory can instill its significance in one short sentence or a series of flashbacks. Laurie and Amy, when Amy is still far too young to marry, discuss love and marriage (sort of, and briefly) on their way to Aunt March. We don’t necessarily take that to mean they’re going to get married to each other years later. BUT THEY DO. It’s a quick but significant scene. We might even forget about it once it’s over. But not for long.

Completely destroying the mental and emotional well-being of your audience

In a good way? In a bad way? Doesn’t matter. This is not the time to be considerate of others’ feelings. If you can’t get an exaggerated emotional reaction out of a reader as a result of your plot twist, you’re not doing it right. Don’t tell me you’ve never called out in frustration or felt dead inside after a book, movie or TV show completely ruined you for life. You’ve likely never forgotten that feeling. That is how your readers need to feel.

How do you achieve this? Have characters turn on each other. Reveal their true identities or personalities. Set someone up for success and then have them fail, or vise versa. This doesn’t mean you always have to end a story with an unhappy feel; a plot twist doesn’t have to come at the very end. The idea is to keep the audience invested in a story. If it isn’t turning out the way they want, they’re more likely to continue reading, holding onto the hope that maybe things will all turn out OK in the end. It won’t always – but that really depends on the story itself, whether or not there are multiple parts in a series, etc.

Not every reader enjoys this kind of storytelling, but as a writer, you might find it’s too fun not to at least try. I don’t know about you, but I’m delightfully impressed with Disney’s new era of animated films … which, thus far as I’ve seen, have included plot twists I never saw coming (I’m talking to you, Zootopia). It’s the kind of thing you hate to watch but love to experience. Stay in that mindset as you’re setting up your own twisted, slightly evil plots. You’re going to fall in love with them, I can guarantee it.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-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.

Why I’m Reading Old Blog Posts (and Why You Should Read Yours)

2009 Meg wrote a lot of literary analysis papers.


Sometimes when I’m stuck and I’m not sure what to write about next, I go deep into this blog’s archives, to a time long before Novelty Revisions.

I’m talking 2009 – the year I started blogging for the first time.

It’s been a particularly rough few weeks for me. It’s Sunday, and I have hours of work left to do before the work week resets tomorrow. It doesn’t matter how long you do this stuff … there are always going to be challenges. Sometimes you trip over hurdles. I’ve been doing it for a week straight now, constantly feeling like I’m failing somehow, despite two separate clients saying, “You know, you’re doing a really great job. I just want you to know. Thank you.”

I’m tired. It’s as simple, and yet complicated, as that.

I’m not going to sit here and complain. But if you haven’t figured it out already, the struggle is real. It’s exhausting and a bit repetitive. But it’s worth it. I’m grateful to have a constant challenge to go up against. Seven years ago I wrote a blog post complaining about how easy my AP English homework was (too easy – or “frightfully easy,” as I phrased it). Who was I, to complain to the internet about not being challenged enough instead of doing something about it? 

Two years after that almost to the day I almost quit my English major because it was “too easy.” I would love to say I don’t recognize this person, but there’s a reason I’m tired. I keep trying to do more, more, more, because FOMO. It’s knocked me down in the past and continues to do so. A month after I wrote that blog post about my homework being too easy, I remember completely breaking down in front of my English teacher because life was hard and the idea of college was scary and I was tired.

I literally don’t have time for crying and ice cream now. But in a way, blogging is my therapy. I don’t like writing about myself. But sometimes you have to. Sometimes honesty is what counts.

Sometimes I go back and read things I wrote about, back when this was just my personal blog – me writing about writing, about homework, about weird thoughts I felt the need to share with the world. I do this not because I enjoy reading things my past self wrote, but because growth – personally; professionally – is so, so hard to measure. It’s so hard to write something in the present and realize, “Wow, I’ve come such a long way.” That is, unless you dare to reflect. Unless you dare to go back and read things you don’t even remember writing.

It’s not about criticizing yourself, but appreciating how the challenges you have faced – and lack thereof – have shaped who you have become as a writer. I wouldn’t be the kind of writer I am today if I hadn’t been a bored, frustrated 17-year-old. I probably never would have even considered making a career out of freelance writing. It still amazes me, how time brings so much change.

Do it. Go back and read something you wrote seven years ago. A blog post; a journal entry; an email to a friend. In some ways, you’re a completely different person. In others, you’re exactly the same. It’s fun, pointing out the similarities and discrepancies. Once you get past the cringe factor. It’s not that bad. It might even help motivate you to write something new – knowing that you’ve made progress, and will continue to do so, as long as you keep writing.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-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.

What to Do If You Can’t Find Someone to Give You Feedback

It’s actually a misconception, thinking that the only way to improve as a writer is to get feedback from other writers.


What do you do when you can’t find someone to give you feedback on your writing?

A lot of things, actually.

It’s actually a misconception, thinking that the only way to improve as a writer is to get feedback from other writers. Sure it helps, but as we went over last week, it’s not very easy to find (people are busy, etc, etc). Here are a few ways you can continue to improve on your own, while you’re searching for individual feedback (which will be the topic of another post coming to you later this week).

Read, read, read

Want to be a better writer? Read. Seriously. If you want to blog better content, read more blogs. If you want to write better stories, read more books. Content creators are inspired and motivated to improve by viewing the work of other content creators.

You may not be able to find someone who can give you individual feedback on your work right now, but much of what you write is in some way going to be inspired by others regardless. Make time for exploring what’s already out there. Look at the work of successful writers. Study it. What about it has made it resonate with so many people? Apply what you learn to your own work.

Decide what “good” or “successful” writing means for you

Every writer is different. Every writer has strengths and weaknesses. Reading others’ work, you might be able to come to identify your own advantages and shortcomings when it comes to writing. But basing your skills on the work of others is only a starting point: it shouldn’t be your only metric. You have to decide, for yourself, what you want to achieve as a writer.

Do you want to clear up misconceptions about a specific topic? Help someone solve a problem? Tell a great story that makes people feel all the feels? Good writing isn’t measured just by whether or not your words make sense. Set a specific goal, something you want to accomplish in your writing, and focus on achieving that goal with every post and page you write.

Honestly, just keep writing

It’s unsettling, writing without knowing whether or not it’s “good.” But at a stage where you’re not getting the feedback you want, to be honest, it doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. At this point, the best thing you can do is to just keep writing.

You will get better over time if you just keep going. Because eventually, if you’re consistent and you gain experience and just keep doing what you’re doing, you will find that source of feedback you’ve always wanted. It may not be exactly what you imagine, but it will come.

Shoutout to ssunshine14 for asking such a great question last week! We’ll be doing at least one more post related to feedback coming up soon, but if that doesn’t help, you are all welcome and encouraged to ask more specific questions in a comment, on our Facebook page or via email.

Tell us: how do you measure whether or not you’re improving as a writer? Are you dependent on feedback (not at all a bad thing if you are), or do you have another source?

Image courtesy of marketingland.com.

Writers: Pay Attention to the Little Things

We’ve managed to glorify busyness to the point where saying you aren’t busy gets you the judgmental eye rolls instead of the other way around.


When was the last time you paid attention? REALLY paid attention?

Not just to street signs or what’s on your screen as you walk from place to place, but to the little things, the details. The people around you, the cars, the dogs, the insects. The way the rain hits the pavement, the shapes of the clouds, whether there’s anyone else out there paying any attention to their surroundings for real.

Being detail-oriented isn’t just a generic job qualification. Not when you’re a writer with a mind that needs to imagine and create in order to continue functioning properly. It’s a skill that, if developed over time, can help you write better stories. Stories readers will find themselves unable to pull away from, once they are sucked into its details.

A good story includes small, seemingly insignificant details that end up becoming an important part of the plot. And if you have a habit of breezing through the world without paying enough attention to the small details scattered around your own life, you’re probably going to have a hard time writing stories that have this level of strategic detail woven in.

The problem is, we’re busy. More than that, we’ve managed to glorify busyness to the point where saying you aren’t busy gets you the judgmental eye rolls instead of the other way around. But that’s not going to help you write better. You have to stop. You have to observe. You have to be able to build an entire story around something as small and seemingly insignificant as a dandelion in the middle of a backyard, because details really are everything, whether you realize it or not.

We’re not talking about endless descriptions and paragraphs full of adjectives here, either. We’re talking about the way authors often surprise and mislead their readers, by throwing in small details that are easily and purposefully missed, because they know paying attention to details isn’t at the top of everyone’s priority list.

Pay attention. Tell better stories. It’s something small, and seemingly insignificant. But there’s a lot that goes into writing a story, and it isn’t enough just to sit down and write. You have to live first. You have to practice skills in the real world before putting them to paper.

It’s time well spent, if you take it.

Image courtesy of Meg Dowell.

3 Things You Should Never Tell or Ask a Writer

Brand-new aspiring writers, this is for you, from us, with love.


There are certain parts about being a writer that are really … tiresome.

As much as you love connecting with your audience and answering questions and engaging in discussions about your work, sometimes people say things, or ask questions, that really shouldn’t be said or asked. Here are a few of the more common ones. (Brand-new aspiring writers, this is for you, from us, with love.)

1. “Here’s something I wrote, you should check it out.”

You complain an awful lot about not having time to write, then expect a professional writer, who is getting paid to write, to stop what they’re doing to read your manuscripts. It’s not that we don’t care about you. It’s not that we don’t want to help you succeed. We wish we could do more. But technically, we’re not editors, and we’re definitely not agents. We’re writers. We can’t just drop everything for you. We love hearing your ideas and giving general advice (this blog, for example). But there’s only so much we can do.

Find a critique group or an online forum or a friend or family member. Just because you won’t get individual help from us doesn’t mean it’s impossible to find. We’re trying to help. But it’s really hard when the only thing you ever ask is if we’ll read your stuff. We’d much rather hear questions about process and writing in general, which you can then apply to your own workflow, on your own time.

2. “This is how you should have ended it.”

Writers enjoy readers’ commentary on their work … for the most part. After all, starting discussions is one reason a lot of us started writing in the first place. Constructive criticism is great and all, but this isn’t even really criticism. You’re basically just saying, “Hey, your book was great but I would have written it differently.”

Okay, thanks for that, but the book’s already finished. It’s written and edited and published. Comments like that aren’t going to change the way the story ends. You might not be happy with how the story ended, but it’s not your story. If you’re really that dissatisfied, honestly, try writing your own story and see things from our perspective. There is a lot of work and there are a lot of layers that go into this process. You need to respect that.

3. “Is there going to be a sequel?”

No. No, no, no. There isn’t. Why? Because stories end. They are not real life: at some point, the writer has to move on and work on something else. Why do you think fan fictions exist? Because every story has to eventually come to an end and for some reason a lot of people don’t want to accept that. (Fan fictions are great, really.)

But stop. Just stop asking if the story is going to continue when the story makes it very clear that it’s the end. You’re SUPPOSED to let your imagination fill in the gaps. That’s the POINT. It’s not a writer’s job to do that for you. You’re smart and creative. You can think for yourself. We can’t just keep writing about the same characters with the same problems in the same universe forever. We need to grow. We need change. And we really need you to figure out how to deal with that. Please?

Share this with your aspiring writer friends if you found it helpful. And if you’re an aspiring writer friend, know we love you. You are awesome. But you gotta stop. Just let us do our thing. We welcome all constructive criticism and discussion … to a point.

What is the one question you as a writer have been asked most often? Was it generic or unique? If you’re not a writer, and had the chance to ask a writer one question, what would it be?

Image courtesy of thematthewknot/flickr.com.

How to Make Your Stories More Relatable

Writing stories has a way of releasing parts of ourselves we’ve forgotten were buried.


Have you ever finished reading a story and sat there for a minute, amazed at how much the author seemed to understand you or what you had been through? How well they managed to voice your thoughts within their prose, as if they themselves reached into your head and fished them out for use in their story?

It’s not on accident that some stories make us feel as if we’re looking into a mirror. Relatable stories are the most effective kinds of stories. People hold them close. Learning how to write stories people will relate to is an important step in the journey toward becoming an accomplished writer. Here are a few tips to help you figure out how to write more relatable stories.

Understand your audience

Your audience reads because they, like you, seek to be understood. Don’t just know who they are. Know what they like and don’t like, how they spend their time, how they speak, how they think, how they behave. Understand what they want and what they need, what they are looking for in a story and what will influence and inspire them.

Understanding your audience means making a full commitment to writing stories that make them feel represented and heard, stories that give them a platform from which they can gather the courage to stand up and speak for themselves. Granted, not every individual in your audience will react to a story the same way. You will never be able to please every person that picks up your story, but you can, and should, attempt to reach out and touch as many as you can with your words.

Challenge every cliche and stereotype possible

Audiences know cliches and stereotypes so well that they are, whether they know it or not, on a constant search for stories that will address those cliches and stereotypes in a way that shatters and redefines them. People hunger for these types of stories because, deep down, we all wish they would go away. Yet not all of us are able to put that secret desire into words like many writers can.

Be bold. Learn about stock characters and transform them into something new. Familiarize yourself with the expected, the predictable outcomes of stories that already exist, and instead predict what people might want to see happen instead. These kinds of stories are relatable because they meet a hidden need most readers don’t even know required satisfaction before receiving it.

Make yourself part of the story

No matter how hard you try, you can’t keep yourself – your experiences, your worldview, your opinions – out of the stories you write. There will always be a small part of you in there somewhere. Let it happen. Don’t try to keep yourself out of it. Writing stories has a way of releasing parts of ourselves we’ve forgotten were buried. Those parts are what make our stories relatable. The raw emotion, the honesty, the pain, the memories: it all counts. It all matters, and it all adds to the story’s personality. It’s what makes it more real, for everyone.

There is going to be some element of your work that you choose to add in because it resonates with you on a deep level. This is not a bad thing. There are plenty of people out there, even those in your audience, who will resonate with the same things you resonate with. If you inject feeling into your work, they will feel it, too. If you introduce them to an idea through a certain perspective, perhaps they will either agree with it or use it to spread their own ideas from a different perspective on the same general topic.

Stories need to be relatable because stories are not just for entertainment. They all have messages, even satires. Not every story is going to relate directly with every single person who reads it. But there is always that chance that it will change someone’s life, which is, from a writer’s perspective, a pretty amazing feat achieved by sitting down and putting words together semi-strategically.

Have you ever read a story that really resonated with you, maybe enough to inspire you to write your own story? What was it about that story that connected with you, and how can you use that to construct stories other people can relate to?

Image courtesy of Pho Vinternatt/flickr.com.

In Case You Forgot, Writers Are People, Too.

“Not everyone is going to be able to please you. But that does not mean you have to speak negatively of those who don’t.”


To all my fellow writers,

I have something to say. Maybe it isn’t important to you, maybe you don’t consider this a problem, maybe I’m just the kind of person who is too easily aggravated by unnecessary negativity. But I need to take a few moments and address those who do not see things from a writer’s perspective, or those who misunderstand what is and is not a writer’s responsibility.

All I ask is that, if any of this resonates with you, please pass it on. Please. I write this from my perspective and do not intend to put words in your mouth or speak for all writers without first hearing their stories. But if you have ever felt a frustration similar to mine, please do not hesitate to spread the word, because at this point I don’t know how else to express how I am feeling and I hope it doesn’t come off the wrong way, as so many of my opinion pieces apparently seem to do.

To those who love stories, but still feel as if you are not being heard, represented or acknowledged:

I want you to know that I hear you. I understand what it feels like, never to be “understood.” I understand that being upset, because a story you resonated with did not “tell it all” – or it said too much, or conveyed things the wrong way in your eyes – is completely rational and that you have a right to be. I do. I really do.

But pointing fingers at one person – the writer of that story – amidst your anger and frustration? Okay. I see where you are coming from. But take a moment, if you will, to see things through the eyes of the human being who sat down and wrote that story.

Every writer constructs a story with a specific message or set of messages in mind. Those messages are what helps the writer focus and gives the story direction. It makes the story worthy of reading, because it has a point; a moral; a purpose.

That being said, a reader cannot, should not, expect every writer to be able to convey every single message that needs to be understood, explained, read and passed along. In case you forgot, a writer is a person. A human. Not a superhero. Not an advocate for every group and cause out there. Not a spokesperson for only the things you care about the most (no matter how much they themselves might care, too). It’s not possible. To expect that from someone, no matter how much their stories have satisfied you in the past … it’s just not fair. To anyone.

I have never heard of a reader asking a writer, “Why don’t you write about this?” But when a writer does take up the courage and strength to write about something, whether controversial or not, and it isn’t done exactly the way someone wants, they’re totally slammed for it. “You forgot about this.” “You didn’t mention this.” “You only scratched the surface on that issue.”

Over time, writers build up the strength to take in these kinds of criticisms professionally and rationally. They have to. They are aware that pleasing everyone, as a storyteller, is impossible. That does not make these kinds of criticisms any easier to brush off, even still.

We’re sorry. We’re sorry we only have so much in us to even write these stories for you at all. We’re sorry we didn’t have the time, resources, room or permission to include every single detail of every single issue people are talking about. It is not our job to do that.

As writers, we select messages to communicate through our stories, so that you can read them, walk away from them and start your own discussions about those messages, with or without us. It isn’t up to us to have an entire discussion for you on your behalf in one story. You have a voice, too. We’re trying to help you, inspire you to stand up and say how you feel.

And when you criticize us by saying we’re not doing that, or we’re not doing it enough, or we’re not doing it RIGHT? You’re acting like we’re robots. Storytelling machines. We aren’t. WE ARE PEOPLE. People with ideas and concerns and, yes, feelings, too.

The story you read, the final draft, the polished, published version, is not entirely ours. There may have been more in the first draft, which you will never see, that had to be removed. That’s how publishing works. Editors have to trim things down. Printing books costs money. So just because it’s not all there, doesn’t mean we don’t wish it were.

People have short attention spans. Things have to be short. We can’t just ramble on and on about every detail we want to, or you’d never read it all. That’s just the way things are. Our stories are not always tell-alls. Please, try not to be upset if you aren’t satisfied. Is there something you wish would have been addressed in our book, that wasn’t? This is your chance. This is your opportunity to speak up, to take charge of that, and tell the world what you are thinking.

You don’t have to write it. Tape it. Draw it. Sing it. It doesn’t matter how you communicate your message. Just because we communicate ours through the written word doesn’t mean you have to.

Are we going to make mistakes? Of course we are. And we will do our best to own up to those … but it would really help if you brought them to our attention nicely. Professionally. From one human being to another. If we didn’t do something right, we want to know. But let that be a conversation. It doesn’t have to be one-sided. It doesn’t have to be you throwing out accusations without letting us respond when we are ready to respond.

We are proud of our work. It takes years for a book to go from an idea to print. Trust us, there are a lot of things we want to write about. We would write about every issue, every under-represented population, everything, if we could. But we can’t. In many cases, we have other jobs. Families. Lives outside of our stories. It’s not just a job: it’s a hobby. There are only so many hours in the day, and only so many messages we can send through the stories we write. Don’t tear us apart for being human. We would never do that to you.

If you are looking for a writer who stands for exactly what you stand for, keep looking. There is someone out there. Just because one writer doesn’t write about this or that doesn’t mean another won’t. Expand your horizons. When you do find the work that conveys what you need it to, promote that. Celebrate that. It is a positive thing and you deserve to feel joy on behalf of it.

Not everyone is going to be able to please you. But that does not mean you have to speak negatively of those who don’t. We are trying as hard as we can to reach an audience. Our audience is made up of individual people, all with different beliefs and opinions. We cannot change our stories or ideas just because some of them might not get out of it what they want or need. We have to take risks. Maybe a little selfishly sometimes, but if we let that hold us back, there wouldn’t be any stories at all.

A writer is a messenger, but they can only carry so much on their shoulders. If you like a story, great. If you don’t, you don’t. If you don’t, you are more than entitled to speak your mind. But do it kindly. Do it constructively. A story is neither all good nor all bad. Think of how you hope people will react to your own art or product of your hobbies. You know not everyone will like or pay attention to it. But you hope, you pray, only a handful will rush at you bearing words that hurt.

We can take a little criticism. But we’re people, just like you. It still doesn’t feel good. We’re not going to stop writing because of you. We don’t always know why you choose to lash out, but to ask every single person what they want from us, to try to satisfy every reader’s need, would destroy us.

I understand that to read a story, and to feel dissatisfied, is not a good sensation. That is why there are thousands upon thousands more books out there. Pick up another one. Or tell your own story. If you don’t feel heard, maybe you just haven’t found the right way to convey your message yet. But you will. I hope you will. That is all I hope for you, that you find your own way to express yourself, as long as you keep others and their humanity in mind as you do.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Meg is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.

Image courtesy of The Atlantic.

Dear John: Stories Aren’t Just for Readers


Storytelling is as complicated as it is simple. It’s very difficult, as a writer, to describe the writing process to someone who hasn’t experienced it themselves. Why? Because just as often as you have to think about your purpose for sitting down and writing a story, you must consider who you are sitting down and writing a story for – someone that is not you.

Complicating the matter even further is knowing that every story you write will mean something different to every person who reads it, no matter your intention for writing it in the first place.

We all write for different reasons, but something all writers have in common is the fact that writing stories is a powerful tool, and that is why we work so hard to refine our craft and learn how to tell the best stories we can, and how to tell them well.

Every story sends a message. Not just to the person reading it, but to the person writing it.

At NerdCon: Stories 2015, John Green spoke about stories and why they matter. Speaking from the viewpoint of a writer, he explained why he tells stories, and how they can be used to, in a sense, mentally, temporarily teleport from the real world to a world we create for ourselves. Stories are a way to escape our bodies and our minds and find comfort, at least for a little while, in the fiction we are attempting to bring to life through our love-hate relationship with words.

As often as we try to focus on who we are writing for – because, in the end, our readers are in a sense our customers, and their emotions and opinions do matter – John reminds us here that writing a story doesn’t start out that way. It all starts with us, and why we are writing the story we are writing. How that story resonates with other people comes later. Sometimes much, much later in the process.

Some of us start writing stories loosely based on things that have happened to us. Maybe we went through something when we were younger, or maybe it was recently, and we don’t know how else to come to terms with it and move on from it. It’s the same idea if you see someone else going through something and need to come to a better understanding of it yourself.

Maybe someone has seriously wronged you, and you want to use a story to try and see things from their point of view, in an attempt to understand why you have been targeted and hurt.

Maybe you’re at a point in your life where you feel you have a lot of important things to say, but nobody is listening, and a story is the only way you can seem to get your ideas out on paper.

Before the reader comes the writer, and when a story is born, the writer’s relationship with that story is the only relationship that matters. You have to use stories for your own benefit before they can be of any use to anyone else.

It’s okay to worry about what your readers might think. After you’re able to process what you needed to process while constructing your thoughts.

Here is John’s short monologue from NerdCon: Stories a few weeks ago.

Let’s take a step away from the reader today, and focus on us – the writers. Not everyone will love your story. That’s not what matters. What matters is that you’re writing something that is meaningful to you, and that is the only way for anyone else to gather meaning from it for themselves.

Image courtesy of youtube.com.