You get a lot of advice when you pursue a writing career. Almost of all of it is well-meaning, but much of it is discouraging or confusing. I’ll be the first to admit that after years in this business I often feel like I understand it less and less. The Dunning Kruger Effect in full force perhaps, or perhaps I honestly don’t know much. But I do feel confident that much of the advice given is bad or outright wrong. So let’s talk about that.
PIECES OF BAD ADVICE TO WRITERS:
1) YOU NEED TO BLOG:
No, you don’t need to.
All right, so maybe a little more explanation is in order. I hear, more and more often, that if you want to make yourself appealing to the publishing industry that you need to create a strong social media presence. The reasoning varies, but it most often seems to stem from the notion that publishers want you to have an established following when they agree to take you on. There’s some basic truth there. No agent or publisher is going to be upset if you run the most popular blog on the internet. Breaking in a new author is difficult. Difficult for the author and the publishers, and anything that can help make that a little easier is always appreciated.
But you will not create the most popular blog on the internet.
The great promise of the internet is how accessible everything is. The ability to publish (i.e. to make public) our random thoughts and cute cat photos is amazing. I’m writing this now, knowing that at the end of it, I’ll click a button and it’ll be available for anyone with an internet connection to read.
Maybe two hundred people will.
I’m not complaining. I’m just pointing out the truth. I’ve been a published author for over ten years. I’ve had some social media presence since MySpace. I’m on Facebook, Twitter (@aleemartinez). I had a Tumblr page. I have this blog. I’ve been internationally published in multiple countries and managed to make a living solely as a writer (with some help from my wife and family during the lean times). And nobody reads this blog.
An editor I talked to pointed out that there’s no noticeable correlation between book sales and social media activity. Some writers do it regularly and sell well. Some don’t and still sell well. My blogging activity is sporadic, but there were a few months when I endeavored to post something at least twice a week. I worked hard to create an interesting, thoughtful blog. And there was no noticeable effect on my sales.
Like most well-meaning advice, the problem here is the idea that it’s easy to create a popular blog. It isn’t. And even if it were popular, it doesn’t necessarily lead to higher sales. There are success stories, of course, but they’re mostly an illusion. A billion people are blogging. Some are going to be successful at it. The vast majority aren’t.
I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t have a blog. Go ahead. If you like doing it, do it. It can’t hurt. Probably. Although it should be noted that anything you post on the internet for the public can be read by the public. This means that if you post a bunch of negative posts about how everybody in the publishing industry sucks and no one understands your genius, you’re probably doing yourself more harm than good.
REMINDER: Stuff on the internet can be read by people. Please, don’t forget that.
My feeling on blogging is that it’s completely optional. It might pay off. It probably won’t. If it gets in the way of your actual creative writing, don’t do it. If it doesn’t, and you like doing it, do it.
That’s really all there is to it.
2) IF YOU DON’T READ, YOU SHOULDN’T BE WRITING
This is a tricky one. Never let it be said I’m afraid of controversy.
You should read. Reading is good for you. Reading in your genre (and outside your genre) is immensely helpful.
We’re all busy. Sometimes, you have to make a hard choice between finding time to read and finding time to write. And sometimes, you’ve gotta put down that book and work on your own.
Confession time: I don’t read nearly as much as I used to. And when I do read, I tend to read a lot more non-fiction.
Like other pieces of advice, it comes from a good place. It makes sense. Study the art form you want to master. Study the masters. Study the amateurs. Study the failures and the successes and think about what makes them work and what makes them not work.
If you spend all your time reading out of some obligation rather than creating your own work, you could end up in a very discouraging place. I’m a big believer in learning by doing. Study is important, but reading every great author in the world won’t make you a great writer. An artist must create, and that can mean sacrificing time devoted to the works of others you admire and enjoy. It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s how it works sometimes.
There are silly reasons to NOT read. Don’t NOT read because you’re afraid of other creators’ influences on your work. Don’t NOT read because no one is as great as you are. Don’t NOT read because you have nothing to learn. Because you do. You’re never done. You should always be striving to be better.
But if you decide to write rather than read, don’t feel bad about that. It’s just a matter of time management. Sometimes, we have to make sacrifices and maybe the latest 1000 page Stephen King doorstopper could be put aside in pursuit of your own artistic goals. It’s not bad. It’s just the way it is.
3) WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW
Write whatever the hell you want.
Just do it well.
It’s as easy and hard as that.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,