I’ve spent about a year here writing articles on a wide variety of topics, including writing. But not about how to achieve success based on what others do or secret formulas. When I write about writing it is because I’ve learned things from writing non-fiction books and novels, marketing copy, and my own experiences with change.
There is far too much writing about writing here. A sea of desperate wannabe writers scratching out tales of big payouts and curation. The truth is there is no secret formula for success as a writer, here or elsewhere. No secret sauce that ‘successful’ writers know and you don’t. There are however actual things writers do that help them progress as creative artists. They tell stories and they persist.
The problem with the stories that start with How I Earned $XXX From a Single Story, is that you can’t reproduce those results, because they already happened. There is too much pressure here to break the code quickly. Writing, like any other craft, is not learned quickly. Sometimes you get lucky out of the gate and are able to open with an original voice early on. This is a gift but an ephemeral one. There are endless examples of writers whose first novel is fantastic and original but whose second work fails or never even appears.
Going deep as a creative means facing a learning step that most don’t want to hear about when you’re getting started. Write three books so you can learn how little you know. Have your first solo art show and find out how much better the artists you admire are. Get your first music gig as an opening band and then learn the difference between the opening band slot and the band that’s headlining after making 3 albums. Getting good is hard- but hard is good.
Stories are what writers do. We see stories everywhere and we try to understand their meaning. If we can construct some meaning and write about it, others will respond. It will resonate. There is no ‘if only my stuff got curated like the other guy’s’. There is only a reader who reads your stuff and finds something in it that makes them think and feel. They may feel empathy, fear, recognition, shared experience, or a little enlightenment on a winter day. That is one of your goals.
The other is to take a story, your own or that of another, and tell it to others in a way that changes things. It is craft and even if no one reads it, but you’re happy with it, you’ve progressed.
Writing about writing should be reserved for those who have matured as artists and feel they are now in a position to help someone starting out. Stephen King, Annie LaMott. They have a body of work. They had constant doubts and failures early on. And they earned the right to tell a story about writing.
I’ve done a certain amount of writing about writing here. It is my craft and I’ve pursued it for thirty years. I’m still fascinated by what it gives me, often when I least expect it, and I want to share those little epiphanies. They are not my most popular things and a part of me hates that I’ve joined the cadres of writers writing about writing. But I’m not going to promise success. I just want to tell about my experience.
The pieces that have resonated are about stories, both personal and business-related (because I am, among other things, a professional business writer). The personal stories often come out of me writing about an experience, not to create something publishable, but to help me understand what it meant. If they start to look like they might be useful to a reader, I rewrite to get them to that goal.
How do you like that? I just wrote about writing while telling people not to write about writing. So it goes.