Writers Writing About Writing

Common knowledge is an interesting thing.  One person does something that works well for them.  They are followed by ten more people.  Eventually that uniform approach becomes the accepted norm.  It becomes the common knowledge; part of the language of the field.

Take writing for example.   Do you want to make it as a writer?  Well then you need a website; a platform to build your “brand” from.  You’ve got to have an email list.  And a social media account or two.  You need to engage with your followers, tribe, thousand-true-fans, frequently so they don’t fall out of love with you.  Make infographics, pdf files and listicles to give away.  Start a podcast.   Oh, and don’t forget to write something.  This is what you need to do, it’s common knowledge, duh.

Except when it isn’t.

What is the End Game?

Like anybody who enjoys writing I also enjoy reading about writing.  There are valuable lessons to be learned from those who have went before us.  Shoulders of giants and all that.  But my tastes tend to gravitate towards those who do not have those commonly accepted requirements of success.  Take a look at Lee Childs website for example.  Amazing writer, almost non-existent online presence.  Cal Newport is another, and he goes further to take a stand against social media, arguing that it is a colossal waste of time that could be better spent actually writing something.  You know he’s right.

By no means am I disparaging writers that write about writing.  I’m just making the observation that it can be easy to lose oneself down the rabbit hole of “must-do” items so it is important to be crystal clear about what your goals are.  Do you want to help others be better writers or do you want to be a published author?  Often times it seems like the goal is to be published, but the time spent sharing online outweighs the time spent writing.


“Authority” is another blogosphere brand-building catchphrase.  “Who gives you the right to tell me about this?”,  ”Well I’ve sold XYZ books or been published at ABC!”  The point being that you need to do something before having something to (over)share.  And there is some really, really good stuff out there.  2k to 10k comes to mind.  But the majority of what writers write, when writing about writing is too often regurgitated lists, inspirational quotes, diatribes on various subjects (such as this one!), and other such “common knowledge”.  I think this is because we tend to read in the same circles, rather than as wide and deep as we could.

The flip side argument is that no matter what level you are at, there will always be somebody out there that knows less about it than you do.  People are hungry for info.  They want to know.  So give the people what they want.  An example of this is Pareto’s Principle; otherwise known as the 80/20 rule.  Everybody knows what that is right?  Common knowledge.  Except when I speak to somebody who has never heard of it before.  So although I’m only retelling something that was retold to me, it has value to them.

First Things First

The point is to decide what kind of writer you want to be.  There are many paths to the same destination. Do you want to be a scholar on the act of writing and writers?  A big publishing house author?  Self-published indie ass kicker?  You can do any and all of these things, but mind your main goal and make sure that your actions support that.  Don’t let the tail wag the dog.

Work on your work first.  Take care of marketing and brand building and self-promotion later; say sixth or seventh.  By then there will be a new standard of what is common knowledge and you won’t have wasted your time learning the old common before having something to say.

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