Why I Don’t Give Writing Advice

This is a jellyfish. Image by Natania Barron, CC BY SA 3.0.

This is a jellyfish. Image by Natania Barron, CC BY SA 3.0.

I started blogging almost five years ago, somewhere in 2008, when I decided to focus on “being a writer”–whatever the hell that means. To illustrate a little: being a writer meant actually writing every day, finishing books, and apparently telling the world out there that I, in fact, have Things To Say about Being A Writer and Fiction and Steampunk and Narrative and all these Fun Capitalized Things. I had a great deal to say on the subject, filling not only this blog but another one, along the way.

I used to write a great deal about how to be a writer. How to leverage social media. How to not be a jerk, etc. Yes, I got pageviews and retweets and I made friends and all that, which isn’t to be scoffed at (and I don’t mean to). I’ve made friendships and connections through my blog that are priceless. It’s only now, five years later, after publication and more success than I expected (and earlier than I expected) and plenty of heartbreak, I’ve found that I really don’t have a lot to share. Part of this is because nowadays, people practically make a living off of telling would-be writers what they Ought To Do To Get Published. And the platform has become a signal fit to bursting. Twitter, G+, Facebook, they’re straining to keep all the self-published, Kindle authors and “buy my book it’s only .99 cents and some obscure guy gave it five stars!” Anyone can be a bestseller, apparently. All you have to do is say it’s so.

What I’m saying, I guess, is at the moment, anyone can seem like a published author. I could, at this very moment, take a draft from my considerably large pile of novels, convert it to .epub, and voila! Become a published author. But that doesn’t mean that I’d be a good author. Or that my books are any good.

So, publication is nebulous. And success is nebulous. Success is absolutely different from person to person. If self-publishing makes you happy, great. If writing in private until you die makes you happy, great. If writing one book and then moving on to your PhD in astrophysics is what you have in mind, power to you. In order to be successful as a writer you, well, you have to write obviously. But you also have to define your own goal. Me? I had a very silly goal of being published by 30, which I did. But I went about it my own way, and it’s really unlikely that if I told you exactly what I did that you could repeat it.

No matter what your craft, it really only comes down to two things: work and passion. It’s a balance of both. I don’t believe that everyone can be a writer. I think everyone can write, with enough effort. But will you keep going if you don’t have passion for it? Probably not. When it comes to “being a writer” it’s about learning to harness your passion and leveraging your work. It’s often writing through really sucky situations. I will admit, when I was working a traditional, full-time job (and pregnant… which had a lot to do with it), I hardly wrote anything. I didn’t take my own advice. Work sapped my passion and ideas, and the strain of being a breadwinner meant that the only things I could really focus on were the immediately paying ones. Could I have focused more? Probably. I had story ideas, many of them. But I was so exhausted most of the time that the idea of sitting in front of a computer for another five minutes was nothing short of nightmarish. It was like having computer PTSD, and it came at a huge cost. Not to say that had I stayed in that situation I never would have written again, but it wasn’t the ideal situation. I lost track of my goals. I missed the forest for the trees, to use the old hackneyed phrase.

Which is why I’m saying I’m not giving anyone writing advice. There are other, far more qualified people out there to do that sort of work. And far more unqualified people, but it’s up to you to decide if they’re legit or not (IMHO, there are many who fall into this category, so beware!). Not that I’m not ever EVER going to give advice again, but in general… it’s not the focus of this blog, and it hasn’t been for a while.

Listen, here’s my thoughts: life is challenging, and either you write through it, or you don’t. Telling stories is inherent in some of us. I’ve been doing it since I was old enough to staple pages together. But it’s constant work, and it’s work that always changes. There’s no program, no map, no GPS to tell you the way. To each, their own journey.

So here’s my last bit of advice:

  • Define your own success, realistically.
  • Do what you love. (Do it a lot, even when it’s the last thing you want to do.)
  • Become an expert.
  • Don’t be a jerk.

Does it mean getting an agent and writing an effective query and becoming a bestseller? Does it mean writing “to the market”? Does it mean self-publishing? Does it mean waiting ten years? Maybe. Maybe not. I will say that if being a bestseller is your end goal, you’re probably missing a piece. If you don’t care about money or reputation or traditional publishing, what’s stopping you? It works for some people. It’s not exactly predictable or reliable, but it’s a possibility.

For me, it’s not about selling. It’s about reaching people. Yes, money is nice and awesome and I’d love to be able to make an actual living as a writer. Royalty checks and advance checks are awesome and have saved our asses more than a few times this year. But writers don’t get salaries. Even one or two bestsellers, with a few exceptions, aren’t going to bankroll you for life. It’s fickle and awful in that respect. So wealth is usually not in the cards. But for real writers, those with the right blend of talent and passion and work, it can be more than that.

Being a writer is simple: you either do it, or you don’t. If you do it, you’re a writer. If you don’t, either you’re in hibernation (which can happen) or well, maybe you should stop telling people about that great novel idea you’ve had for the last decade and move on to something else.

As for me, I’ll be over here. Writing. Instead of writing about writing.

  • http://gravatar.com/thegourmez thegourmez

    As someone who was amazed and overwhelmed about all the writing about writing out there when I started….bravo. I agree entirely.

  • http://nataniabarron.wordpress.com Natania

    YES. It’s become a mire. Which is a whole other post in and of itself. While I felt it was overwhelming in ’08, it’s scary to think of what it must feel like now, jumping to the writing world online. Shut up and write a good book! Haha. I think I want that on a t-shirt.

  • karengadient

    Reblogged this on Karen Gadient and commented:
    Besides being my dearest friend, Natania Barron is the talented writer and shining soul who led me to the true reasons for pursuing my writing passion. This post embraces that and I believe her words are something all writers should read.

  • candlemark

    Oh, people don’t PRACTICALLY make a living off opining How To Do It. They do. It’s kind of frightening, honestly, especially if you read the advice and realize that a lot of the time, these people have no clue what they’re talking about.

    • http://nataniabarron.wordpress.com Natania

      Okay, I was trying to be nice. But yes. Espousing half-truths and anecdotal evidence seems the hallmark of the “publishing” business these days, especially online. It’s so bad that we have to qualify everything with “traditional” or “self” or whatever…

      • candlemark

        Lawdy, with these people, it’s best NOT to be nice. ;)

        • http://nataniabarron.wordpress.com Natania

          Alas, I’m too much a Baggins for such confrontation. I save my Tookish streak for wanderlust.

  • http://thedisfigured.wordpress.com TheDisfigured

    People need to shut the fuck up and write a book already. If a dollar stands to be made from writing advice, one must filter through the garbage to find true wisdom.

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  • http://theartistmindset.com Andrew J. Stillman

    That was wonderfully well written.

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  • http://aholisticjourney.wordpress.com Holistic Wayfarer

    Wish I could double-like this. And it wasn’t your main point, but you touched on the low caliber of writing OUT THERE…. Well done. Diana

    • http://nataniabarron.wordpress.com Natania

      Thank you! You read well between the lines :)