When I started this blog, I imagined I'd periodically try to give advice or perspective on writing. As it's gone on, though, I've realized I don't feel as comfortable with that as I do presenting the gems I find from other people. While I hope I'll always keep a student mentality, this year especially I've come a long way in understanding just how much I still have to learn. In some ways, that's exciting. In others it can be a little discouraging. In either case, I feel silly using this blog to pontificate.
Fortunately, there is no shortage of brilliant writers offering very useful insight, so I wanted to share a couple pieces I read this week that stood out to me as helpful.
First, this post from Peter Clines about social media struck a chord. It's a couple months old, but the question at the core of his post—does a writer need a big social media presence to be successful—has been floating around in one form or another since the first bloggers began getting book contracts. Since then, each new platform seems to give rise to new anxieties. Should you spend more time on Twitter? Follow more BookTubers? Stream readings on Twitch? Review books on TikTok?
There's a cyclical nature to these things, and as social media changes so do the anxieties. (A lot more writers worry about Twitter these days than they do about blogs. In ten years it will be something else.) Even so, just about all of us can name at least one or two really successful writers who are also adept at social media. It's hard not to believe in a cause and effect. Of course the person with a quarter-million followers is going to land on the NYT bestseller list. They've got a customer base already built in!
But is that assumption actually true? Clines understands these anxieties from all sides, and takes a pretty nuanced view of the subject. For anyone writing creatively, it's a good perspective to read from someone who's had a long and successful career in the industry.
Second, a post from Tim Waggoner. This isn't the first time I've shared something from him, and it won't be the last. What resonates for me are his perspectives on the long game—on what it means to commit to a lifetime of writing, with all the ups and downs that entails.
This year especially, as I've worked to change my approach to discipline and creative productivity, I've asked myself some hard questions that I don't really have good answers to. Should I have focused on writing novels much sooner? Attended a different school for my MFA (or skipped getting one altogether)? Committed to finding a mentorship in the hopes it might open some doors?
What these questions all have in common is that they assume some Great Success was mine to be had if only I'd made different choices. They also assume that the career I've enjoyed—selling stories, poetry, and even a serial novel—is not its own kind of success, even if those are things I'd only have dreamed of when I was writing my first stories in high school.
Each achievement and milestone can have the unintended consequence of nudging the goalpost back a bit further. That can be a great motivator to drive yourself forward, but it can also take some of the fun and sweetness out of the writing itself.
Waggoner's had a lot more success than I have. So maybe it shouldn't be a surprise he's felt the undertow more acutely as well:
“I forget to enjoy the result of my efforts, to savor the experiences, to have fun, to feel joy. If I'm not first writing for myself, writing to spend my life in a way that feels fulfilling to me, if I don't remember to appreciate these things, that's when I most feel like a failure. My writing is supposed to sustain me, but if it was water, I'd get regular deliveries of it, throw the jugs in my basement, and never drink a drop of it. I'd be too focused on obtaining more water without taking the time to appreciate the water I've already got.”
Chop wood, carry water; but don't forget, now and then, to pause for a sip.