The Problem of Writers Writing About Writing to Get Readers

Oh, man, guys. Bookshelfbattle just put it perfectly.

Sometimes with all of the blogging, twittering, and social media-ing, I just wonder if all writers are doing are talking to other writers. It’s like we’re all door-to-door salesmen, knocking on a door, “Wanna buy my book?” And the person answers, “No, but do YOU wanna buy MY book?” [link]

This made me so happy! It’s exactly right, with a brilliant mental image thrown in. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, especially as I’m getting into blogging properly for the first time in a while. I’m already slipping into writing as a writer for writers to attract writers to my writing blog so they’ll read… my… stories? Well, that’s no good.

My real goal is to find a huge band of brilliant friends and fans who love reading what I write and talking about things I’m into and doing cool stuff to make the world a better place. So I start writing about whatever I’m currently obsessed with to draw the people that will align with it. And I’m obsessed with writing, self-publishing, generous marketing, etc. And other stuff, but it’s taking a strange degree and style of discipline to get into other headspaces in the context of blogging.

So I end up writing a blog for writers rather than readers. Which might work out, because writers are mostly thinking people who love great stories and read a ton, so that’s cool. But even so I’m engaging them as writers trying to get better at writing, not as readers looking for a good story.

So then I figure I need to be writing stuff my (potential and actual) readers would enjoy. Not content about creating content. Just…you know, content. Except I write novels, and that’s not great in blog format. So I can write supporting bonus materials and behind-the-scenes stuff.

Tricky bit there is that only a few dozen people are familiar with my work at the moment, so if I give excerpts, backstories, fun tidbits about the story world, character profiles, and that sort of thing, nobody will know what I’m talking about, and if I talk about other stuff it’s a different form of the original problem. I’m just talking to game-lovers about games or communal people about living in community or spiritual people about our invisible friends, and I can occasionally tack on a mention of my books and people might read them, but it’s still not really engaging with readers as readers.

I’m still figuring this out. The easy first steps are to be very generous and to actively be a reader, not just a writer. At minimum this opens up a dicey little quid-pro-quo with you other aspiring writers where I’ll try out your story and read/buy/love/recommend it if I like it, and maybe in a few cases you’ll try mine out too. But I don’t really enjoy that arrangement. Setting aside the fairly low readership numbers it’s likely to garner, it also just feels a little fakey and weird. I love reading peoples’ stories, but I don’t want it to be so they’ll read mine and I don’t want to feel pressure to respond a certain way because I want them to like me and I don’t want them to feel obligations and all. At best, it’s a strange and roundabout way to find one of the aforementioned brilliant friends.

More fundamentally, I want to get better at providing all kinds of cool things that I like and that my aforementioned brilliant friends would like. Sometimes writing, sometimes game design, sometimes kerning or sea monsters or metaphysics. And sometimes my actual stories, either bonus materials or just actual chunks of story. And sometimes exciting announcements that the next book is out or that I have a cool bundle of fun available. (Speaking of which…)

What’s scary about that is it means constantly re-breaking the mold. I’m theoretically all for losing readers rather than redirecting my writing to cater to a perceived audience’s perceived expectations. But already, a few posts in, I find myself hesitant to write posts that are much shorter or longer than what I have, or in a different format, or about a different kind of thing, because I’m already finding really cool people who like what I write about writing, and if I write about sea monsters maybe it will break the spell and you’ll all leave. (Which is irrational, of course, because who doesn’t love sea monsters?)

So all that to say, this blog isn’t going to just be writing tips. Might be a little while before I get it out of my system because the art and business of writing are what I think about for dozens of hours a week. But there might also be tea and mythical beasts at some point. Some of you find that exciting, not disappointing, and I’m really, really excited that you’re here.

Thank you, bookshelfbattle. Really great phrasing of an important situation. Everyone else, do you want to buy bookshelfbattle’s book? I think you should buy bookshelfbattle’s book. (Bookshelfbattle, do you have a book? Blast. Should have thought this through.)

But seriously, at least check out the blog. I’m enjoying it a ton. Finally someone who’s putting out engaging ideas for discussion, not just writing writing tips for writers writing for writers.

Cheers!
—Ben

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11 comments

  1. Reblogged this on Bookshelf Battle and commented:
    Well, I’ve officially hit the big time. Someone wrote an entire post about one of my comments. Why haven’t the rest of you people written posts about what I have to say? Come on, people. Get with the program, here. I’m tossing out pearls of wisdom and nuggets of truth…

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  2. Hi Ben,

    Well, I hate to say it, but no, I don’t even have a book to sell. At this point, I’m a very lame door-to-door salesman. My pitch isn’t “Do you want to buy my book?” but rather, “If I ever write a book one day, I hope you’ll buy it!” And then people are basically all like, “Um, ok! I probably won’t! But want to buy mine?”

    Thank you, I’m honored my comment led to an entire post on your blog. Of course, I didn’t mean to put anyone down, i.e. I don’t blame people for marketing. When I started my blog, I was just really surprised at the sheer baffling number of people who are blogging and tweeting, all with the same goal of becoming professional paid writers. But who can blame them? To be paid to write would be a sweet gig, so naturally everyone wants to try for it.

    I’m still finding my voice, but like you discuss in your post, I suppose the end goal with a blog is to find a community that will become your base – people who will read your stuff and tell their friends to read it too. So that isn’t too shabby.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha ha ha ha! “Um, ok! I probably won’t!” Classic.

      And it’s true. I was thinking about this further and I bet a big reason so many people write for aspiring writers is because it’s a never-ending audience with (frankly) fairly predictable tastes and patterns. (Also not putting anyone down, by the way. I’m right in the middle gobbling writing tips and self-pub data with everyone else.) Plus we’re all interested in learning from each other and/or helping each other, and we can all relate to each other’s goals and struggles and successes.

      But, like productivity stuff or self-improvement stuff or organize-your-life stuff or all the other stuffs out there, it can get very meta and very self-referential if you get stuck in the loop of trying to learn (and/or network) instead of making a consistent practice in real life. Especially if you’re also ignoring the core integrity of who you really are and what you have to say in order to get the quick follower count.

      My big dream is to write fiction full-time, but I want to be really careful about how I get there too so that I don’t go full-time just to find myself having to grind out stuff I’m not that into for people I don’t really know or care about. I can do that now on a content mill. The win is not just to get an income, it’s to spread real value to the people whose lives it will improve.

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      1. And do let me know if you write a book. I’d be interested to see it.

        Yet another interesting question from all of this is when and how blogging serves as an end in itself. A lot of blogs are a means to an end, and I think that’s legitimate, but we also shouldn’t overlook blogs as a place where important ideas and real value can proliferate.

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  3. In the beautiful, touching film Shadowlands (screenplay by William Nicholson, based on his stage play of the same name), C.S. Lewis asserts “We read to know that we’re not alone.” Attempting to engage the students in his English class in a discussion, he adds: “I suppose some would say that we love to know that we’re not alone.” And perhaps the same can be said of writing: we write to know that we are not alone. It is an affirmation of our existence, of sharing our thoughts along the great journey of life, that through the miracle of digital bits traveling thousands of miles per second, some stranger — perhaps a kindred soul — clicks on a like button or posts an appreciative or thoughtful comment. As writers we cherish that moment, however brief or fleeting, with a profound sense of appreciation and global kinship, knowing — and feeling — that we are not alone.
    Cheers, Alex

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    1. Well said, Alex!

      It’s crazy. After decades of reading like an addict and writing and pondering stories almost constantly, I still haven’t quite been able to verbalize why it is that stories are so important to us. But I’m convinced they are of critical importance. Closest I’ve gotten is that they can show us how the world could be and how it should be, but that sounds a little too boring and pithy.

      I’m going to keep acting on my conviction that they’re important by writing like the Dickens while I figure it out, though.

      (Ha! Writing like the Dickens! I wonder if that’s where that came from?)

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  4. This is an interesting exchange. It makes me ask myself, did I start blogging to get readers? I think I started blogging, and indeed reading lots of post from writers and aspiring writers to see how others approach it. My own blogging is essentially a way for me to state my problem, and solution. Doing it on a blog just allows me to share those thoughts with others, and maybe (if I’m extra super-lucky) I get a comment or two of feedback suggesting a different approach. I really am out here to see what everyone else is up to. Being ‘not alone’ is reassuring to me.

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  5. Thanks, Dave. That’s a great point. Blogging can be a great medium for thinking out loud or talking ourselves through problems and ideas in a way that lets others benefit from what we come up with too. I think my favorite thing about using a blog that way is that it brings people along on the cutting edge of what you’re learning and thinking rather than just rehashing or reposting things you learned or thought a long time ago. It’s a very respectful, mutually beneficial way to present yourself and your ideas to the world.

    On a different note, I love your avatar! Absolutely gorgeous! Almost like Manchu or Mongolian. Is it a constructed language? It reminds me a lot of a vertical script I made up years ago.

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