Let me state an unpopular opinion: the fact that you have written something or are attempting to write something and have a platform on which to talk about that (be it a blog, a forum or any kind of social media) does NOT mean that ANYBODY in the whole bloody world has to care.
You don’t deserve comments, feedback, reviews, cheers or really, any kind of response to it just because it is there.
You don’t deserve a single thing but one.
Your own respect. Your pride in yourself for setting up shop or already having gone the distance. You are the only one whose support you can and should demand at all times. And you know what? Most people let themselves down and want others to do the work. That, my friends, is not on.
I’ve stated it before. Writing is a lonely business. It essentially boils down to a lot of time spend in your own head, in front of a blank (digital) sheet of paper or with a mess of words that just won’t line up the way they did in your head. It’s hard. It can be frustrating. It’s not always rewarding in it’s own right. I get that. So once you come running with an idea that makes you happy, once you produced a whole manuscript that actually features the words “The End” (Congrats!), you feel accomplished and you long for this accomplishment to be recognized.
We all do.
But, sorry to repeat myself, that still doesn’t mean that, by default, anyone has to care. People might respond positively and grab what you’ve produced from your hands and even demand more, but maybe they don’t. Since, essentially, writers usually do want to be read, that’s a problem. So what to do?
Here’s what: You take a good hard look at yourself. At yout writing. At your marketing. At the whole process from the moment you start coming up with ideas to when you finally hold a finished product of any kind in your hand. And instead of running around like a headless chicken, demanding to be read, to be published, to be acknowledged, you ask yourself: What is the problem? Because that’s how you find solutions. You identify the bloody problem first.
There is a plethora of things that might be wrong. I’ll come up with a few (note, this is not an exhaustive list. Plus, I am mainly aiming at the yet unpublished writer, because lets face it, that’s my field of expertise. Unpublished galore!).
- You are not (yet) good enough. Yes. It’s a tough one. You might be a good writer but an average story teller. You might have a fantastic plot but stale characters. You might have awesome characters but your plot is a mess. You might have great ideas but poor grammar. You might have started breaking rules before applying and understanding them first. There is so much to mess up. You might just not yet have mastered the craft. (Figuring out those problems can only be achieved alone to a certain extend. But there is so much material on writing out there. Read it. Read your writing critically again. It’s hard and it hurts to find all the things you might still suck at but the only way out is through. Once you’ve done all you can do on your own, find people to help you. Build a network. Refer to point 3 for more on that.)
- You might actually have produced great work but are unable to pitch it effectively to anyone (Do you understand the theme of your work? Can you summarize it engagingly? Do you even understand it’s strongpoints?) Can you write (and talk) about your writing in a way that makes people care? It’s important. If you put all your heart into your prose but then communicate like a slob, people might not trust your abilities as a storyteller.
- You don’t have a network. You need one. You need people who understand that your work needs readers to help you get better and are willing to donate their time and brainspace to your project. You’ll eventually need people who can help you in taking the next step. Who have solid first hand experience. But that network needs to keep running all year round, it can’t be jump started to your convenience at that exact moment you chucked out an idea or a piece of writing that you need reassurence/critique/praise/ motivational speeches/younameit for. You need to put in the work and discuss not only your own but also the other works. And your input needs to have a certain substance. “Love it / Too bad” usually won’t cut it. I’ll repeat myself here: you don’t deserve anything, not by default, not for simply being part of a group, or having done a certain thing. It’s an exchange*. Which is a bonus, because that’s how you actually get better. (You’d be surprised by how many of your own mistakes you spot by discussing things you find fault with in the work of others.)
- You only want positive feedback. Lern to take criticism. Use it. It’s a valuable commodity (editiors are EXPENSIVE! Rightfully so, their work is hard).
- You use your writing as a crutch to cater to your need for constant attention and reassurance. Learn to get that somewhere else. Writing can be therapeutic but it’s not therapy. The people in your (writing) community are not shrinks. While you are entitled to politeness, your writing peers are not responsible for your mental wellbeing. You are.
I recently read Steven Pressfield’s book “Nobody wants to read your sh*t” and besides pointing out in a very hands on way, how essential story telling works (across genres from movie to novel to non-fiction including self-help), he has a few words to say about an important truth he learned from being a copy-writer:
You begin to understand that writing/reading is, above all, a transaction. The reader donates his time and attention, which are supremely valuable commodities. In return, you the writer, must give him something worthy of his gift to you.[…] You learn to ask yourself with every sentence and every phrase: Is this interesting? Is this fun or challenging or inventive? Am I giving the reader enough? Is she bored? Is she following where I want to lead her?
Spot on. We as writers are not graciously granting a few chosen ones the right to behold the marvel that is our writing. We are asking them to invest their precious time. It’s not something we deserve simply because we “did a thing”. It’s something we earn. Which might mean we are going to be shouting into a void for quite a bit.
One last thing: Never, and I’ll caps log and bold that because I seriously mean that, NEVER EMTIONALLY BLACKMAIL OR GUILT TRIP SOMEONE INTO READING YOUR STUFF.
No, people are not responsible for you remaining passionate about or abandoning your dream of being a writer. You are.
No, people are not mean or spiteful if they don’t want to read your things because it’s not their genre/ your style doesn’t appeal to them / they are not interested in your pitch / insert any given reason you think is invalid, unfair or whatever else you can come up with.
Yes, people might have better things to do than to read your work and no, they still are not heartless monsters, destroyers of dreams or opressors of the up and coming.
No, ensuring your personal happiness cannot and will never be the responsibility of your (non-)readers.
Wew. Glad I got that off my chest.
* The part about it being an exchange makes it sound very quid pro quo. Avoid falling into that trap. In a good and sustainable network of any kind, everybody gives when they can and takes when they need, and the scale still balances (mostly). You don’t keep tabs on “I did this, so Julie owes me that.” It’s organic, it’s voluntary, it’s done with heart and passion and that’s why it works.