...and other writing advice that won't work but might inspire you
I recently wrote an article for Literary Hub about building platform. We’re always churning out these beautiful essays about the craft of writing. What if we started being dead ass serious with each other about what else is needed to be a writer? Let’s talk about the art and craft of selling ourselves on social media as a condition of our dreams. In this essay, I will explain how to gain a gazillion followers.
There is no meritocracy. The gatekeeping exists to separate the writers who have to sell themselves and the ones who do not. The 23-year-old with 300 followers and a memoir coming out is family friends with someone in publishing. Outsiders will need some unknowable combination of bylines, degrees, and platforms they can map out strategically in proposals for executives who don’t even understand social media and will need the emails to be printed.
There is a cottage industry of writing advice, books, classes, workshops, retreats, and locked-off sections of newsletters that exists to sell writers the dream of writing. Writing itself has little value. There isn’t any money in this. There are no jobs. Publications are dying or they’re cliques. Selling books is a mysterious and gatekept process. There isn’t even something that tracks the sales. The bestseller list is curated and selected.
This is how writing starts to feel like some kind of luxury item, something coveted and aspirational, something inaccessible for all but the most privileged. In reality, so much of writing is trash that was always meant to be trashed, destined to burn in the dumpster fire of your worst impulses. And yes, you should absolutely write them down and send it off to literary magazines. It’s okay to make trash. It’s okay to not be brilliant at this.
I’m a terrible fiction writer. I dreamed of winning awards for my brilliant short story collection which will never be forthcoming. I don’t even enjoy writing fiction, so don’t feel bad. Yet I studied it like some kind of theology. I bought all the advice books. I did writing exercises like I was staying in shape in case the National Book Awards called. I enrolled in local workshops. I earned a Master’s degree.
Workshops made me feel like the b-roll contestants on American Idol, the ones that didn’t realize they weren’t even good enough to get a pity hug from Paula Abdul. I leaned in too hard with the quirky plot points. I wrote dull characters I barely knew. I’d rather have been writing about myself in some overly confessional and embarrassing manner, except I was trying to make it a pretense, an art, a fiction—something born not from my insecurities, but from a cleverness that I hoped would reward me. I failed over and over.
One of the things I talk about in the LitHub article is how creating the voice of TBQ on social media has felt a lot like writing fiction. It’s a character. It’s a voice that is mine, but it also talks on its own with all of my terrible instincts on full display: cringe oversharing, leaning in too hard, an insecurity that tries be clever.
Allow yourself to be messy. Perfectionism is one of the gatekeepers. They want us to chisel and toil away in pursuit of some literary truth. I do think it’s important to study writing. It helps you know when you finally do stumble your way into something that’s working. Get the MFA, take the local poetry classes, sign up for the workshop that sounds cool with the cool writer. One of the secrets is they need you.
Much of the literary world is an illusion to uphold the gatekeeping. Don’t write towards the perfectionism of the illusions. The secret is to generate trash. Make so much trash until there is a trash mountain that you are performatively calling art. Lean in. Get into character. The only secret you really need to know is that none of this is real.
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