Hello readers. First of all, I want to say “Thank you for being patient.” This, the last Being a Better Writer post of the year, was supposed to arrive last Monday. But, as most of you know (only newcomers being exempt), my younger sister was involved in a car accident Sunday night that was extremely blessed not to be more serious. Modern car safety is a wonderful thing. She survived a head-on collision with another car (they ran a red light) with only a broken collarbone. I spent a few days away from home helping her out as she dealt with the worst of it. You can get a bit more detail here.
But thank you for waiting. This has definitely thrown my usual Christmas schedule topsy-turvy.
Now, before we get to the post directly, a bit of obligatory Christmas plugging. Normally its own post but … topsy-turvy. So …
If you’re looking for any last minute, low-cost Christmas gifts or digital stocking stuffers, have you considered the virtues of handing someone a book for Christmas? A multi-page doorway into adventure, fortune, peril, and wonder, all from the comfort of someone’s favorite cozy chair or nook?
If you haven’t, than I’d heartily recommend it. Not only are books a great gift, they’re a great value for the buck too! A single, $6 book can take days of excitement to get through. Compare that to the stocking stuffer DVD that’s only an hour and a half for the same price.
Now, if you’re unsure about what books to grab people, never fear! I’ve got answers there too! Do they like fantasy? Lord of the Rings? Or westerns? Shadow of an Empire is $6, and a perfect gift for those that love horseback chases, shootouts, magic, and peril.
Or maybe they like science fiction? Epic adventures to alien worlds with starships, lasers, and AIs? Colony is only $4, while its sequel Jungle is $8. You can grab both for someone’s Christmas for just $12!
Maybe they like a little bit of everything? Or prefer shorter stories that they can get through in a few short glances? Unusual Events: A “Short” Story Collection is only $4 and has exactly what they’ll desire: A little bit of everything in one nice package! Perfect for a stocking.
Sands, you could drop the entire set into their stocking, a combined reading length of 5,700 pages (or about 115 hours worth of reading for the average American), for a cost of $26. That’s a pretty epic value.
Curious? Take a look.
Now, with the Christmas plug over, let’s talk about the final Being a Better Writer post of the year. It’s going to be a little different, I expect, but in tune with the spirit of the Christmas season. I want to talk about Doing Good to Others. Yes. as a writer.
I know. This seems like a strange topic. But just bear with me. It’s not a complex one, or even a difficult one. But it is one that writers need to remember.
See, while being a writer can seem like (and be) an attractive calling for me, it does come with downsides to those positives. I can work from anywhere I can make an office. I get to spend my day “visiting” fantastic places and conversing with all manner of people. Better yet, I later take those places and people to others. This is, admittedly, really cool and part of the fun of being a writer. You can make places come to life.
But it comes with a drawback. One that isn’t readily apparent, or even easily noticed. To the writer, at the end of a long day of writing one might feel as though they’ve interacted with a bunch of people, traveled a bunch of places, etc etc. They know they haven’t really, and that it’s all fiction, but at the same time, they’ll have put a lot of work into those characters.
A lot of work. One thing that’s worth stressing again and again in these BaBW articles, where applicable, is how much work writing is. It’s an intense labor and effort putting everything together, making it click with an audience, and so forth. And so writers put forth that effort, interacting with these worlds and characters in our own heads.
Then we release. We publish. And going into a world where we fight tooth and nail for audience attention, whether or not we’re with a big publisher, we then have to work to gain an audience. To get attention. To convince people that our labors are worth reading about.
Still sound like a lot of work? It is. Authors spend a fanatical amount of time just to earn a bare living. Most don’t even then (something like 80% of authors must work a second job to survive).
There is a point to all this. That point is that with all this work, with all this effort, with all this time spent inside the heads of our characters, trying to advertise, pushing our works … We can easily fall into a life where everything revolves around our work and what we create.
Now, it’s not bad that we as writers try to make the most of our work that we can. We should. Most writers quite honestly never earn what they deserve. And they work their butts off to get that.
But I’m not here to talk about that (we can talk about that some other time if you’d like a post on it), but rather the hardest challenge that comes with that. You see, because of the way the system is set up, writers are largely encouraged to focus on one thing.
Me. Or rather, themselves. Because of the work an author or writer has to do, and the massive amount of push it takes to make even a mild success at it, naturally any writer is funneled into thinking and focusing about one thing.
Them. Their books. Their sales. Their next project. Their current project. Their backlog
Me, me, me. It’s not wrong. After all, you have to care about your work.
But where writing can become dangerous is that this attitude can become all-consuming. Until there’s nothing else. A writer can be so focused on their own success (even after they achieve it) that everything else falls by the wayside.
And that’s not good. In fact, I’d bet that most reading this don’t realize exactly how bad this can be for authors.
Again, don’t get me wrong. It’s not a bad thing that we focus on our work. But when we do so to the detriment of those around us, well … We all lose.
Take, for example, the average writer’s site and blog. A lot of them, if you look through, tend to focus on one thing, and one thing only: The writer’s work.
Again, this doesn’t seem wrong. After all, we work hard on our efforts. We should talk about them.
But we lose something in only focusing on ourselves. We really do. Because the truth is, almost all authors are in the same boat. We’re all struggling and working hard to make this work, to pay for rent or food and get another book out. But when we think only of ourselves, well … we lose out. We leave others to their own ends, standing alone.
I could talk on about this, and how I think authors standing alone may be in part how the book industry came to be the way it is (ultimately a small selection of people standing in “on behalf” of authors) but that’s not the point of this post.
No, the point of this post is to encourage writers, myself included, to look past the vast, interconnected worlds of their own work. Sure, our work should remain the primary focus … but should it be all we look at?
No. And I’m not even talking about just reading other authors. One of the reasons, for example, I like doing Why You Should Read … posts on this site is because I read good books from other authors and I want others to know about them. And that? That helps them. Easing their own burden because I’m shouldering it in a small way. Small, yes … but appreciated.
We can, and should, stand together a bit more than we do sometimes. We should support one another. We should pull back and, rather than focusing entirely on what good we can do our own work, on what we can do for others.
Again, it’s not wrong to think about ourselves. But writing can really seductively make that all we do and focus on. Gotta advertise, gotta promote, etc etc. I mean, sands, look at the top of this post where I had to make sure to toss in my Christmas plugging. I have to do that because, well, I like to eat. The goal is to make money, after all, so I need people thinking about my work.
But at the same time, is it so important that here and there I can’t spare time to talk about someone else’s work? To talk about books I haven’t written that I’ve enjoyed?
No. No it isn’t. But there’s more.
Remember last week, when I showed off how powerful word of mouth was? So powerful that a few fans talking about my work on a Reddit thread lead to a sales increase for the day of five times?
Word of mouth is powerful. Yes, it’s one thing when a writer promotes their own work. But when others do? They get a greater return for far less “work.”
I think if we all focused a small bit less on our own work, and a little bit more on others, we’d all see a net gain.
I know. This has been a strange topic. But I think it was worth talking about, especially for the season. Christmas is the season of giving, after all. And sometimes, as much as we give to our own work, sometimes I believe we should remember to give a bit to those writers and authors around us.
Thing is … this applies even if you’re not a writer. All of us should think a bit more on what we can give to those around us. Maybe it’s a kind word. Maybe it’s a Christmas gift. Maybe it’s some other bit of help.
Pull back a bit. Look at those around you. See where they need a helping hand, or maybe a kind word.
That, I think, is a pretty good note of advice to end 2019 on. Help out where you can, and pull back a little to view those around you.
Merry Christmas, readers. Thanks for everything during this 2019 year. Now, as always …
Good luck. Now get helping.