Writing is Damn Hard Work

The “gurus” aren’t lying to you, just sharing their tools.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

I’ve seen a few posts over the last week or two, enough to make it something of a trend, where writers here on Medium start complaining about all of the advice articles they’re seeing from other writers.

Of course, this is all thinly veiled advice of their own that they’re dishing: You don’t need a niche! You don’t need to write every day! You just need to have fun!

All I can can say is: yeah, I guess that’s one way of looking at it.

It all depends on what you’re here for.

If you’re here to have fun, if you’re here to let out your spare thoughts, to keep a blog on the side, to let out your thoughts every now and again, that’s great. That’s a perfectly valid use of your time and energy. If you have a real job, a real career that you enjoy and invest most of your energy in, if writing is just a side gig for you, that’s fine.

It’s even fine that you’re a part of the Medium Partner Program; that you earn a few dollars on the side. Having a little bit of extra cash on hand never hurt anybody. Writing is fun! Getting views and applause and claps makes you feel good. It’s a little dopamine hit that doesn’t eat your brain from the outside in or add extra inches to your thighs.

We need more people in every walk of life who enjoy the written word. Look no further than The White House and Congress to see proof of that. But every walk of life. I’d love to read more articles from mechanics and engineers and botanists and minimum wage workers. If you have an interesting job, I’d love to read about it. Hell, if you have a boring job, I’d like to read about that, too.

You can write without writing being your profession.

But, for some of us, writing is the job.

If that’s the kind of person you want to be, you can’t approach writing as a hobbyist. You can’t give it a half-hearted, half-assed approach.

Well, you can. You just won’t be successful.

In that case, you might want to listen to the gurus. Because they’re giving you a road map.

So, maybe, you should find your niche. Start figuring out what you like to write about. Surely, that isn’t difficult. And, then, make a concerted effort to write about those things more.

Or, maybe niche sounds too Neo-Millenial tech-market bullshitty to you. That’s fine, I have the same gut reaction to that word. So, another way to think about it, who do you want to be?

As a playwright and a novelist, I’m aiming for a Jennifer Niven-esque upper Young Adult contemporary literary emotional mastermind. As an essayist, I’m going for a millennial Anne Lamott thing, with a side of Carrie Fisher.

Those are the niches I’m aiming for, and I write accordingly. Even when I don’t write on those specific subjects — e.g., this thing — I try to infuse that kind of voice, that kind of energy, that kind of feel into the essay. That’s what I’m trying to grow my voice into. I do that by writing regularly.

You need to write regularly. That’s not a controversial idea, even if it’s fucking hard. I get it. I’m trying to write every day on Medium this year — more on that in a later post — which means that, every morning, I wake up halfway to a goddamn panic, thinking I need to write a post. What the fuck am I going to write a post about? I have no idea what the fuck to write.

And, then, an idea comes along. Maybe it’s not fully shaped or anything, but that’s the hard part. You beat that SOB into shape. You write the damn thing.

If you’re smart, you start keeping a list of ideas, or some drafts floating around. Things that you can finish, play on, and develop. This doesn’t have to be one of those difficult, leather-bound agendas where you write down precious ideas and guard them like sacred flames. This doesn’t have to be difficult, complicated, or anything else. For me, it’s mostly a series of post-its on my office window telling me to do shit.

I wish I was better organized. I need to work on it. But, for now, that’s the system.

Finding your niche and actually doing the writing is the 101-level stuff. If you don’t get that down, you’re not going to get anywhere. Once you have that circus down, you get to the higher level stuff.

You start thinking about distribution platforms — a fancy way of saying “how you share your shit with people who want to see it.” You start thinking about revenue streams — a fancy way of saying “ways I can set up little rivers of money from different areas that run continually into my bank account.” You think about setting up a mailing list so you can keep all the people who like your stuff in touch with you.

It sounds scary. It sounds difficult. And it’s confusing as hell, considering that so many people are in the business of trying to sell you stuff that sounds like it might help you.

So, you’ve got to think it through. Be careful with your money. Take what works for you. Take all of the advice in the world with a grain of salt. And look at the evidence. If a whole bunch of people, independently of each other, are saying that X, Y, and Z worked for them, and they’re not trying to sell you the same product as a means of achieving X, Y, and Z, chances are there’s at least a grain of truth in the advice they’re giving.

So, you know, listen.