How To Succeed At Writing

What nobody’s telling you

Sometimes other writers reach out to ask me:

“What’s the secret to writing?”

And the first answer is: ARE YOU EVEN WRITING?

If you want to succeed at writing but you’re not writing, all I have to say is: are you being serious?

The fact that this even has to be stated makes me want to slam my own hand in a drawer, and yet I still find myself baffled by the number of people who don’t. So make sure you do.

But the bigger question is: ARE YOU ANY GOOD?

And that’s the real secret that nobody is saying.

Look. There’s a lot I’m not good at.

I can’t make popcorn, I white-girl dance, I only speak one language, I’m clumsy, I have a terrible memory and forget half the stuff that’s said to me (or even happens to me in real life), I’ve got my foot in my mouth half the time…

…and I’m just so-so at Instagram.

I don’t innately “get” Instagram, but I know I should be on it, so guess what I did when I built my first business account?

I researched. I found best practices (post at least once a day, post at the right time of day, comment on other people’s shit, follow other people, use hashtags, use filters, don’t use filters, etc) and I pretty much blindly implemented them without thinking.

Im not saying they didn’t work — my posts were much better afterwards than before.

But I never excelled at Instagram.

Why?

Because my posts just weren’t that good.

And despite all the resources on Instagram out there, almost none of them will tell you the most obvious step:

Be good at taking photos.

Because if you’re not taking good photos, but you’re still trying to implement all the best-practice techniques, you’re gonna run yourself into the ground.

And again, I’m no Instagram master, so yeah, maybe I’m the asshole here. But check out these two random pictures of two different strangers’ food and tell me which account you’d put your money on — regardless of anything else (post timing, hashtags, etc.)

My apologies to stranger on the left — I’m sure that dish was delicious.

If you want to optimize for slop, go for it. But if you ask me, you’d be better off taking better photos.

And it’s the same for writing.

How to be good: WRITE WELL.

The equivalent to “take a good photo!” on Instagram — by far the most important thing.

Are you even any good?

Good writing isn’t made in tags and stats.

Good writing is something else entirely.

Do I think I’m the greatest writer in the world? No, I do not.

But I also don’t care — because it doesn’t matter.

You don’t have to be “The Best.” Yeah, there are several heart-stopping writers out there whose meaty work makes my sides yearn and my jaw ache it’s so fucking good, but there’s also room enough not to compare. So somewhere amongst them, or betwixt them, or gazing adoringly up at them just like you, here I am to offer my opinion.

You don’t even have to be a writer everyone likes! (More on that below.) But you do have to be passably good.

Secret #1: HAVE something to say

Most writing is bad because the writer says absolutely nothing.

Readers aren’t even sure who’s speaking. (Is this even a person? Nobody knows! The work is lifeless and limp.)

If you approach writing like it’s some checklist to follow, you’re gonna have a bad time. And this is one of the biggest reasons so many people do.

Others agree:

“You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald
“You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald
“So you want to be a writer. If it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything, don’t do it… if you have to sit for hours…searching for words, don’t do it.” — Charles Bukowski
“It’s no accident that bad writers also have nothing to say. Having something to say seems to inspire people.” — Robert McKee
“There are two kinds of authors: those who write for the subject’s sake, and those who write for writing’s sake. While the one have had thoughts or experiences which seem to them worth communicating, the others want money.” — Arthur Schopenhauer

“How do I know what to write?”

This is one of the weirdest questions I get asked. Because like, wow, bud.

The answer is: Whatever’s in your head. Whatever matters most. Whatever you’re thinking. Whatever is begging to be put on paper. Whatever is hanging on you as you try to go about your day. Whatever is pulling you away from meetings. Whatever is tripping you while you walk. Whatever is distracting you from everyday life. Whatever is THERE. I mean, damn.

If you don’t know what to write, then why the hell would you want to be a writer?

Like… as I said, I’m an uncoordinated buffoon. So you don’t see me trying to cut it as a backup dancer. For good reason.

Be honest with yourself.

Secret #2: SAY IT!

And I mean really say it — say it well.

As Mary Karr wrote,

“Most memoirs fail because of voice. It’s not distinct enough to sound alive and compelling.”

And as Charles Bukowski wrote,

“Don’t be dull and boring… the libraries of the world have yawned themselves to
sleep over your kind. don’t add to that.”

Do not operate from a place of fear

Anthony Moore put out a great piece in which he said:

“Unlearn your constant need to be liked.”

Just four months into writing on Medium, a total stranger on the internet called me their “least favorite writer and person in the world.”

(This account is private now.)

I wasn’t even mad. That’s amazing.

And that’s not even rare!

People disagree with me all the time. There are probably like 100 points in this post alone where I’ll piss someone off, and I know I can always count on a few angry comments. People get upset at my message or my four-letter words (or, conversely, they comment just to say: “fuck you.” )

And these are the easy ones!

But to all of them, I’m just like: hokey dokey, dawg!! Because:

Readers are the ones wandering around YOUR house as a writer — not the other way around! They can leave any time they want.

You write what you need to say.

And when you write for the right reasons, you won’t care about some rando’s remarks.

Not everyone will like your work!

There are plenty of very successful writers out there that I find drab as plaster. I won’t name them, but they exist. And I don’t so much “hate” their work as I “gently set it down and push it away like a cup of cold chamomile tea.

Does this mean anything empirical about their work? No. Tons of people adore them. We are two ships passing in the dark, and it does not matter.

If you keep operating with the fear of what everyone else is gonna think, you’re gonna paint yourself into a boring, beige corner.

Operate from a place of love

Here’s a secret: it’s not about “ignoring the haters,” or “learning to be okay with them” or doing anything in relation to them — or living in a vacuum.

It’s about: VALUING YOURSELF.

If you care enough about you and your experience and your being and yourperson and your life, then: measuring yourself up against some ass-hat on the internet or caring about some unhappy stranger’s opinion more than your own? Honey, for real? That’s a literal no-brainer.

Secret #3: LIKE saying it.

Writers don’t write because they like the “idea” of being a writer.

They write because it’s their “shit sandwich.”

Writers write because we like writing — not because we’re trying to win fake internet points. I’ve been writing short stories since elementary school, I minored in English, and I had a Wordpress blog with like 8 followers (my own mother wasn’t even one) throughout my 20s. I didn’t care.

Writers just want to write.

Secret #4: Say it well.

e.g., grammar and spelling.

But of the four rules, this is the one you can get lax on and still be okay. (Proof: me.) But you can never, ever make it by upholding only this one and letting the other three “secrets” slide.

And “everything else?” It’s NOT “the secret”

i.e., Titles, post length, SEO, process, and all that other bullshit

Look…

Sometimes writers wanna have these lengthy discussions about “secrets” and “strategies” and “behind the scenes” and I’m just like “dear gahd pls no”(gag me with a spoon; no thank you!)

And I’m probably the jerk here. Because (see above) I never set out to “guerrilla” this thing. So, yeah, maybe if I’d been doing something other than “just writing” I’d have more to say about it, and maybe I’m missing out on “a lot” by not having it. Who’s to say?!

Except for the fact that:

lol my #1 goal is and always has been: to write.

I have things I want to say. I’m not afraid to say them. And I enjoy it.

That’s it.

You wanna find resources on SEO and titles and post length and timing? Go for it! I’m not your gal, and I’d never say that should be your focus — especially if you’re optimizing slop — but there are plenty out there if that’s your route.

“But… what matters the most?”

Well, champ — damn. You got an entire post on there not being short cuts and you want a short cut?

Cool — the secret short cut to writing success is: really have something to say. And then want to say it.