3 mistakes writers make that hold us back

because the little voice in your head leads you astray…

Linda Caroll
Dec 11, 2019 · 6 min read

little ice cream shop in Venezuela made the Guinness Book for the most ice cream flavors. 900 in total, although they’d rotate them, 60 at a time. Chocolate, strawberry and vanilla were always on the menu, of course.

But also?

Weird flavors like trout, mushroom and salmon. Pink peppers. Even Viagra.

The flavors were made with real ingredients, so when you ordered spaghetti and cheese ice cream, there’s bits of real spaghetti and cheese. Lovely waffle cone with bits of noodles sticking out like a shaved head growing out. And bloody smears of spaghetti sauce.

I shudder. It sounds gross to me.

Obviously, people liked it because it was in the rotation. Maybe kids? A lot of kids like things for no other reason than because they gross out the adults. Then again, some adults also like to gross people out. So who knows.

Maybe spaghetti ice cream is like Harry Potter. Made it for the kids, but the adults stepped in and said ‘scuse me, I like it too.

And yes, the Viagra ice cream had real Viagra in it.

Avocado quickly became a crowd favorite, and a good thing, too because it took the owner 50 kilos of ice cream to get the recipe right. That surprised me. I like avocados in salad, but not sure I’d like to try avocados in ice cream.

A lot of people must have, because avocado made the “permanent” menu. Like, along with vanilla and chocolate, it was that popular.

That ice cream store has a lot in common with writing.

3 Mistakes Writers Make…

Writing works best if you understand how truly subjective taste is.

I might read something and think it was great. You might think it trite or boring. My favorite might be your trout ice cream.

The same applies to everyone. Of course, you know this. You’re not dumb. Who doesn’t know taste is subjective, right? But we don’t do so well at applying it, because knowing and being able to apply are not the same.

That little voice whispering in your head leads you astray…

There’s a simple way to tell if you’re stuck in “knowing, but not applying.” Know how?

You make 3 dumb mistakes.

1. You worry that “people” won’t like your work…

This is real easy to do if you’re writing, but no one is reading.

Or worse, you’re getting views, but they bail out. Don’t even finish reading, much less clap. Easy to look at that and think wow, they don’t like my work.

I have a story with a 42% read rate. For me, that’s ouch. Normally, my read rate is over 70%. If the audience is big, it might drop into the 60%. But a 42% read rate — for me, that’s a real stinker.

A pretty normal reaction could be to think “they didn’t like it” — and maybe that’s true. Maybe it just wasn’t one of my better pieces. No one knocks it out of the park every time.

I read that in baseball, the guy with the most home-runs is also the guy with the most strike-outs. That’s pretty much how writing works, too.

So maybe the piece stunk.

But maybe I had a bad title/story match. Maybe people clicked it expecting something other than what it was and that’s why they didn’t finish reading.

Maybe I got too far out of my lane and wrote about something that wasn’t a good fit for the people who usually read my work.

There’s never just one reason anything fails. Ask someone who’s divorced. Haha.

As soon as you wonder if “people” like your writing, there’s another question.

Which people?

The ones that like vanilla or the ones that like trout?

7.7 billion people in the world, 90 million unique users every month on Medium, it’s fair to say they don’t all prefer the same flavor.

Asking or wondering if “they” like you is a sign that you’re not applying the theory of subjectivity to your own writing.

“You can’t please everyone, and you can’t make everyone like you.” — Katie Couric

“If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.” — Margaret Thatcher

2. You try to be vanilla

Often, writers who are worried about being “liked” try to write what the “crowd” wants, or what they think the crowd wants. This never works.

You can stick all the vanilla beans you want in a bowl of trout ice cream, it isn’t ever going to taste vanilla. Know what I mean?

You can’t hide the freak flag.

Some people are born vanilla. Or, more likely, made vanilla by a system that teaches conformity more than anything else. If you’re not one of them now, might as well accept that you’re never going to be.

Hiding the freak flag never helped. If you’re not vanilla, you can’t pretend to be. Don’t try harder to fit in. Try harder not to fit in.

Do you know how many places we can get vanilla? When you’re a vanilla writer, there’s much more competition. You can’t stand out from the crowd while trying to fit into it. Don’t try.

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
Oscar Wilde

3. You’re not looking for “your” audience.

If you’re all tied up in whether “they” like you or if you “fit in” it becomes so mentally consuming you don’t stop to say “Hey — where’s MY people at?

Because your people are out there.

Everyone’s people are out there. Everyone tells you to pick “popular” topics to reach the widest number of readers. That’s a fast path to despair.

The better way is to hunt down your people.

There’s a lady out there who’s making a living writing Yeti porn. Making.a.living. You think your personal style is weirder than that?
If she has an audience, trust me — you have an audience.

A lot of writers are so terrified of publications that they find a couple that accept them and stop there. And it’s not just on Medium. They do it on Facebook and Instagram, too.

Just write and post to whoever follows. And isn’t that some woe is me crap? Poor me, no one likes me, I’ll take what I get.

Last year I was at the fair and saw a woman marching from the concession to the tables with three little kids in tow. She was carrying a tray of food and the kids were chanting like drones — take what you git, and don’t pitch a fit.

I laughed. Knee jerk reaction. But my second thought was what a sad way of thinking for little kids to absorb. Take what you get. And isn’t that what writers often do?

Damn! Go find your audience. Hunt them down like it’s a people safari. Find the people who write to the same audience. Look where they’re writing. Submit to those publications. Comment on their stories.

Find the people who think like you and you’ve found your audience.

“Friendship is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? ”
C.S. Lewis

But wait! What if your writing does kind of suck?

Well — no one ever got better at a thing by doing it less. No one ever said the best way to be a better painter or sculptor was to paint or sculpt less. Why would writing be any different?

If you were to take a class in painting, you’d learn through doing. That’s how you learn to be a better writer, too. You write. You read it out loud and see where you falter reading — that’s where others will fumble, too.

You don’t need to wonder what “they” want to read. You don’t need to be more vanilla. Find your readers and sharpen your writing skills and you’ll do just fine. That’s a promise.

Thanks for reading! ❤

Weekly marketing and writing tips: https://lindac.substack.com/

The Partnered Pen

MPP friends writing about life, love, and everything else in between together.

Linda Caroll

Written by

Design and marketing. Get writing and marketing tips on Fridays at https://lindac.substack.com/

The Partnered Pen

MPP friends writing about life, love, and everything else in between together.

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