The Hardest Part

If you have a minute, I’d like to explain to you the hard thing about writing.

The hard thing about writing is not, as so many non-writers often assume, coming up with ideas. Ideas are easy. Ideas crop up like acne, shower you like a late summer rainfall in Louisiana, burst from your mind like a field full of dandelions. They’re not all great ideas, admittedly, but they’re not all terrible either. The bulk of them lie in that vast gulf in-between, an area of ideas which have potential, if only you have the time and inclination to pick out the best and cultivate them into something. Sometimes you have so many that you simply can’t figure out which one deserves your care and attention at the time. In those periods where I have been unproductive as a writer, this has sometimes been the culprit. I have no evidence, but if a writer came up with the term, I’m certain the phrase “a dime a dozen” was coined in reference to coming up with ideas. 

So coming up with an idea is not the hard part. Nor is writing the first draft. Well…relatively speaking, anyway. Writing a first draft IS hard. Looking at a blank page, as so many writers before me have observed, is intimidating as hell. The blank page is a vacuum demanding to be filled, and you’ve got to conquer your own demons of insecurity and self-doubt long enough to produce something to fill it. The blank page is an enemy that must be conquered, but sometimes you’re Rocky and sometimes you’re Apollo Creed. (In the first movie, that is. On good days, it’s more like Rocky II, and sometimes you’re Rocky and sometimes you’re Apollo Creed.) 

So writing a first draft is hard, but it’s not THE hard part. Nor is the revision process. Compared to a first draft, revision is easy. It’s taking what’s already there and making something out of it. First drafts are taking a chunk of marble and chipping it away into something recognizable. Revision is taking that chunk and polishing it, sanding it, and doing the detail work. It’s still work, but it’s not as exhausting or terrifying as the chipping away part, where at any moment you’re afraid you’re going to break it in the wrong place or crack what you’ve been chiseling for hours, days, weeks, and ruining the whole thing. It’s also,  in my experience anyway, less susceptible to being abandoned than that chunk of marble. Once you’ve gone this far it’s almost an insult NOT to go in and do the polishing work. Leaving it uncleaned is unthinkable. It’s a compulsion. It MUST be done.

The hard part of writing is the last part. Getting someone to read it.

There are thousands of books published every year. Millions of existing books fill the libraries and bookstores. Every single one of them is competition. How do I (and by “I”, I’m referring to all hypothetical writers in the world) convince you (and by “you,” I mean the person reading this with an Amazon tab open a page away) to read MY book?

Publishers are not necessarily the answer to this question. It’s true that they have greater resources than a self-publishing writer like myself, but it’s also true that they often decline to USE them. Except for celebrity writers or people who have already proven themselves capable of selling a million copies, publishers often simply slide the bulk of their authors into a pulsating mass of backlist, concentrating on that person on that reality show that was super popular last season and for some reason has decided they want to write a cookbook. 

So most writers are left trying to find the audience on their own, and that is not easy. If anything, it’s become more difficult than ever.

“But Blake,” you say, oblivious to the fact that you’re talking out loud to your computer or your phone or perhaps to some stranger on the bus depending on where you are when you read this, “doesn’t the existence of the internet make it easier? There are more avenues than ever, more places to spread your message, more ways to get your voice out there.”

Well sure there are, absolutely. And those avenues exist for everyone. Which is exactly the problem. More ways to get your voice out there has led to an exponential increase in voices attempting to be heard. There are millions of voices shouting for attention now, millions of people with something to say, and millions of people deserving the chance to say it. But no reader can possibly find them ALL, there are just too many. How do you stand out in the crowd?

If you’ve read this far expecting me to reveal the answer, to pull the sheet back from the table with a flourish, putting the solution to this problem on display, I’m sorry to disappoint you. That’s not what I’m doing here. The reason I’m writing this is because I don’t KNOW what the answer is. Writing this is a little exercise in therapy for me, trying to explain my feelings on this problem, knowing full well I don’t have an answer.

In a way, I envy those writers who have no desire to publish. There are a great many of them out there, I know. I see them in writer’s groups on Facebook, on writing subreddits, in a thousand other places talking about their WIP (work in progress), their FIC (fiction – often fanfiction, actually), their MCs (main characters) and their thousand stories they’ve begun and abandoned as soon as the next one of those oh-so-ubiquitous IDEAS has clawed its way into their skulls. And for them, it’s OKAY if the work never goes any further than their hard drive. I know they exist, I share memes about them on Wednesdays. They’re happy, it seems, just to create and leave their creation in a bubble. I do not understand this mindset, but I envy it, because these people seem to be satisfied with their station in the literary universe.

For people like me, that’s not enough. I want other people to read my work. I want people to tell me what they think. I want to hear from strangers about what I’ve done, I want to know that somebody enjoyed what I’ve been bleeding into my keyboard all these months. I don’t need to change the world. I don’t need someone to tell me my books are their reason for living. I don’t want people to name their children after my characters (although if you do, I guarantee you that your little tot will be the only “Malefactory” in their grade). I just want to know someone liked it.

This is why writers plead with you for reviews and shares. The websites that sell books (mostly Amazon, but they’re not the only one) all use one of those funky fresh “algorithm” things to decide what gets promoted and, similar to the publishers I mentioned before, they give more weight to those writers who are already popular and need less help. Getting sales, obviously, boosts your presence in the algorithm. But so does getting reviews. When a writer asks you to go on Amazon and review their work, it’s not because we desperately need that ego boost of someone telling the world we’re the reincarnation of Hemingway, it’s because we know that if you DON’T do it, no one else will hear about our work AT ALL.

So if you really like a book, if you really enjoy the story that some poor writer has spent countless hours carving out of a block of solid marble, the absolute best thing you can do is go online (Amazon or wherever you bought it, or even both) and write just a few quick sentences telling the rest of the world that you thought it was good. The second best thing is to buy several thousand copies, but most of us will settle for the first one. If you’ve got the time – and here in the U.S. it’s Labor Day, so I know a lot of you have the day off – pick up those last two or three books you really enjoyed, cruise over to Amazon, and leave a review. 

Your favorite writer will thank you.

Blake M. Petit is a writer, teacher, and dad from Ama, Louisiana. His current writing project is the superhero adventure series Other People’s Heroes: Little Stars, a new episode of which is available every Wednesday on Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform. Reviews welcome.

One thought on “The Hardest Part

  1. I feel you. And working for the company I do, which provides me a glimpse behind the curtain of how books are sold and promoted, only deepens my feelings toward how authors get out there and promote their work amidst the noisy static of the masses.

    I can’t speak in much detail to my own experience. I write under a pen name as part of a sub-sub-subculture where I at least have a very particular audience that I know I can market directly to. I happened upon a niche audience whose tastes align somewhat with things that I want to explore in my writing. Knowing where to find people who will read what I want to write for them definitely helps motivate me. I won’t say sales are huge, but knowing the readers are out there helps motivate me.

    The downside is that it keeps me from branching out, from writing something else. I don’t write the ideas that I would put my own name on, because then I would be in that same dilemma — where do I take it, how do I sell it, who reads it? Knowing I will have an audience helps motivate me to write (although I still encounter stumbling blocks of all kinds and am currently in a slump) but it also means that there are limits to which ideas I work on, and some of my favourites languish while I look for fresh material for “my audience.” That’s the trade-off I’ve agreed to so far, and I don’t hate it too much, because even if I’m targeting to a particular audience, I never write something I DON’T want to write.

    Anyway. If Kindle Vella were available in Canada I’d be reading Little Stars and hopefully touting it.

    Like

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