Often I will hear someone pine for the “days when a writer could just write.” When they didn’t have to worry about platform or marketing.
The thing about that is, a writer can always just write. Write for the joy of the process. To get their thoughts down. To grow as a human being. To create what hasn’t been before.
For many who write, that is enough. Tucked away in notebooks and computers are their words. They write simply to write. And I think that is a beautiful thing.
But, that may not be enough for you. You may have a bigger desire to have your writing reach readers. That can be for many reasons — to help, inspire, validate, and fill the world with stories and information.
In your efforts to share your work, you may have found some roadblocks. Ideas that fall flat. A silent reaction to what you share. Today I want to encourage you to keep going. To keep creating and keep sharing. This is the work of the writer. I want to illustrate this with four examples below, from different creative fields. Let’s dig in…
Success! (With Your 99th Idea.)
This week I shared my interview with children’s book author Andrea J. Loney on my podcast. I can’t even express how inspiring this conversation was. (go listen!)
She talked about the value of collaboration, persistence, and how her experience working at a circus, in theater, stand-up comedy, and writing for TV helped her realize her dream of being a children’s book author.
Her first published book was her 11th completed manuscript. I want you to imagine those 10 other ideas that she had first, still sitting on a hard drive somewhere. Her next published book? Not her 11th or 12th manuscript, but her 19th.
She said that this was also the 99th idea she had written down for a children’s book (she does keep a list.) The result? Earlier this year that book, Double Bass Blues, received a Caldecott Honor.
She described the path to get here, when she started taking the idea of being a children’s book author more seriously:
“I joined so many groups, I met so many people, I put myself out there. I read hundreds of picture books, at least 20 books a week. I also read Middle Grade and YA novels, at least 2 a month. I took courses and joined a few different critique groups until I found one that worked for me.”
Her road to success began with connection. She kept creating and kept sharing.
A Personal Message to Individual Fans
I’ve been mildly obsessed with the site cameo.com. If you haven’t heard if it, it’s where you can pay to have celebrities record personal videos to you or a friend. Want Stanley from The Office to record a 2 minute video wishing your spouse a happy birthday? For a few hundred dollars, you can make that happen.
Want LeVar Burton to do give you a pep talk? You can do that too.
My friend, author/illustrator Lori Richmond, recently bought one of these for her sister’s birthday. Who did she choose? (Drumroll please….) None other than Debbie Gibson. If you are like me, it may have been years since you last thought of Debbie, perhaps decades since you heard her music.
But I have to say, when I saw the video, I was blown away. Debbie shows up in this video. She recorded a personal message for Lori’s sister, sings a song, and gives some parting words. This is the video.
I think Lori said it was the best money she ever spent on a present her entire life, and her sister was blown away.
Why am I talking about this to you, the writer who wants to ensure their work finds a readership? Because watching Debbie’s video, I couldn’t help but feel here is this creator who continues to do the work to connect with people. In doing so, her message is spreading. I mean, here I am gushing about how amazing her videos are.
I can easily see a celebrity scoffing at this idea of doing individual videos for fans. They may worry that by doing personalized videos is not why they got into creative work. They may ask, “Is this selling out?” Or they could worry about 1,000 other questions.
Yet when you watch the Debbie video, you see a pro. She uses Lori’s sister’s name again and again, speaks directly to the camera, has great lighting, knows how to give the entire video a narrative arc. This is a skill she developed.
Even though she can’t perform concerts the way she would hope to this year, she is showing up to connect with her audience. She is using tools we all have — the stuff that bonds us as people — simply “seeing” each other.
Investing in In-Person Events in a Quaratine World
I saw a couple of posts from artist Katie Daisy where she was beginning to look for a small rural farm to buy so she can do in-person events. What?! Why would she do this in the middle of a pandemic, when that is the exact type of thing that has become complicated?
You see, she has this amazing career that can continue to thrive amidst lockdown. She paints and shares her work on social media to 100,000+ followers, and she sells prints of her work (and other products) on Etsy where she has had more than 100,000 sales.
Yet, she wants to invest in new ways to engage her audience. One that will come with a sizable investment of her time and money. She has already asked her followers if they would show up to in-person events/classes if she held them. She is envisioning a flower farm, studio, and shop that would become a place for her art to connect with her audience.
Here is a creator who is looking beyond this moment to invest in deeply human ways to come together around art and creativity.
Appreciating the Value of Print in a Digital World
Awhile back on my podcast, I interviewed Brian Heiler who runs a blog and community online that is obsessed with… 1970s and 80s toys. Yep.
During this year, as many people were pushed past their limits and dealing with more anxiety than they could handle, I saw something special happen in this community Brian created. Again and again, someone would post a message in the Facebook Group that this community of people nostalgic for vintage toys has been their special little escape. The one place they could connect with like-minded people, and appreciate the simple joys of life.
So this year, when mailing things between countries has been more complicated than usual, when money is tight for many people, when the internet allows you to reach thousands of people at a low cost, what did Brian invest in?
A print magazine. My copy arrived the other day:
This blew me away. I believe most (if not all) of the other big toy collector magazines went out of business years ago. Yet, here is Brian moving his online community into a print magazine.
I mean, look how much work this was for him! And in what other magazine will you find a huge image of a Mr. Spock punching bag?!
This is Brian investing in deepening the connection to his core audience. Investing in the full human-centered experience of this hobby: holding something in your hands, and appreciating it without a screen.
Everything I shared above is dramatically more work than simply posting a status update to social media and hoping for Likes. And to be honest, these ideas are not necessarily specific tactics you should try. But if you are wondering if it’s worth the effort to connect with more people, perhaps to use social media or send a newsletter, consider the the intentions of these creators. Brian who is printing a magazine, Debbie who is doing hundreds of individual videos, Katie who is trying to buy a farm, and Andrea who found success at idea #99 — and consider that making an effort to connect with your people may be worth it.