I get it. The Medium community is trying to be helpful. But sometimes it’s a little toxic.
Out of nowhere, people come and mark up your writing like they were the master editor of all master editors.
“Comma here, bad spelling here, missing ‘to’ here…”
Or they tell you that you shouldn’t hit a carriage return after every sentence, because, let’s face it, their reading preferences are far more important than anyone else’s.
Give me a better explanation. I’m willing to hear it. But I’ve read W3C’s website and what they have to say on the matter, and they say to use short sentences and paragraphs to improve usability and accessibility.
So, before you get too carried away, oh mighty overstudied grade three English teacher, let’s set a few things straight.
English is Not English
The first time I saw the word “mum” I was sure it was slang or a misspelling. But I did some research, and I stood corrected – that is the accurate spelling in the UK.
American, Canadian, and Australian English all have certain nuances. I know because as a ghostwriter of hundreds if not thousands of blog articles, I’ve had to navigate these differences at times.
Your cereal box AI writing assistant may have told you otherwise, but to the audience I was writing to, I was using the correct spellings.
Never, ever, ever become too reliant on machines to tell you what good writing is. That’s plain lazy and often objectively false. And it fails to consider the audience. Which brings me to my next point…
I have been in the music business for a long time. I write to my audience in a particular way, because of what I know about them. And I have received many compliments for my work.
Understand – I would not write the same way to people reading a book about psychology, for example.
So, if I sneak in a creative sentence or two, don’t be alarmed! It could be that I’m creating a connection with my audience, or it could also be that I’m intentionally getting my readers to stop and think about what I just said.
You can’t write the way everyone else does and expect to get different results. You’ve got to interrupt patterns to stand out.
There is more intentionality behind the way I write than you might be inclined to think. Again, I’m a seasoned ghostwriter for industries and niches too numerous to mention, so why shouldn’t that be the case?
On occasion, I have also been known to share a work in progress on Medium, pieces that have yet to be polished to the nth degree. I should not be made a martyr for that!
Writers Should be Allowed to Take Creative Liberties
What is English, if not one of the most flexible languages in existence? If we truly want our writing to stand out, why shouldn’t we let ourselves go a little crazy from time to time?
As history has shown, language is not some set-in-stone, set-and-forget thing. The way we talk and the words we use is continually evolving.
I had to look up “AF” and “SMH” when everyone and their dog started using these texting abbreviations like they were hotter than the latest Taylor Swift track. Because I could give a crap about trends.
The point is – what is considered an incorrect sentence one day suddenly becomes the most hauntingly beautiful the next.
I’m not saying that one should break the language. I think basic conventions are well worth following.
But don’t you let yourself go crazy from time to time? Haven’t you ever attempted to craft the weirdest sentence you could?
You should give it a try sometime. It’s liberating.
Look, I understand that some of you truly are trying to be helpful. I assure you your work is appreciated by some members of the community.
You may still want to consider who you’re criticizing before you do it though.
I am in no way saying I’m beyond reproach but as the self-published best-selling author of seven books and thousands of blog articles, I have a good handle on what works and what doesn’t.
(It’s amazing how many people don’t even understand the topics they’re writing about…)
I do enlist the help of a capable editor when I need it, but as an editor myself, I do have the ability to self-edit, and you won’t find too many writers who can do that well.
So, kindly find another article to lambast. I’m doing just fine, thank you very much.
May not be that big of an accomplishment.
As I was sharing with my friend over the horn the other day, Amazon KDP literally helps you choose categories that increase your chances of becoming a best-seller. And to some, that sounds mighty disingenuous.
And yes, to a degree, it’s possible to “game the system” (though not without sales). And I have heard of people buying up their book inventory at major stores to earn New York Times best-seller status.
But some are a little too quick to write off the achievement as insignificant (and I want to hit you – you’ll know why by the end of this).
Even so, I do understand. In a world where many (but not anyone) can become a best-seller, you may deem the achievement on par with eating a Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger from Wendy’s.
And I also understand that you have some arbitrary notion of what a best-selling author is supposed to look like.
(Let me assure you, we’re all human, no matter how big our talk… Still haven’t met anyone who doesn’t need to sit on the throne now and again. I don’t care how big their name. Go meet your hero – I dare you.)
But it takes at least one of two things (if not both) to become a best-seller, and most critics vastly underestimate what it takes to generate either of them.
1. A Great Book
A great book does not guarantee success, but it does increase your chances of making a good first impression and spreading through word of mouth. Which can contribute to factor #2, but we’ll get to that.
Let’s remember that most budding and aspiring authors start with junk. Their first book is either scrapped, or if it is published, it’s ignored or panned as worthless. No publisher would dare touch it with a double sized hockey stick. It’s very rare for an author to find their footing with their first work unless they’re willing to beat their head against the wall for a long, hard joyride through hell or they’re an unmitigated genius.
81% of people want to write a book someday. “Someday” means never. The other 19% are the only ones that ever get anywhere with it, and only a subset of them have written a published book.
Most people nowadays can’t be bothered to pick up a pen and paper to write a letter let alone sit down at a computer for months and years to pound out a slick manuscript. Not to mention the months and years spent editing and polishing the damn turd.
I haven’t even touched on the years and even decades it can take to understand what a great book is, which has far more to do with writing something people want to read than being factual, accurate, or data based. These things help, but we’ve all read boring textbooks, which are supposed to be objectively true. I think it may be unlawful for textbooks to be interesting, though, and the only reason they become best-sellers is because they are mandated by our daytime indoctrination camps for their slaves… I mean school and their students. Not because of clever marketing.
So, how easy is it to write a great book? You tell me.
2. An Engaged Audience
90% of self-published books sell less than 100 copies. Sure, if you’re in some obscure category, and you manage to sell a few dozen books in the first week or two, you may still achieve best-seller status.
But most people simply can’t rub enough of an audience together to read a damn blog post let alone motivate them to go to Amazon (where is that, in Brazil?), deadlift their wallet, delicately and meticulously extract their credit card from a dangerously small crack leading to the pits of hell, muster the final shred of generosity residing in some appendage or appendix or organ… OH MY GOD is this molasses going to take all day?!
Everybody wants to hustle. No one wants to build connections. Everyone wants a follower. No one wants to follow others, especially not some poor, unshaven, unwashed sop banging it out on a keyboard in a dark basement. Think about it.
Mike Winnet proved that indeed, you can sell a book filled with blank pages and still make it to best-seller status. But let’s be fair – Mike has nearly 100,000 YouTube subscribers, he spent a small fortune getting to that point, and he has a following that would gladly give him more than a minute of their time (I find him delightfully entertaining).
Exactly how easy is it to build an engaged audience that gives a crap about your shitty Kindle let alone how your weekend went? It’s easy to say it’s easy after the fact. It’s not.
It’s as Easy as One, Two, Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger
I’m not going to jump to the defense of other self-published best-selling authors and vouch for their work. But what I will say in my own self-interest (not self-defense) is this:
- I am a best-selling author, I wrote seven stupid tomes, and I have legitimately sold hundreds of the darn things. I have proof and I can show it to you. But book royalties won’t make you wealthy. I also have proof.
- I blog daily and expect very little in return. I’m pleasantly surprised when it leads to something.
- I’ve dedicated untold hours to “building a following” with mediocre results to show for it.
- I have thousands of articles, hundreds of podcast episodes and videos, and dozens of songs published. Whatever. No one cares. Stop talking about yourself. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Wait, am I still typing out loud…?
I think what we can conclude from all this is that:
- Growing a social media following is ass. It often ends up being about numbers and not engagement. And even as numbers grow, your engagement can shatter through your roof, pile drive through your bed, and continue to drill into the depths of god’s green earth into oblivion. For no apparent reason.
- It’s like the more stuff we do, the less people care, man. You’ve got to make things people will miss if they are gone. Otherwise, doing more is just doing more.
- There ain’t no school for critics. So, show me your best-sellers, bro.
- I need a hamburger. I should probably stop talking about them.