Who Gets to be a Writer?

You need to establish credibility first

Photo by Drew Coffman on Flickr

Calling yourself a writer doesn’t make you one.

Neither does typing out every thought that goes through your mind just to feed the algorithm. Without editorial standards and intellectual probity, you run the risk of alienating the very people whose attention you seek to capture.

You’re also contributing to the creation of yet more digital detritus readers will be forced to wade through. Filler copy that exists for the sole purpose of monetizing every brain fart lowers platform quality. It can irritate otherwise mild-mannered folks who wanted something good to read and were faced with an unexpected deluge of garbage instead.

Attention is a gift, not an entitlement. When you create value for readers, validation will eventually happen.

But demanding it or trying to hijack it by any means necessary is disingenuous.

There is a thin line between sharing earnest distress and bombarding the internet with overwrought pathos designed to garner pity clicks. Although not all readers will be aware of the difference, you can’t fool professionals. It’s easy to spot when someone is hamming up a story and padding it.

If your goal is to break into professional writing this is not the way to go. You need to acquire some solid editorial standards.

And no, having them won’t dilute your voice nor will they make you sound any less genuine.

But they will help you showcase your story under the best possible light.

You do not write for yourself.

Even when writing is the tool you use to rebuild a life from scratch. This is what I’m currently doing, using my personal narrative as material.

And yet, writing is service, not self-serving.

When we write, we are weaving the human narrative together, one personal thread at a time.

The page is the place where we come to terms with some of the hardest, most challenging things ever lived and we should treat it with respect.

Other people’s eyeballs aren’t vanity mirrors. Greed and self-interest should never be allowed to stand in the way of furthering our common understanding of what it means to be a human in the world.

These days, writing is no longer imprisoned within the establishment or guarded by gatekeepers. Now that everyone can express themselves freely, we are reasserting writing’s communicativeness, together.

As a result, the global conversation has become a lot more interesting; there’s no need to wait for a publishing opportunity anymore.

The internet has leveled the publishing playing field and removed barriers to entry, granting everyone a megaphone. People traditionally marginalized, ignored, and underserved by mainstream media can now finally be heard.

This is how we build bridges between us, chipping away at solipsism and stigma, one personal essay at a time.

But not everyone who types out words on the internet is seeking to make the world a more compassionate place.

Or indeed build bridges.

Some are more into empire building with themselves at the center, and readers are a means to an end, an abstract number, a dollar figure rather than fellow humans.

Those typists treat readers as an afterthought rather than with the deference owed to those who effectively pay our wages.

Instead, self-aggrandizing personal myths emerge.

Under the pretense of inspiring others, empire builders expound ad nauseam upon their own merits.

Soon, earnest creative nonfiction transmogrifies into barefaced personal branding and aggressive marketing.

The end result reads like an advertorial but for a human rather than consumer goods. This can leave readers confused as we ask ourselves what we’re being sold beside someone else’s delusion of grandeur.

While storytelling is a powerful marketing tool that can work wonders for brands and products, humans are neither.

Calling yourself a writer should never take precedence over producing quality content.

This vague job title isn’t an instant seal of quality nor does it grant anyone immediate editorial expertise. Implying so is dishonest, misleading, and goes a long way toward discrediting an entire profession.

Writing as a job already suffers from a less than favorable reputation. Many don’t view it as real work, and those who do but have no experience of it often belittle writing as self-indulgent.

Because they have no idea how arduous it is.

Typing on the internet for five minutes does not a professional writer make, especially if you only ever write about yourself and how great you are. You may be standing alongside bona fide professionals and pretending you already belong but you haven’t paid your dues yet. You haven’t put in the work or acquired the experience.

This shows in your defensiveness and inability to deal with feedback and negative comments.

To achieve any kind of long-term credibility and hone a distinct voice, the ability to listen is key. However mean-spirited, a comment from a reader should always give you pause for thought. Ask yourself what prompted them to write it.

And if you can’t figure it out, ask them and a mutually enriching conversation might just ensue.

We don’t write at readers, we write to and for readers.

Never disparage, manipulate, or bite the hand that feeds you.

It’s also worth remembering that not everything we write deserves publishing. Discerning readers can tell the difference between a dashed off first draft and a piece someone has put their brains, guts, and heart into. Without credibility, you might make money but you’ll never succeed. But when your words resonate with readers in any way, trust you will be compensated because the internet has made this possible.

Effort, skills, and heart always show; quality writing speaks for itself.

It doesn’t need a tagline or a sales pitch.

I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.

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