Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Q: Do I want readers, or do I want to write? A: I'M GOING WITH JERKSTORE! (ISWG)

Hey, before getting to the post, a plug: If you are a writer, I am going to pay you to write. Click the "WE PAY FOR STORIES" tab for details, but the gist of it is: send me your story, poem, etc. and I will PAY you. MONEY. 

Now, on to the post. 

This is an Insecure Writers Support Group Post.  Find out more about that group of fine (if insecure) writers by clicking here.

Alex Cavanaugh, who lives inside the Internet and has no corporeal existence, the other day exchanged tweets with me.  (You can follow me on Twitter by clicking here, and that way you will never miss out on my trenchant insights into how the pizza I am eating for breakfast tastes.)(Hint: DELICIOUS).

Alex noted that I'd signed up for the A-to-Z challenge this year, and asked if I was ready for "short posts and lots of comments."

I responded that I'd try to keep the posts short-ish, and Alex said:

We warn everyone that long posts are often skipped. And commenting and finding new blogger friends is what it's all about!

This is not the first time I have heard that. This isn't even the first time I have responded to someone saying that short posts are necessary to get people to read your blog/story/book/poem/recipe/whatever.  A little under two years ago, I posted "{TS:DR}: Why Not Use ALL The Words," a post about the best long stories I could think of.

So I'm on the record as liking long posts, and that's a good thing because even my short posts eventually become long posts.  Because I've tried over the years to post short things from time-to-time, for a couple of reasons, in this order:

1. Sometimes I don't have time for longer posts but I like to write something every day.

2. Limits can help make you more creative, as I have known for a while and recently re-read in an article I retweeted to my followers on Twitter. (See why you should follow me? It's not all pizza all the time.)(It is, though, quite literally, pizza 99% of the time).

This is an image of something called "Space Pizza Cat."
I am simultaneously horrified and ravenous.
There should be a word for that emotion.

Note that neither of those reasons are "Because more people will read it."  I have long ago rejected the idea of tailoring my writing so expressly to what people will want to read, and here are all my reasons why (in order of importance):

1. I write because it is fun.

I don't make a living at writing. And in my job where I do make a living, which, ironically, involves a lot of writing, (I'm a lawyer, I sue people) I have to write in a certain way: I have word limits and subjects chosen for me and I have to be businesslike (mostly: recently I managed to quote Shakespeare in a brief), which means that it's not as much fun to write that stuff.

I, like most people don't make a living as a writer. And like most people who write but don't make a living at it, I would love to make a living as a writer.  That's why when I first started writing I was more serious and less funnish about writing, and tried lots of different things to see if  I could actually earn my living writing.  I wrote query letters by the dozens to agents and publishers. I read writing sites and looked into freelance writing and thought about becoming a contract writer for one of those series of books like The Hardy Boys where you just write other people's stories and I read books on writing and tried their tips and otherwise pursued writing very much the way I had pursued law school: it was a job.

Also, it was no fun and also at the same time I had a job already, which meant I was doing two jobs.

While I was doing all that, though, I was also practicing writing and blogging and doing my own thing, so while offstage I was trying the scriptwriting methods recommended by Save The Cat! and working on outlining and getting the jillionth rejection letter back and moving onto the next agent on my list, I also wrote and published stories on blogs and tried essays and fun things on blogs and then along came the Kindle and suddenly whatever you wanted could be self-published, and the more I realized I was not having fun writing the kind of stuff and in the way that everyone said would make me money, I was having fun just posting stupid stories about how I ate pizza for 24 hours straight, or serializing a story about a lesbian zombie who goes to Hell and gets rescued by a Valkyrie, and more than just having fun, I was starting to get comments from people and make a little money at it.

I make money, from my writing, mostly from advertising. That's a topic for another day, but it plays in to this topic, because as I kept writing the stuff I wanted to write the way I wanted to write about it -- I once did an entire series of posts on why it is that two car blinkers never synch up, have you ever noticed that? -- I got some people, not a lot, but some, to comment on my blog or review my book, and that led to advertisers paying me a bit more for advertising on my blog, and that allowed me to expand a little more and do a little more writing, because now I was making more money at it so I could justify devoting a little more time to it, and before I knew it, I had a niche.

Not a publishing empire, not yet, but a niche, at least, where I was writing what I liked and getting some extra spending money for it and enjoying myself and getting some feedback from people.

(Comments are almost equivalent to cash, for me. While I like getting paid for writing, if I had the choice between you giving me $1 for this post or leaving a comment, I'd choose both.)

Along the way, I still read how shorter posts were necessary to get or keep viewers, though, and as writing was by then becoming a bit less hobby and a bit more moneymaker, I tried.

I tried, I really did.  I introduced "Off The Top Of My Head Lists," lists that were supposed to be done in, like, 30 seconds, just to keep them short.  And the first few were short, but then they grew.  So I came up with other shorter ideas: I did Semidaily Lists and Minibests and Photo Essays and Pictures Of The Day and I focused on writing short stories, and what happened with those is they grew longer over time, as I began not just writing them but writing about them and writing more into them until one day I wrote a short story and it turned out to be about 45 pages long.



That's not the only time I did that. My 500-word entry (supposedly!) into a Christmas story contest grew into an entire book.  Well, actually, a series of books, as there are three so far (although only one has been published).

About a month ago I started writing one morning a short story that was inspired by a comment from Andrew Leon (seriously) and within a matter of days it grew to a 100+ novel.

So when the A-to-Z Challenge came along again and Robin guilted me into signing up for it again (I did it once before, with minimal compliance with the rules) and I had my interchange with Alex, I had to wrestle again with the same thing I've wrestled with all the time, that being this question:

Do I want readers, or do I want to write?

I wrote the question that way deliberately because I bet 103% of you (some of you are cheating, knock it off) answered it the way I initially answered it: I want both.

But if you, like me, stop to think about the question and answer it seriously, choose one or the other, you will find out why you really do this.

Do you want readers?

Or do you want to write?

Treat it like a game: What if you couldn't have both? What if you made a deal with Loki: You would be the most famous writer in the world-- the universe, the multiverse!-- but you would never write a single word. Rumplestiltskin would sneak in at night and do it for you, and you would be famous and rich (I'd like those in reverse order, please) and get interviewed and have Ryan Gosling play your main character in all the movies and there would be lunchboxes based on your books, all the trappings of modern day success.

But you wouldn't write the stories. And you would by virtue of the deal be prohibited from writing a single word: so much as dream up a plotline while you are driving (I once did a series of stories that I dictated on the way to and from work) and you are cast into some sort of punishment.

Would you want that?

The alternative being you can write anything you want but nobody will ever read it.

Which would you choose, if you had to choose?

For me, the choice has been made long ago: I would write without an audience.

It's not that I stopped caring whether I had readers. I care, very much. I WANT READERS. I want you to stick around.

But I don't want readers at the expense of my writing.  If you're going to read what I write, it's because you like what I write, not because I wrote what you like.  There's a big difference.

That may mean a lot of people don't read my posts or my books.  Well, sucks for them.  It means more work for me, as I've got to work harder to find an audience for things that might not appeal to the mass audience.  Again, sucks for them.  From time to time things break out of the culture that shouldn't seem to be popular but they are.  Arrested Development.  Lost.  Um... other stuff? It's early as I write this.

My point is, those things found an audience and made money and their authors got rich and famous.  Other things didn't, true: Andy Richter, one of my favorite actors, has never really caught on.  Others maybe haven't yet? Nick Harkaway, my newest favorite writer, writes long loopy sentences in books that are amazingly complicated and, yes, long.  I don't know if he's a bestseller yet, but he should be.

I have in the past 7 or 8 months been experimenting with other ways to make a living writing, to get more readers and more money.  I've started publishing others.  You should definitely submit stuff to me.  I've started submitting some stuff I write to other publishers, and entering contests.

(I've also, yes, Andrew Leon, started trying to edit more.)

With some (okay, two) successes, so far.

This, you might say, is where I began: trying to get my stuff published by others or noticed through the system that is already in place.  But here's the difference: this time, I'm doing it my way.  I write a story, any story, any way I want to, and then I go looking around for a publisher or magazine or someone who might want to publish it.  If they don't want to, well, sucks for them: I publish it on my own.

And I've made those things fun for me: As I do these things I am also writing about them and using them to give me other ideas to do.  You may notice, for example, a heading of "Infinite Monkeys" on some of these posts. "Infinite Monkeys" is part of the thing I am doing to help get more publicity and get noticed, a project I have been working on that I'm not ready to discuss in detail yet, but which began as a way to help me have more fun writing while also trying to get published.

(It also began with short, short essays and stories and recently grew to include 20+ page stories.)


Which is all a long-winded, i.e., typically me, way of getting back to the beginning.  If you read my blogs (and if you visit during the A To Z challenge, which you should, more on that in a second) you will generally find them chock-full of longer posts.  These posts are worth reading, at least to me.  But they are long, and I don't mind if you don't read them all the way through (sucks for you if you don't), I don't mind if you don't read them at all, if you don't have time or find them uninteresting. I do mind if you don't read them simply because they are long, because that's stupid: bookmark them or email them to yourself or copy them and read them when you have time, even if that's years from now.) (Writing doesn't fade.)

And there'll be shorter posts, too: one of the things I've done successfully is a series of stories of exactly 250 words each: about a page long, I've written sixty or so of them.  (Ironically, those are almost always the least popular posts on my blogs).

I'll probably keep trying to write short posts, from time to time, because I want to challenge myself or I won't have as much time.  But I won't do it just to get readers.  If you want to read short stuff, read short stuff.  If you want to read long stuff, bookmark my blog.

About that A To Z Challenge? I've already got my whole idea for it, and I've actually pre-written about 3/26ths of it.  For now, what I can tell you is it will be a 26-part story, each part told by a different letter of the alphabet.  It is called:

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W   Y Z: a story.

(Have I mentioned that even my titles have gotten longer over the years?)

Now that I've made you late for work with this post, go do something else, but see you back soon!

Here are some links. Don't have time for them now? Bookmark 'em and read them Saturday morning while you eat your pizza breakfast cereal:

This is not a giraffe.
The original {TS:DR}: Why Not Use ALL The Words post celebrating long storytelling.

My 700-plus page, as yet unfinished serialized story Lesbian Zombies Are Taking Over The World starts here on this site. (That's actually book TWO but whatever you're not actually going to read it, right?)

Robin, who guilted me into the A to Z challenge, has two blogs. Find them both here.

Andrew, who guilted me into editing, has a blog. Find his here.

Here is a complete list of all the 250-word stories I have written over time. You should read at least one!

That 500-word contest entry that became a book? It also stars Godzilla! Find it here.

Here is a short story with a long title that is about military tribunals, disappeared lawyers, and other absurdities of modern warfare. 


Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Thanks for the links, Briane. Glad you joined IWSG. You're going to meet some terrific likeminded writers. We need to stick together; it's a crazy world out there.

Pat Dilloway said...

Space Pizza Cat is about as gross as Pizza the Hut.

Briane P said...

PT: I'm not familiar with that one, and pretty sure I don't want to be.

Joylene: It's even crazier IN HERE. (I don't know what that means. I just needed a snappy comeback.)

Cathrina Constantine said...

Nice to meet you Briane and welcome to the IWSG. Good Luck with your writing.

MollyMom103 said...

Cat pizza is disturbing yet awesome. Limits are good. Happy IWSG day!

Briane P said...


I feel like you were a bit wordy, there. Maybe tighten it up a bit. ;)



Elsie Amata said...

I am so happy I found your blog! I enjoy how you write. I have always felt that I would rather write than have readers if push came to shove. I write for fun and would hate to feel restricted by the length of a post. Some of my posts are uber long but if you enjoy someone's writing, than it really shouldn't matter how long it takes to read it.

BTW, loved the Seinfeld clip. He's my favorite!

Now...if only you had a followers button =)

Sheena-kay Graham said...

Mmm Pizza. Welcome to IWSG!

---Greetings from a February IWSG Cohost.

Briane P said...


Your wish is my command: two follower buttons just installed.



Rusty Carl said...

Huh... So this is what your philosophy is. I'm intrigued. Also, I loved your post, not because it was good, but because it was long. I so love a long post. More people should do it that way.

Wait, did you call me stupid?

Well, I take it back then, I wanna see them short.

M. L. Swift said...


Something cosmic is in the air. Or maybe Cosmo. Regardless, your post resonated and echoes mine. I even included a reference to Seinfeld!

I'm taking some time away from IWSG to do exactly what you're talking about: write what I want, when I want, without having to follow a set schedule or theme. Be limitless and fearless in my writing and my blog's content.

I too, find it difficult to write anything short—even comments. But I do try to edit away the extraneous. I've also signed up for AZ, but do realize that on these hops, people scan first and if it's too long, won't even bother reading.

So, knowing that those first few lines won't hook the readers if they're never read, I'm going to keep my posts short (by gosh, by golly). Flash fiction of 250-500 words. answer your question, go see my post. :)

Great topic.

M.L. Swift, Writer

Liz A. said...

You have to write the way you want to write. There are too many people out there telling you what you should do. But in the end, you have to be the you you were born to be, and if that means long posts, so be it.

Do what you love. Your audience will find you. Eventually.

Briane P said...

Thanks, Liz! I agree with you.

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