I recently created this online presence as a way to connect with other writers and reach out to potential readers. The process has been difficult but not impossible, emotional but not overwhelming, and, most of all, extremely gratifying. I have discovered the family and friends who will support my endeavors and I have found complete strangers who are willing to join me on this journey. It has been incredible. Yay, right? Success, right?
Well . . .
The very day after I launched my blog I read an article that said I don’t need an online presence, and in fact, I probably shouldn’t even bother. It was presented as a waste of time, as something that would distract me from more important issues, and perhaps worst of all, as being unnecessarily self-promoting. I felt really, really stupid, but only for a minute. Because then I remembered I can do whatever I want. There is absolutely no reason to feel panic every time I discover my path has diverged from what someone else strenuously advises, or advises against. I must learn to quash the terrified urge to throw everything out and start over just because someone said it’s wrong. This is counter-productive at best and incredibly damaging at worst.
The Internet can be a scary, confusing and lonely place. I’m not late to the party, I have always known this. But this simple fact has become more obvious the more I search for the information I need to promote or revise or publish my writing. Why? Because there is a lot of information out there. I have searched and clicked and read and fallen down countless rabbit holes chasing the elusive truths that someone has promised will make everything fall into place, that will make my dreams come true. I have slogged through article after repetitive article in the name of being well-informed. In the fear of making the same mistakes that countless bloggers warn about. Out of a desire to do everything just right. Out of the fear of embarrassing myself. In the pursuit of perfection.
Ugh. For every altruistic, well-meaning, legitimate person who is sharing hard-won lessons or doling out helpful advice or sharing kind comments and encouragement, there are so many others who are peddling information that has no value whatsoever. I know. I have read and been discouraged and cast down and riddled with doubt after reading some particularly scathing or biting or pessimistic post. It is all too easy to become overwhelmed by the conflicting advice, the dissonance, the noise. To let doubt creep in. To give up.
So, I have come up with a Bill of Rights for my fellow writers, for anyone who is doubtful, lonely, struggling, and just plain scared. You have rights, and you are not alone!
1. You have the right to not be discouraged. That doesn’t mean that others don’t have the right to share their horror stories, to rant, to rage, or even to assure you that you will probably fail. But you don’t have to let that toxicity get you down. There may be nuggets of truth amongst the angry words, and you can mine those if you wish, or you can leave the whole thing alone. The choice is yours.
2. You are entitled to pick and choose. You do not have to click on every link. You do not have to read every article. Not every piece of advice will pertain to you. Not every tip for the “perfect” query letter or synopsis or blog post will feel right to you. That’s okay. You have the right to trust your own instincts. You will be wrong some of the time, but that’s okay, too. It’s how you learn.
3. You have the right to not be bullied. That doesn’t mean no one can criticize you or that you are immune from negative feedback or comments so nasty they’ll break your heart or bruise your spirit. It doesn’t mean that you will edit or block or argue with everyone who doesn’t care for your work. What it does mean is that inside your own heart and mind you will stand up for yourself, and you will not let your voice be silenced.
4. You have the right not to grasp desperately and blindly at every service or webinar or expert-for-hire that shows up in your search results. Many of these are legitimate and worthwhile and many others are not. You have the right to be a discerning customer, a careful consumer, and you will not be swayed by the promise of a magic bullet or a one-size-fits-all approach. You will remember that anyone who tells you there is only one way to do something is probably trying to sell you something.
5. You have the right to celebrate your victories, small and large. I recently read a blog post about several things a writer should never do when pitching to an agent. To my surprise and delight, I found a list of things I have never done, things I never thought about doing. A very small thing, to be sure. But it felt like a triumph to me. I did something right! You deserve to be proud of your work and of yourself. Kick that doubt to the curb and let your victories seep into your soul. Then, when you’ve experienced frustration or rejection or encounter a dead-end, you’ll have some extra positivity stored up to see through.
6. You have the right to find your tribe. The people whose advice you really value. The people who are generous enough to share what works for them. The people who are brave enough and honest enough to give you tough love and hard criticism. You have the right to seek out the ones who are informative, instructive, and inspirational.
7. You have an obligation to be kind, to be grateful, to be humble, to be willing to learn, to be willing to make mistakes. To help and promote other writers. To like. To comment. To share. To say please. To say thank you.
These rights cannot be taken from you, and they shouldn’t be given up by you. Take charge, take control, shut down the internal and external voices telling you that you can’t do this and do it anyway. Good luck!