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A Love Letter to the Written Word

I've been struggling.

How to go viral as a writer

I've been struggling with exactly that kind of click-bait. With this (current) world of 15-second hyper-edited videos set to trending music in order to get more visibility and engagement and likes.

I've been struggling with the idea that it's not about the stories or the words, it's about trying to crank out multiple books a year in order to build a fanbase. I'm challenged by the notion of testing different genres, tropes, keywords, and book covers, all in the hope of discovering that elusive alchemy that will turn readers into buyers.

I'm feeling really challenged by the idea of writing anything simply because it's "what works" and "what people are buying."

I know this isn't new. That the book business, show business, and art business are all businesses. I get that if a book is written but never read, that in a certain way, it has failed to achieve one of its purposes. But is that the primary purpose of writing?

I see other authors lament how this wasn't what they thought they were signing up for when they first wrote a book. The endless marketing. The need to become a jack-of-all-trades and a social-media personality. And now, I suppose, here I am, lamenting the same thing.

It's not even that I mind all the supporting activities so much. I guess what I mind is that when I consider the past few years, I've probably spent more time trying to figure out the algorithm than time spent on the art itself. I know that needs to change.

When I first began this journey, I heard a voice. (I know, I know.) I don't hear it often; not because it's not saying anything, but because, to paraphrase Steven Spielberg, it's the voice that only whispers, never shouts. It's the one so easily drowned out by everything that hopes to distract us, including those aforementioned 15-second montages.

Anyway, it said, "Your job is to put the words out there. I will take care of the rest."

Still gives me goosebumps, whenever I think about it.

Yet what I've done is stopped putting the words out there, in the sense of creating, in the sense of writing for writing's sake. For the love of the words. I've written plenty, but my intent has been shrouded by some of those concerns mentioned earlier. And if I'm honest, my efforts have been curtailed by fear. I'm afraid I won't be able to do what I once did, that I won't be able to duplicate the success of Of Dreams and Angels. I know I'm afraid because I've forgotten.

I forgot what brought me here in the first place, in all my efforts to learn how to edit an Instagram Reel or in losing myself through trying to become a meme account. Don't get me wrong - I enjoy those things, and I feel happy for those whose efforts have taken off in that regard. But that was never what I set out to do, and when I consider what I actually hope for, it has nothing to do with adding to the noise, adding to the distractions.

Another Stephen, this one by the surname of King, wrote that, "Writing isn't about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it's about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It's about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy. [This book] is a permission slip: you can, you should, and if you're brave enough to start, you will. Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up."

Every once in a while an aspiring author will say to me, "I hope to write a book some day, too." Or, "I love to write, but I don't know if I'm any good at it. I don't know if I have any original ideas." My answer is always the same: Only you can write the stories that are within you. Maybe those stories have been told before, from a genre or trope standpoint, but they've never been told in the way that you will tell them. In the entire past and future of the world, only you can write those particular tales. And even if only one person's life (yours) is enriched in the process, you've improved the world entire.

That is the primary purpose.

We don't need more 15-second clips of lip-synced movie dialogue repurposed in an attempt to go viral. If you're doing these things - as I've also tried to do - don't feel bad. But what we need more than you or I trying to rehash someone else's words, are our own. We need the slow burn. The long-pondered turn of phrase and carefully crafted words of poetry. We need longer mornings of sitting by the fire and soaking into the stories that only Stephen, Jared, and You can tell. The stories that left us better than when we started. I've felt that way about words and books, but I don't know that I've ever felt that way about a meme.

On my best day, I don't know that I'll ever say or write it as well as the second Stephen above, but for what it's worth, this is a love letter to the written word. Your words, my words, and to anyone who has dared to offer their unique gifts to the world. We don't need another meme account, so let's make a pact to set aside our attempts to become graphic design specialists or video editing experts. Let us return to why we came here in the first place: for the love of the words, and the love they inspire.

Even in my blog-writing software, there's all these suggestions about SEO and focus keywords and meta descriptions. I'm sure they (the humans or AI) would tell me to retitle this post to something like "How to go viral as a writer."

How about this:

Let's give the world something they've never seen or read before:

You.


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