I’ve previously discussed the topic of how everyone thinks they can be a writer. Of course, there’s no reason why anyone can’t be a writer, but what’s unusual about this profession is that since there’s no real barrier to step into it, everyone who’s ever picked up a book believes they can do it and the only reason why they haven’t become successful writers yet is simply because they haven’t bothered to try.
In my previous post regarding this, I just went over how it bothers me (to a tiny degree). I mean, good on you if you think you could just sit down and type out your first novel and have it ascend to worldwide acclaim, but while you’re making excuses for yourself, you’re making the people who really do practice the craft strenuously seem incompetent–if just indirectly–and feel like we’re wasting our time. We start to wonder why we haven’t succeeded yet, since the majority of you make it out as child’s play; and eventually, we lose faith in ourselves. It doesn’t help that there seems to be an incredulously high amount of people who are “writers”, making even the slightest thought of jumping into this career path seem like stuffing ourselves in an overflowing can of sardines.
But I’ve learned something over the last year that has made me realize all those worries are for naught. See, along with my fiction, I’ve been writing content for a few sites, with the largest site getting millions of views per month (from where most of you readers have come). What I love about Cracked.com is the opportunity they offer anyone. Absolutely anyone, no matter your degree, age, location, whether you have ten fingers or one; they don’t care, as long as you have good ideas for articles. Over the last several months, I’ve built myself a portfolio of articles with hundreds of thousands of views each, and I put some weight on a name that used to be nothing. I’m not saying I’m known or anything, far from it, but if I wanted to apply for a writing job, I’d have much more credibility than Mr. Johnny Derderp.
And let me stress it again: anyone can do this. All of the aspiring writers out there can write for one of the largest comedy websites in the world to get their names seen by millions of people. There’s nothing stopping them, no roadblocks, no applications, no years and years of studying boiled down to a live-or-die test. Just sign up and do it. Why don’t they?
Well they do. If you look at the sign up page, thousands of people say they want to be writers for Cracked every week. But out of all the people who sign up, a tiny few of them actually ever submit anything. And of those tiny few who submit, an even tinier few of them read the guidelines and get the format right; and then of those tinier few who read the guidelines, an even smaller amount ever come back to tidy up their pitch after feedback from the editors. At the end of the day, just a handful of people work hard enough to get an article published, and an even tinier handful do it long enough to have several articles.
For the biggest fucking comedy website in the world.
Now what does that tell you? I’m not bashing those people and I truly hope no one reading this thinks I am; this does connect with the initial point of this post. I’m not saying those people are failures in their lives, I’m sure they’re all good at something and they all have jobs and aspirations they’ve achieved. But the thing is, all of those people who get to the sign up page are “writers”. All of those thousands and thousands of people who never submit anything, never read the guidelines, never make an effort to improve their pitches… they’re all “writers”. For you guys who are really trying to do this and aren’t just saying you’re a writer because you don’t know what you really are, you have to realize that the overflowing sardine can isn’t as overflowing as it seems. Most of the sardines in that can are strands of seaweed.
And this isn’t restricted to article writing. I’ve been considering self-publishing lately, and I’ve spent many a night looking over writer forums and self-publishing forums, trying to see what the environment is like, what the people are like. They’re mostly good folk, mostly a lot older than me (as it seems everyone my age is a girl addicted to romances and young adult fiction).
But when I look at their self-published books and read through the first few pages for free–and again, by now I’ve probably looked over thousands of these books–nine times out of ten, something is wrong. The writing is off. The grammar is wrong (so horribly wrong). The rules are being broken. I’m not a Nazi for rules (as I’ve discussed previously as well) but there are things that are stylistic choices and there are things that just show you don’t know what the hell you’re doing. Purple prose. Ending dialogue with periods and then adding “He said”. Missing words. Typos. Lack of paragraph breaks. Covers that look like they were designed by their 5 year old kids (covers do matter, very much.)
Again, I’m not bashing these guys. They should be proud of themselves that they put the hours and hours to write something. Hell, it might be good, I wouldn’t know because I couldn’t be bothered to look past all the errors. I’m not criticizing their characters, plots, ideas. I’m criticizing the fact that they can’t be bothered to really look over their work and clean it up. Maybe they don’t have good enough eyes to see their mistakes. Hire an editor, get a few beta readers. Maybe they aren’t good at making their own covers. Hire a cover designer. It takes five minutes of Googling to find a decent one. Sure, they might cost you a few hundred bucks, but if you’re not confident enough in your book that you won’t shell out a few hundred, then maybe, deep in your subconscious, you don’t think it’s ready yet. You can always get a friend to make you a cover; I’ve seen plenty of great covers made by friends of writers, that works too.
But I digress. The point is, writing isn’t as loaded a profession as it seems to be, what with all the millions out there claiming to be writers. A great majority of them aren’t writers. They just say they are. From the thousands of people per week who sign up to write (and never come back) for the biggest comedy site in the world to the thousands of authors who write books fledged from cover to cover with mistakes. The few of us who do work our asses off trying to get better, trying to fix our flaws and increase our output, we have a chance at this. There really is no barrier to becoming a writer except yourself, but that’s a hurdle a lot of people can’t seem to jump. Be happy about that.