Have I found something to say?
Essay

Becoming a writer: finding something to say

Being writers is what people are; becoming published is what writers achieve when someone believes they have something to say. 

Publication validates you. It says someone thinks:

  • your writing is understandable;

  •  your writing is interesting, 

  • and therefore your writing is publishable.

Being published means you get to take on the ridiculously impossible challenge the privilege of writing for strangers who don’t really care about you.

Readers are busy people. They don’t owe you their attention. There are a gazillion books on the market to entertain and educate them, as well as concerts and museums to attend, restaurants to try,  video games, movies, television shows, gatherings with family and friends…

Readers don’t need your jokes, convictions, dreams or sob stories because they have plenty of their own. They also have their own heroic survival tales and, guess what? You and your stories don’t inherently matter to them.

Your writing matters to readers only when you satisfy their desires:

1) Readers want writers to entertain them;

2) and readers want writers to educate them.

It’s a straightforward transaction. Give them what they want; they give you money and attention. 

To entertain readers,

  • Give them emotional experiences.
  • Make them laugh; make them cry; make them scream; hate; love; sigh; ooh-and-ah. Make them tremble.

To educate readers,

  • Show them what you know. Give them your expertise, your insights, your savvy, your wisdom and your compassion.
  • Show them who you are.

To keep them reading, make it clear that you care more about meeting their reading expectations than you care about being a writer.

Above all, respect them as your intellectual, moral equals.

The only way to accomplish this amazing feat of daring is, if, in fact, it is undeniably true that you:

  1. know what readers expect;
  2. and deeply respect them and their lives.

So you want the simple formula for how to be an entertaining, instructive, super-duper groovy and beloved writer?

Okay. I’ll tell you.

To write well, we first must live well.

To be entertaining and informative, we must live entertaining, experience-rich lives.

Here’s my best advice for writers who want to be published:

Live your life. Live deeply. Do exciting, interesting stuff. Have adventures, live with your fears and develop your courage. Laugh your booty off, weep until your eyes melt, embrace and shun, love and loathe, through abundance and deprivation, in sickness and in health…

Live to discover what’s yours to say.

Because only in the conscious, deliberate living of our exquisitely beautiful, insanely terrifying lives, do we discover what’s worth saying, that which is important enough to pass on.

Have you made an effort to live an adventurous, experience-rich life, or have adventures and experiences found you?

 

 

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51 thoughts on “Becoming a writer: finding something to say”

    1. I’m happy you noticed that–I hate it when people are made to feel like they’re not really writers just because they haven’t published their writing.

      It took me 50-some years to learn that bluntness isn’t always a bad thing, Andrea. Which is to say, it took me a long, long while to find my voice.

  1. Reblogged this on Faith Simone and commented:
    Couldn’t have said it better myself. “To write well, we must first LIVE well.” Mmmhhh…I think I just found a new mantra. Hope you enjoy this post from one of the fabulous blogs I follow!

  2. Great post, Tracy! Being published isn’t the be all and the end all, if you write for the love of it.
    The point you make of showing the reader who you are is something you’ve definitely accomplished in your book. I’ve been reading and savoring it as I learn so much about you. Thank you for this gift. xo

    1. Oh, thank you! I needed your encouragement today. xo

      And, if the only thing I do in my life, is convince writers that “publishing” doesn’t make them writers, I will feel quite fulfilled.

    1. What an honor you give me, Jenny!

      And you gave me a flash of insight. I often wonder, when I’m immersed in a book, to whom I’m writing. And the answer to that question can totally stymie me, because I’m so aware of writing for a reader. And because I’m not the kind of person who talks to herself (I’m very, very comfortable with silence…. I could go on a silent retreat for a week, and not find anything extraordinary about it), I need to be talking/writing TO someone, or the words just don’t come. And I don’t do well with an “abstract” reader. That’s like having an “abstract” friend or an “abstract” God. If I’m going to share my heart, I have to know with whom I’m sharing it. Perhaps it’s a matter of trust — I need to know I’m writing to someone I like, even admire.

      I realize now, I’m writing to you, and to the rest of my best blogging buddies, the people I respect and value. I’m going to make a little poster with all your pictures, and hang it on my wall!

  3. You pose some great questions, Tracy, and remind us of startling truths about writers and readers. So WHY do we write? I’ve tried quitting several times but can’t, so I guess I write because I can’t NOT write. When I was teaching h.s. students, I had a poster on the classroom wall that said: How will I know what I think until I read what I write?
    It was wasted on many of them who didn’t have any idea what they thought even after they wrote it. 😉

    1. LOL! I’ve had some classroom experience with high schoolers and know exactly what you mean! 🙂

      Some were amazing, and some were amazingly disengaged.

      I’m like you. I’ve tried quitting the writing habit. I discovered that I’m not me–in other words I feel like I’m an impostor living someone else’s life–when I’m not writing.

  4. Amazing, Tracy. I love this: “To entertain readers, Give them emotional experiences. Make them laugh; make them cry; make them scream; hate; love; sigh; ooh-and-ah. Make them tremble.”

    1. Thank you, Richard.

      I try to follow my own advice, but I rarely can achieve exactly what I’m trying to do, however! I’m still attempting to figure out how, exactly, it’s done.

  5. Tracy … I confess I do not know what the readers want. When I look at the stats, I’m puzzled by what they gravitate to and by what does not draw them in in the same way. So I choose to write from the heart. My motto, to paraphrase the movie, “Field of Dreams:” “If you write it, they will come and read it..”

    And, hopefully, they will. Thanks for the pointers. They do help. 😉

    1. I don’t really think of internet browsers are “readers.” I think their motivation is different; from what I can figure out, they want information.

      But followers, they are readers. I’m not sure a person can please both at the same time.

      I think writing from the heart is a good way to go for bloggers.

  6. I only just understood that to write well we must live well. For too long I was under the impression that writers had to suffer “for art”, that we had to dedicated to the process of writing. And therefore I had nothing to write about. I didn’t even *feel* properly.

    Great advice.

    1. It’s clear to me that you are living well, Denise. Your life is full, interesting, and I love reading your posts about your quiet adventures.

      I think many of the Creative Writing programs have fostered the notion that writing is somehow separate from living. And a lot of the poems and stories coming out of those schools, from young writers, are brilliant in a clever writerly way. But so often I feel, reading them, that they don’t actually say anything meaningful.

      Not everyone wants emotional substance–heart, an attempt at making life purposeful or at least meaningful–in their reading material, but I sure do.

      1. Oh this really came across in book group on Friday. Emotional sustenance was much in demand by a large proportion of the group. It’s marrying that with the writerliness that is so difficult, and supplying everything that a reader wants.

  7. “Live to discover what’s yours to say”.. I go with that one! I’m not worrying so much about my ‘readers’ list’, I just love to write as a (one of the many) form of self-expression, but then again my posts don’t need to pay the bills. LoL 😀

  8. “Hi, I’m Sherri and I am a Writer.” Tracy, I’ve been intrigued ever since I saw your post title and so glad to finally get the chance to read it and as I read it my heart quickened and by the end of it I wanted to jump up, shout ‘Woo Hoo’ and do a little dance for joy. That, and if you were here with me now I would squeeze you with a massive hug and probably cry too and say “I love you Tracy”!!!!! Ever since I’ve known you here you’ve inspired and encouraged me in my writing journey and for that I’ll be eternally grateful. You told me right from the beginning that I wasn’t to put myself down and to be certain and surefooted on this writer’s path. You have spoken to my heart in the most profound way and so for this reader, you have done everything you set out to do. Struck me to the core…again…put me back on my feet….again, sent the doubt, the angst, the self-sabotage running back into the wind…and reminded me of who I am, who I write for and why I write. Why I am a writer. You live well my friend and I thank you for it.

      1. I’m so glad Tracy. I’ve had a really frustrating evening, can’t comment on blogs (although was able to on yours obviously), had one of those days when so much has gone wrong, including giving myself a steam-burn on my right wrist. So I’m feeling very sorry for myself…and yes, I too have been wondering about ‘this blogging thing too’ for a number of reasons. Marylin’s post was so encouraging for me too but my comment didn’t go through there and I left a long one…you know me, haha!
        So your post took on a whole new meaning for me, in more ways than one and again, I thank you so much 🙂

        1. Oh, no–not a BURN!! That’s PAINFUL!

          I’m praying your day today (Tuesday) is filled with grace. Bless you, dear.

          Tip: when WordPress is acting screwy, try signing out closing your browser, and restarting your computer. Then sign back in. Sometimes that wipes out the glitches.

          1. Thank you so much and bless you dear Tracy! It’s Tuesday evening here and I have to say that today has been a much better day so your prayers have been answered! I can’t tell you what a difference a day makes… 🙂

            And yes, that is great advice. Again, things much better today with WP but I will remember that for next time…

            May your day be filled with blessings galore… 🙂

  9. Reblogged this on Rose Hall Media Company and commented:
    This post from Tracy Lee Karner’s blog explains that an unpublished writer is no less a writer than a published one. We at Rose Hall believe that if you write, then you’re a writer. There are many reasons to write besides for money or to see your name in print. Self-expression, self-examination, for the joy of it, for the surprise of discovering your creativity, for your friends and family, to leave a historical record, to keep a diary of your life–those are all worthy and valid reasons to write. But if you want to be “published,” the game changes. Tracy Lee brings up some important things to consider if your goal is to earn money for your writing.

  10. this is a brilliant post. there is a third category of reasons to write apart from educate and entertain; and that is to inspire. That is the category YOU belong to 🙂

  11. “Have you made an effort to live an adventurous, experience-rich life, or have adventures and experiences found you?”
    I think the answer to this is a little of both Tracy. I have sought certain adventures and approached them with some trepidation.
    Other adventures have just come upon me. Some I wish had not but then that is another story.

    1. Adventures have a way of doing that–finding me, too. But, I also think they find the people who are open to them, who don’t run away from opportunities for change and growth.

      Some of the best stories are about the adventures we might wish had never happened–if the story isn’t so much about the adventure, and more how we (or the hero / heroine) struggled to find a way to respond to the adventure with courage and compassion.

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