When you think of the stereotypical writer, you might picture a silent, brooding genius who keeps to himself. A recluse who rarely ventures into the outside world except to “research” the lives of the subjects of his stories. You might imagine an entire profession of Emily Dickinsons, pale and contemplative.
However, for nearly every famous writer—from Ernest Hemingway to Virginia Woolf, J.R.R. Tolkien to Mary Shelley—this stereotype couldn’t be further from the truth.
The truth is that nearly every great writer had a Cartel.
What Is a Cartel?
A Cartel is an agreement amongst competitors.
The idea is that you and I are competing for the same, limited attention spans. We are both trying to get readers interested in our writing, trying to build a platform, and trying to sell our books.
However, instead of acting like competitors, we could choose to act like allies. By helping each other, you and I can multiply our efforts.
Ernest Hemingway was far from a self-made man.
Early in his career as a reporter, Hemingway made friends with a novelist named Sherwood Anderson. Anderson took an interest in Hemingway, eventually helping him get his first novel published. It was Anderson who convinced Hemingway to visit Paris and participate in the artist’s enclave popularized by the film Midnight in Paris.
In Paris, Hemingway met F. Scott Fitzgerald, who had just published The Great Gatsby. Hemingway had been writing short stories, but after reading The Great Gatsby, he realized that his next work had to be a novel.
Hemingway was also befriended by well known writers in Paris, including James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein, writers who, as he said, “could help a young writer up the rungs of a career.” It was Gertrude Stein who first named their Cartel of expatriate artists, “The Lost Generation,” a term Hemingway made popular in The Sun Also Rises, his first novel and the work that would make him internationally famous.
Great Artists Have Cartels
We think of great writers as silent, brooding geniuses, but the truth is they all had relationships like Hemingway had with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sherwood Anderson. These relationships inspired them and helped them get their first works published. Far from the exception, Hemingway’s story is the rule. Great artists are made by Cartels.
The good news is that today, building a Cartel is easier than it ever has been.
You just need to know how.
Get Over Yourself
As I’ve studied the lives of great writers, I’ve noticed a surprising pattern. They don’t act like great writers.
- Great writers don’t act superior.
- Great writers may be shy, but they aren’t aloof.
- Great writers help other writers.
- Great writers ask for help when they need it.
However, I see so many new writers doing all of these. They criticize other writers. They don’t read books by their peers. They may not ask for help, but they certainly don’t offer it either. In other words, they act like narcissistic brats, and it’s ruining their writing careers.
Hemingway did the opposite. In his memoir, A Moveable Feast, about living as a young writer in Paris, he talks about how he actively sought out the advice of other writers he knew. He read all their books. He offered to edit and compile Gertrude Stein’s novel and basically single-handedly got it published (it would become The Making of Americans). He was generous, not selfish. He was vulnerable, not stuck up.
Isn’t it time you started helping your fellow writers? Isn’t it time you asked for their help in return? That’s what it takes to start a Cartel.
It’s Your Choice
Seeking out your Cartel isn’t safe.
It’s much safer to write on your little blog which no one reads. It’s much easier to send your writing out to literary agents and publishers, and then criticize them when they reject you.
It’s less scary to write in isolation, because what if they read your work and realize you’re not a great writer after all (share that on Twitter?)
Creating a Cartel is dangerous, vulnerable work. It’s also the fastest way to succeed as a writer. If you want to accomplish your writing dreams, maybe it’s time to stop playing it safe.
Get a Free Lesson
When I started The Write Practice nearly three years ago, I wanted to create a community of people who would help each other become better writers. As an extension of this community, we built Story Cartel, a place for writers to share their books and build their audience. Next week, I’m re-launching the Story Cartel Course, which takes the best from Story Cartel and The Write Practice and combines them into a powerful resource for writers.
At Story Cartel, we have worked with New York Times Bestselling authors, traditional publishers, and successful independent authors. Now, we’re bringing the secrets of the publishing world to you in a fun, highly educational course.
As a way to thank you for being part of this community, I’m offering a free lesson from the Story Cartel Course here. This lesson will help you deepen your understanding of writing and publishing, it will also give you a free sneak peak on the course.
I don’t want you to miss out on this, so sign up now.
Sign up to receive a free lesson from the Story Cartel Course about writing and publishing by clicking here.
How about you? Have you found your Cartel?
Finding your Cartel starts through sharing your writing and giving feedback to other writers. Do you have a blog post, short story, or article you’d like to get feedback on? Share the link to your post or a (short!) section of your short story or novel in the comments section (750 words or less, please).
Then, read the work of the other writers who shared and give your feedback. Try to mention two things you liked and one thing you didn’t like about their piece.
Afterward, smile. You’re one step closer to finding your Cartel.