This post was originally published in August, 2012.
As I’m writing this, it’s a cloudy morning in Georgia. The sticky heat of summer has finally let off. The crickets are still going away and the trees look marvelous. That’s one thing you don’t get in California, at least the part of California where I grew up: huge, green trees everywhere.
And as I’m looking at them, sipping my coffee, I asked myself, When was the last time you noticed those trees? When was the last time you were this grateful just to be alive?
It’s been my experience that my best writing—and most satisfying writing time—comes out of this place of gratefulness, this rootedness in the moment.
However, I’m in the process of marketing a book right now, and I don’t have time to look at trees or even write very much. All I have time to do, it seems, is to market. Of course, every author today is struggling with the same thing. In today’s publishing world, it’s inevitable that you have to market your books. We all have to hustle if we want our words to spread. Which leads us to the question:
Is it possible to write and market your books at the same time? Or is today’s publishing reality keeping us from creating our best art?
The truth is, I don’t know the answers. I also don’t know if what’s true for me will be true for you (it probably won’t be). However, in the last year, I’ve learned to market my writing, and in doing so, I’ve had to break my habit of keeping to myself, which is what I thought writers were supposed to do.
Here’s what I’ve learned in the last year about the challenges of trying to write well while marketing my writing:
1. It’s Easier to Feel Creative When You’re Not Marketing.
In the olden days (i.e. ten years ago), you locked yourself in a cabin or a villa in Italy or a garret in Paris, and wrote all day and all night, coming out pale and thin with a manuscript tucked under your arm.
In other words, if you wanted to write, you did it alone. Now, however, there’s Twitter, Facebook, email, and blogs that we can’t seem to ignore. It’s hard to feel like a real artist when your iPhone keeps buzzing at you.
When I was just out of college, I would go to coffee shops to write and read. I felt very Bohemian, and imagined the world was just a big canvas that I could paint at my pleasure. In other words, I was feeling very creative.
But what was I actually creating? Scraps of descriptions. A few over-written letters to friends. Some quasi-poems. I was feeling very creative, but I wasn’t actually creating very much.
Now, in this more marketing-focused version of my life, I’m creating more than ever. I’ve written or edited over 150,000 words this year.
What’s disturbing to me is I don’t feel very creative. In fact, feel pretty uninspired most of the time. I’m learning that feeling creative and being creative are two different things.
2. Marketing Can Make You More Productive
I wouldn’t have written all those words if I hadn’t been marketing myself. With marketing comes the expectation of future work. My ghostwriting client would be pretty upset if I decided to stop writing his book because I didn’t feel inspired. You probably wouldn’t be too happy with The Write Practice if we stopped posting just because we didn’t feel like it. Expectations make you more productive (even when you don’t feel like producing).
On top of that, successful marketing forces me to create deadlines, and as an unstructured, artistic kind of person, deadlines are essential for me to finish work.
Marketing has increased my productivity more than I can measure.
3. Too Much Focus on Marketing Can Cause You to Create the Wrong Things
Marketing can increase quantity, but does it improve quality?
While marketing can make you more productive, you can also create the wrong things—namely more marketing. If most of the writing you’re doing is marketing for your “real” writing, then how are you going to write the things you want to be writing?
I think this is why so many people are frustrated with the upheaval of traditional publishing. They’d rather be writing their novel than writing about writing their novel.
This problem is inherent with self-publishing and probably isn’t going away, but you can still find time to write what you want. Make a decision to spend at least fifteen minutes writing creatively.
4. Marketing Can Cause You to Create the Right Things
The best inventions come out of a relentless search to find solutions to real problems experienced by real people. I’m convinced this is how Don Quixote was written, a novel often called one of the best of all time. Cervantes saw how obsessed people were over chivalric romance stories, and he thought, “I can write a better book than that.” In other words, he saw a need and he met that need.
Good writing, like good marketing, meets other people’s needs. Bad writing, like so much bad marketing being done today, just meets the author’s needs, their need for self-expression or their need to make a name for themselves.
By getting out of the garret and talking to real people, you will find out what they want to read, and that will make you a better writer. You will be writing for others, not just for yourself.
I’m not saying you should go out and write another Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey. I am saying you should get to know what people are reading, and ask, “Why do they like these books?” Then, go write something better.
Incorporate Your Creativity Into Everything
Maybe it’s too much to say marketing can be art, but when I look at interviews with Bob Dylan, I don’t see someone pandering to reporters and trying to move more copies of his record. Instead, I see someone creating a performance as authentic and artistic as a stage play. I see a man who wants to thrill and challenge and inspire people every moment, even during “marketing” interviews. I don’t see someone who’s trying to sell his work. I see someone who’s trying to sell ideas and experiences.
Your marketing can be an extension of your art, a chance to communicate your ideas and your perspective for the world in a new way.
Can you think of marketing as an opportunity rather than a burden?
It’s started to rain in Georgia. I open the door and let the sound fill my little living room like incense. You can’t get away from marketing your work, not if you want to see your words spread, but when these moments come along, still try to pay attention.
Do you struggle with balancing marketing and writing? Does marketing make you more or less creative?
Wake up to what’s going on around you, the weather, the sound of birds. If you’re in a public place, notice the small conversations, the way people walk. What are they thinking about? What are they struggling with? Or imagine yourself in a place far away, perhaps a place that doesn’t exist or a place that may exist someday. How do people live there?
As you let your mind drift, let your soul, the innermost parts of you, dwell in the moment. Invest yourself there.
And write. For fifteen minutes. When you’re finished, post it in the practice.