Your Work Defines Itself

Years ago, when starting as a serious writer, I went to what everyone does for advice in our age – the internet. There’s a lot of it out there, because everyone is willing to tell you what to do (hell, I’m doing it right now), so I amassed a fairly comprehensive collection of posts and links on the topic of being a writer. The advice I got was fairly universal across the board. There were a few outliers here or there, but for the most part they all said variations of the same exact thing over and over.

“Every writer in today’s world has to sell themselves above all else.”

It used to be that publishers did the advertising and writers generated content. But in today’s world the publisher generally doesn’t do as much advertising anymore – they just print and distribute. That’s one of the primary reasons self-publishing is taking off and why eBooks have started to become the forefront of the market. Writers who could generate their own audiences figure they shouldn’t have to use a middle man. It’s far from a perfect system, but if we’re going to advertise ourselves anyway, we might as well get what we’re worth. So I was told I needed to start advertising for myself because that was going to be a requirement no matter what I did. Publisher or not, I was mostly on my own.

I was told I needed to start a blog, so I did. I was told I needed to get involved in social media, so I did. I was told I needed to make sure that the audience knew who I was, so I do. And the thing is, that’s all great advice. Even if you were to go the traditional route, as I just mentioned, you aren’t going to get a publishing deal unless you can show the publisher that you can amass an audience, and it’s always an uphill battle. But one mistake I’m seeing a lot lately is one I made myself, so I think it couldn’t hurt to add one more piece of advice on top of the pile that I think could really help a lot of writers out there (including myself).

You see, when I started my blog and everything else, it was during the initial rise of social media. And when I was told to tell everyone who I was, I looked around and I saw that everyone was interested in the same basic information. We live in a time where Identity politics consume almost every corner of our lives in one way or another. Since the advent of Twitter, Tumblr, and to a lesser extent Facebook – your “identity” is often broken down into a series of labels that tell the world who you are at a glance.

Look around, most of the profiles you find on the internet, even for writers, happen to include at least one identity label of some sort in it. We’ll generally say what genre we write, what we’ve published, and then, usually, some labels to fill in our identity in under 140 characters. They aren’t always the same labels, but they’re labels none-the-less. We’ve been groomed to think that our lives can be boiled down to five words or less.

But, after putting myself under a tremendous amount of stress over the concept for a few years now, I have realized that we may be causing ourselves and what we care about more harm than good…

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