20 FREE Ways To Help Your Writer-Friend Survive the Writing Life

I have a lot of friends who genuinely want to help me succeed as a writer, and that’s a good feeling. They say they love what I write, and, being a self-conscious writer with low self-esteem, I choose to believe them. Whenever I see these friends, they say how much they enjoyed “that ____ blog post” or how late they stayed up reading one of my books. Writers need readers, and I’m overjoyed to have a few of you around.

But I’ve also noticed that a lot of readers don’t have much (read: any) knowledge of what a writer needs in order to succeed these days. Most of them don’t know what I mean by the word “platform.” Few know much about “unique visitors” or “number of page views” or “Amazon ranking.”

The good news for you, the reader, is this: you don’t have to know anything about that stuff. But there are still free things you can do to help us along in this writing life.

That’s right. Free. As in, no money required.

(I hope it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: these things should only be done if you genuinely enjoy the writing. If you don’t, for all of our sakes, don’t share it, Tweet it, or dishonestly review it. Ignore us long enough and eventually we’ll take the hint, go find jobs as professional plasma-donators or carpet-fiber-counters.)

But if you do like our writing, here you go:

20 FREE Ways To Help Your Writer-Friend Survive the Writing Life

Like her posts on Facebook. We’ll start simple. A lot of writers blog these days, and when they do, most of them share their blog posts on Facebook. There’s a little “Like” button all of you Facebookers are familiar with, so if you enjoyed the post, click “Like.” It’s a tiny gesture, but the fact that you liked the post will show up on some of your friends’ Facebook feeds, which might lead new readers to your writer-friend’s blog. This is one way writers get new readers, and it costs you nothing.

Have your book club read his book. If you already own a copy of the book, this is free for you! It also introduces more people to the book, and people in book clubs tend to talk a lot about the books they’re reading, so the word-of-mouth factor is huge. 

…and then invite your writer-friend to come and talk about it. Your writer-friend doesn’t get out much. She drinks too much coffee. She spends far too many evenings staring at words, long after everyone else is watching perfectly good television shows. She probably battles loneliness with the help of Baskin Robbins. Besides that, your writer-friend loves talking about her book. She probably spent at least a year thinking about it, writing it, revising it, editing it, and producing it. She is passionate about it, and she would love to dust off a nice outfit, take a shower, and pretend to be an extravert for one night.

If he blogs, write a comment. You know how when you tell a joke and no one laughs? That’s kind of how it feels to write a blog post and then have no one comment. Laugh at jokes. Comment on blogs. Any questions?

Share her blog posts on Facebook and Google+ (whatever that is). Sharing your friend’s blog on social media is similar to Liking it on Facebook, only a million times better. If Liking is the equivalent of giving your spouse a peck on the cheek, then sharing is…well, you know. Sharing is better.

High fives. Because who doesn’t feel better after a high five?

Retweet their posts on Twitter. If everyone who followed me on Twitter retweeted one of my Tweets, something like 4,207,451, 639 people would see it. That’s a lot of people. If for some reason you’re not on Twitter, or you don’t know what Twitter is, go back to sleep.

Pin their posts and images of their books to Pinterest. I have a Pinterest account but since setting it up I’ve never been there. I hear pinning things is helpful. Be helpful.

If your writer friends have a Facebook page, become a fan of it. In case you don’t know what a Facebook Fan page looks like, you can visit mine HERE. While you’re there, practice your like-clicking skills.

Go to their book signings. For the love of God, go to their book signings. Book signings are amazing, especially when loads of people show up and there’s a line waiting for you to sign their copy of your book and everyone else in the bookstore is looking over at your table, trying to figure out what kind of famous person you are. Many of the book-signings I have done have not turned out this way. There’s nothing worse than sitting at a table, alone, beside a pile of books and one of those laminated, blown-up photos of yourself. If your writer-friend has a book signing, please show up, and if you’re one of the few people there then pretend to be a stranger who is in love with their book.

Tell your friends about your writer-friend’s book. Brag about it. Talk about it. Weave it into conversation even when it doesn’t quite make sense. Because this costs you nothing except your reputation as someone who can carry on a sensible conversation.

Offer to babysit. Someone over at my Facebook Fan page (ahem) suggested this one. There are a lot of writing moms and dads out there, some stay-at-home types and some go-to-work types, and if you would watch their kids so that they could spend an hour writing in a coffee shop, they would love you forever.

Review their book on Amazon. This is a huge one. Very important. For every good review left on Amazon, it increases the chance that your writer-friend’s book will show up as a similar read when people are viewing other titles. So write a review. Preferably not a one-star review.

Invite them to come and speak at your church, library, or business. I can’t speak for your writer-friend, but I am happy to speak just about anywhere I’m asked to speak (within driving distance). Reminder: your writer-friend doesn’t get out much. They might be willing to speak free of charge, or for something just as enticing as money, like bacon, a batch of cookies, or a ticket to tour the inside of a candy factory.

Pray. Writers spend most of their time trying to turn ideas into words. They try to make the invisible visible. They attempt to create characters and settings – entire worlds – out of nothing. They write books that will change people’s minds, resurrect dead conversations, and in some cases offend a great number of people. Praying for them, no matter your religious affiliation, seems appropriate.

Relationship-Appropriate Back Rubs. I’ll let you be the judge. Personally, there aren’t too many people besides my wife who can give me a back rub without making me feel all…fidgety. But some writers love back rubs. You might want to ask first.

Get a bunch of people together to celebrate their book release at a coffee shop, library, or a bar. The arrival of a book is very much like the arrival of a baby, minus the diapers, the late-night feedings, the crying, the colic…okay, it’s not a lot like the arrival of a baby, but it still deserves a celebration. Send out a few invites. This can all be arranged for zero dollars.

Email blog posts to friends you think would enjoy them. I recently had a friend tell me she emailed my post to all of her brothers and sisters. This made me very happy. Do you want to make your writer-friends happy? Email their blog posts to your friends and family.

Face the book out at bookstores. I stole this one from Chuck Sambuchino, who has also compiled a great list about supporting your writer friends, but my list is slightly better (in my humble opinion) because most of his ideas cost money. Mine are all free. But this is a good one. Unless you are a bookseller – then it might be kind of annoying.

Ask them how their latest project is going. Did I mention we don’t get out much? Prepare yourself – we might launch into some extended summary of our latest sci-fi romance vampire novel, or go to great lengths to convince you that our most recent antagonist is NOT modeled after our father. But it means a lot, the asking.

Be sure to point out all the errors, missed commas, and misspellings in the book they recently released. Actually, don’t do this. It’s the moral equivalent of pointing out the flaws in someone’s newborn child. “Cute kid, but why is its head so pointy?” Or, “Wow, look at all those red spots!” Not cool. At some appropriate point in the future, when the newness of the book has died down and the next edition of the now-New York Times-bestselling book is about to go to print, then you can mail them a marked-up copy, and they’ll be thankful.

In the mean time, just keep clicking “Like” on their Facebook posts.

A Friendly Reminder: No One Has Any Idea How This Will Turn Out

IMG_1069It’s been in vogue for quite some time now, the whole notion of giving yourself permission to fail. Various gurus and motivational types have been saying it for years. Fail forward. Fail fast. Fail repeatedly.

I get that, and I admit that failing quickly can be an important part of growth and finding direction in life. But you know what? I’m less afraid of failure than I am of living a life of endless mediocrity. Most failures are a flash in the pan – that’s what makes them failures. If people would keep talking about it, then it wouldn’t be a failure. It would be popular. It would be worth talking about.

What are you afraid of? What keeps you from creating, from trying something new?

* * * * *

There will always be voices, murmurs in the back of your mind. There will always be prognosticators. People who know how your next story will turn out, how your next book will fare. How your next business will go.

But no one knows. Not even you.

Consider when the original iPhone was released. Here are just a few of the predictions made by experts in the field regarding the future of this new and fascinating piece of technology:

“That virtual keyboard will be about as useful for tapping out emails and text messages as a rotary phone. Don’t be surprised if a sizable contingent of iPhone buyers express some remorse at ditching their BlackBerry when they spend an extra hour each day pumping out emails on the road.” — Seth Porges, CrunchGear

“Apple will sell a few to its fans, but the iPhone won’t make a long-term mark on the industry.” — Matthew Lynn, columnist at Bloomberg

That makes me smile. And it makes me happy, because no one knows how well your next book will sell. No one knows how incredible your next short story will turn out. No one knows how many people will be reading your blog in a year. No one.

Might as well keep writing. Keep preaching. Keep creating.

* * * * *

In the recent edition of Poets and Writers, there’s a story about author Andre Dubus III and how difficult it was finding a publisher for his novel, House of Sand and Fog.

When House of Sand and Fog began making the rounds in the late 1990s, it was no easier to place than Dubus’s first two books. The manuscript was roundly rejected by twenty-four publishers…There are now somewhere between 2.5 and 3 million copies of the novel in print.

No one knows where this creativity will take you, this story-telling. Not even you.

What’s stopping you right now?

Five Things I Learned During My One-Year Blogging Break

Last December I decided to stop blogging. The final decision to stop caught me by surprise, although it was something I had been considering off and on for quite some time. Here are five things I learned during my year away from the blogosphere:

Silence is important. One of the most powerful things that happened to me in the last year was that I had an encounter with silence. I was hired to write a book for a man in Istanbul who was dying of cancer, an amazing, strong man with an incredible story, and while I was there I came face to face with silence.

After I got back from Istanbul, I started reading more about silence, making time for it. The practice of silence changed my life, and I look forward to writing more about that here soon.

Basically, when you’re blogging every day of the week, it’s difficult to make time for silence. It’s hard to dwell on things for any amount of time without talking about them right away. This is the challenge ahead of me. Blogging out of a space of silence.

Platform isn’t everything. I was so obsessed with numbers before I stopped blogging. How many visits today? This hour? This minute? How many likes? How many shares? A year away from the blog was a tangible step that forced me to focus on getting better at writing instead of getting better at drawing attention to myself.

There is value in secrecy. You know how in the story the angels told Mary she would give birth to the Messiah, then she Instagrammed it right away? Then shared it on Facebook (which was linked to her Twitter account)?

Nah. She treasured it in her heart. There’s power in letting things simmer, just thinking about them.

I am fascinated by the blog as a form of writing. As a lover of novels and short stories, I used to short-change the blog as a form. I tended to think of it as a platform-building tool, a means to an end. But during my time away I paid attention to the bloggers who were still forging ahead. I watched the interaction they had with their readers and the conversations going on.

The blog isn’t dead.

Jealousy sucks – Celebration is better. Anne Lamott talks about Jealousy in her book, Bird By Bird, and for the first month or two after I stopped blogging I sometimes got sideswiped by Jealousy. It’s hard to take a step back out of the limelight and watch other writers write amazing stuff and get huge numbers and continue to build an audience. But it was good for me. It was good for me to stay silent. It was good for me to wait.

And in the process I learned that one of the best ways to quell Jealousy is by supporting the folks you’re feeling jealous towards. Instead of stewing, get on board and help. Celebrate the small things with people. It’s possible to take joy in other people’s successes. It’s actually kind of fun.

So there you have it. Five of the many things I’ve learned during the last year. Any questions?

NaNoWriMo: “The ‘Finish Line’ Metaphor is Telling”

We’re almost halfway through National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo. It’s that wonderful time of year when people commit to writing 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. Most people seem to like the concept, to think it’s generally a positive phenomenon.

But not everyone has such a glowing opinion, such as the writer of this article, “Why I Hate National Novel Writing Month, and Why You Should, Too”:

I’m not sure why someone “scared away by the time and effort involved” in novel writing would instead want to put themselves through the wringer of doing a whole novel in a month, but the “finish line” metaphor is telling; to the NaNoWriMo people, writing a novel is like running a marathon, something difficult and strenuous that you do only so you can say you did it before you died.

Then there are the slightly cynical:

The idea of NaNo, really, is not just the doing of it, but the saying of the doing of it. The web site will connect you to other people in your area who are holding “write-ins,” group meetings to sit and work on your book…It’s a time when people commit to a set of completely arbitrary rules — you can have an outline ahead of time, but no writing done; you can “win” with 50,000 words even if your novel isn’t finished; you are at the mercy of NaNo’s word counter, no matter what yours may say — in return for having an excuse to do what they want to do anyway.

It seems a rather hard-hearted person who would look for a reason to disparage something that gets hundreds of thousands of people writing. Creating.

But what do you think about NaNoWriMo? Stupid idea? Incredible idea? Have you participated in the past? Are you doing it this year?

Most importantly, for those of you who have participated, how did it go?

(In case you were wondering, here are Eight Bestsellers Started During National Novel Writing Month.)

The Note I Sent Downstream (or, Why I’m Blogging Again)

5741269325Being nine years old, and intent on getting my message out into the great, wide world, I wrote a note in cursive, the clumsy curling script I had decided I would dedicate my life to learning. I tore a piece of paper from one of those notebooks that only releases a page after blessing it with a thousand, ragged edges.

I rooted a pencil from The Drawer. We called it simply, The Drawer, with capital letters. It was like the Room of Requirement, only drawer-size. But it was more like the opposite of the Room of Requirement because it usually held lots and lots of things I would never need – the wrong size batteries, a compass for drawing circles, a calculator with a malfunctioning number nine.

I scribbled out a note on the paper, a message to the wild beyond. It was an important message, a world-changing message. Then, because I was nine years old, I went out to the ramshackle shed in the side yard and found some scrap two-by-fours (no longer than my hand) and a few only-slightly-bent nails. I bashed together a squarish thing that would float and secured the note to the outside of the wooden vessel with endless layers of clear tape.

From there I wandered down the long farm lane, past the apple tree I would fall out of the following year, past the garden and the tall, gangly stalks of sweet corn. I walked through the church parking lot, past the hide-and-seek cemetery, and then I slid down the bank to the field beside the stream.

I stared at that message in my hands and I wondered if it would hold up under the rigorous whitewater of the Pequea Creek. I wondered if I had put enough tape on it. I wondered who would find it, because in my mind that wasn’t even a question. Someone would find it. But who?

I threw that clunky block of wood into the swiftly moving current, and it floated away. Past the small dam we had built. Past the Amish schoolhouse. Down the long straightaway, around the bend, and out of my life forever. I turned and walked back up to the house, speechless with awe at a world where a little boy like me, barely nine years old, could send a message out into the world.

Twenty-seven years later, I’m still amazed.

* * * * *

It’s been almost a year since I last wrote a blog post here. It’s been a busy year, one I can’t wait to tell you about. It’s also been a silent year, in the best ways possible. A few people have asked me why I decided to start blogging again. Why am I returning to the blogosphere? The thought of coming back brings me a little anxiety, a little hesitation – one of the main reasons I stopped blogging was because I felt like I was standing in a crowd, screaming, trying to get as much attention as I could with whatever post would drive the most traffic. I hope I don’t go back to that place. I’ve never been much of a shouter.

While I don’t yet know how to articulate the various facets of why I’m blogging again, this story from my childhood came to mind. I guess I still feel like an eager little boy, nailing these clunky vessels together, hoping they will somehow carry a message – with all its ragged edges – downstream.

My Last Blog Post

(The photo is of me breaking the sound barrier on a tricycle during our annual trek to the mountains. I chose this photo because most times this is how my life feels: exhilarating, slightly painful, and more than slightly out-of-control.)

So I’ve decided to stop blogging.

It’s been a much more difficult decision than you would think. I guess because after two and a half years, I’ve come to depend very much on this space as one where I can work out my many and jumbled thoughts. I wish I could somehow express to you how much your readership and comments and kindness have impacted me.

I’ve felt overwhelmed recently by this pressure to build a platform. I am not one who is known for moderation, so it’s no surprise that this blog and the related elements involved in promoting it (ie Facebook and Twitter) have become all-consuming. I need a break from being a platform-builder so that I can be a writer again.

I also need some time to think about what direction my writing life is going to take. I feel a little lost right now as to what I want the next year to look like, and I’m worried that if I just keep doing what I’m currently doing another year will pass in the rather aimless fashion typical of default modes and pre-programmed playlists. I’ve already finished one novel (not sure what to do with that), and I’ve got a second mulling in my brain that I will write this year. I want to focus more on writing short stories and honing my craft. I want to have more time to write for my clients.

Stepping away from the blog does give me a bit of a panic-attack. After all, if you’re a writer these days, it’s all about your platform. Or so they say. But I’ve chosen to see this stepping away from my blog as an act of faith, a deliberate clearing of space in a world where sometimes it’s difficult to find enough space to turn around. Besides, Maile and I have never really followed normal operating procedure, and we continue to be pretty happy with how that’s worked out for us.

Finally to all of you wonderful bloggers out there – you guys and girls have been a huge inspiration to me. Your kindness and support have been incredible. Your willingness to be so transparent and to keep writing the hard stuff is exhilarating. Meeting many of you during our cross-country journey was the highlight of our trip.

So farewell, for now. I’d be willing to bet that I will resume blogging at some point in the future, but I’m committing to at least a year off (or until I land a book deal) (or something else crazy like that).

If you’d like to stay up-to-date regarding what I’m up to, sign up for my email newsletter in the left-hand column – I’ll try to send something out every once in a while. You can also still buy our book, How to Use a Runaway Truck Ramp, HERE. It’s also now available on Kindle HERE.

Send me an email when you think of me! (shawnsmucker@yahoo.com)

Farewell! Adieu! Adios!