If we look for ways to help rather than compete we stand a better chance of crossing our personal finish line
It happened again. Here I am hard at work on a story I’m really proud of when I take a break to do some reading. There it is on my home page. A story about the exact same subject. Yikes!
Does this happen to you? You think you are being all original and crushing it only to see another writer beat you to it.
“There is nothing new under the sun,” said the prophet in the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes. Nothing new in my writing I say to myself in my dark moments.
If only there weren’t so many other writers out there. How do I gain any traction when there is all this competition. How do I rise to the top?
If you treat writing as a horse race with one winner, a few who place, and a bunch of losers, you are likely going to lose. There are a lot of horses out there.
Why not change the narrative? You’re a writer after all. Write the reality you want.
What if your goal isn’t just getting over that finish line to gather all the prizes and glory for yourself while the also-rans stand panting, exhausted, and dejected nearby. What if your goal is to get as many horses over the finish line as possible. What if there isn’t just one prize but a variety of prizes that multiply as fast as the horses run.
This is the writing world I want and this is the writing world I’m working to write into existence.
There is one huge advantage to a winner takes all, everyone in it for themselves approach to the writing world. It gives you a great excuse for why you yourself aren’t winning.
- If only I had started writing earlier before there was all this competition.
- The big names grab all the attention, what hope do I have.
- All the best titles and topics have been taken already.
- I might as well give up. Everyone else is so far ahead of me I can never catch up.
So if having ready-made excuses to wallow in a woe-is-me mindset is your comfort zone grab that horse race analog and run with it.
There is another option though which I believe not only leads to a more equitable distribution of the pie but increases the size of the pie itself. In addition, it makes you a lot happier.
Instead of seeing other writers as competition to be left in your dust as much as possible, look for ways you can work together. How can you encourage, learn from, network, support, engage, and promote other writers? The more you do, the more you will grow, they will grow, and everyone’s readership will grow.
Writing is not a zero-sum game. You do not have to lose for someone else to win. There is a lot of room for growth in the world of readers. Being a reader is easier than ever these days with the global reach of the internet. The more high quality writing out there the more people will become readers.
How to Cooperate
Use stories from other writers to support your own writing.
Let’s circle back to my opening example. I am writing a story and see someone else has already published on the same topic. I click. Maybe it won’t be any good. No, it’s good. It’s very good. I can’t write this well. I’m might as well stop writing my article. Wait, I’m coming at this from another angle. This story addresses all the bits I’m currently struggling to write. I can link to this article to make my own article much stronger. This is awesome.
Giving credit where credit is due is extremely important. A competitive writer might read the article looking for bits to steal and weave into her own writing. A cooperative writer not only cites the writer but also links to the original story with an explanation of why it is relevant to your own.
Not only is giving credit the right thing to do, it is also easier. Think about it. Unless you are going to blatantly plagiarize and cut and paste bits from someone else’s story directly into your own, you are going to have to rework their words. Easier than coming up with your own original thoughts I suppose but much more work than typing, “Hey, this writer made a brilliant point about this thing I’m talking about. Click here to read it and then come back and to read the rest of my thing. Or finish my story first then read this one.” You will say it much better and more subtly than that of course because you are a classy writer.
Doing this not only strengthens the argument of whatever you are writing, but it builds goodwill. It is pretty darn awesome to be cited in this way by another writer. It happened to me the other day. Melanie J. mentioned and linked to a story I wrote in her helpful article about love languages.
If you read her story you can see how she took an experience I had and wrote about, brought it into her own story as an example to strengthen her argument, and gave me full credit as well as linking to my story to make it easy for her readers to follow up if they want to dig deeper.
This is a classic win win win. It’s a win for Melanie because her story is now stronger. It’s a win for me because I get an ego boost and potentially more eyes on my writing. It’s a win for the reader because they get an introduction to a new writer.
Read a lot
The more you read, the more you are supporting other writers. In addition, you will be improving as a writer yourself. As you read, the rhythms of good writing get wired into your brain. Even without your direct focus, your brain will be taking note of what is effective in grabbing your attention and what distracts you.
When you find someone whose stories touch you in some way, don’t forget to follow them so you’ll see more of their writing in the future. That’s good for you and for them.
Comment, highlight, and clap for stories
Commenting, highlighting, and clapping for a story rewards the writer in two ways. First, it is encouraging. We wouldn’t be sharing our work if we didn’t want other people to read and appreciate it. Second, it raises the value of the story in the algorithm which potentially furthers the reach of that particular story and possibly the writer’s future stories as well.
Slowing down enough to highlight and meaningfully comment also helps you to identify what works and doesn’t work in writing. You can use that knowledge to improve.
Share other people’s stories
Writers sharing each other’s links just for the sake of getting a return sharing, isn’t likely to inspire a lot of clicks. But when you explain why they might like this person you are giving your reader a gift. This benefits everyone.
Share your writing tips
If you’ve figured something out consider sharing it. Yes, there is a ton of articles on writing, including this one, but they are popular for a reason. Some of us, most definitely preaching to myself here, need to be hit over the head with the same information multiple times before it really sinks in.
Also, the effort of formulating your thoughts to share writing advice with other people helps solidify the information for yourself. Melinda Crow explains how that works here:
How to Capitalize on the Magic of Helping Other Writers
Edit, critique, read, and teach your way to better writing
Credit your inspiration when you can
Did you notice how Melinda’s story above has a title that could work perfectly well on the story you are currently reading. Let me assure you this fact did not escape me.
As I was writing the section above I remembered that Melinda had written about learning how to do something by teaching someone else to do it. I went looking for the story so I could note it here and was surprised to discover that not only did it include the bit about teaching others how to write but the entire story has the same basic thesis as this story.
I honestly had not remembered that. Obviously, I was heavily influenced by this story I read two months ago. If I had not happened to remember one specific point, who the author was, and been able to find it again just on the basis of the title by scrolling through her feed, I wouldn’t have been able to give her any credit and point to her excellent article.
If you read as much as I do I’m sure this has happened to you. I’m very glad that in this instance I’m able to give credit to Melinda Crow. Her story has clearly been percolating in me for two months. I’d like to think the story I’m writing here is a new brew and not completely derivative but I’ll let you and Melinda be the judge of that.
All the things we read swirl around in our brains until something finally clicks and a concept solidifies for us. That’s why it’s okay that the same story gets written several times, sometimes even by the same writer.
The final tipping point that led directly to me writing this story was from Ryan DeJonghe.
I wish I could credit every writer in between Melinda and Ryan who has nudged my thoughts in the direction of this story but not only is there no way for me to identify them at this point but also there are too many to mention.
If you are working to credit writers when you can and seeking to pay them back with reads, highlights, comments, and claps, it mostly balances out in the end.
Do you see the trend here? The exact actions you take to support, encourage and lift up other writers inevitably strengthen your own writing career as well. It’s an awesome positive feedback loop.
Paying it forward pays it back
You’ve probably noticed that I rewarded Melanie J. by returning the favor and linking to her story here. But I would caution against an explicit you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours approach. I cited Melanie’s story not because she cited mine but because it illustrated my point beautifully.
Cite and link to other writer’s stories within your own story only when they add value to your reader.
Seek out opportunities to engage with and support whenever you can meaningfully do so. Don’t expect or wait for reciprocation.
Over time you will notice which writers are generous in their support of others and which are not. Throw a little more support the way of generous writers.
The world is not fair but over time kindness and support reaps rewards.
Caution: Don’t try to fake it
Being a cooperative writer is going to take some effort. You can’t just randomly clap, highlight, and comment, “Great read!” and expect the writing community to reward you.
Meaningfully citing and linking to a writer within the context of your story is great. But please don’t just include a long laundry list of writers if your only goal is to get them to read your story.
Roz Warren lays out the danger of that strategy in this humorous but highly relevant piece.
That’s my resolution moving forward into 2021. I want to be a generous writer and reader. I want to bring positive value in my interactions with others. I want to run my own best race while helping those around me to run their best race as well. I want us all to cross our own personal finish lines and enjoy the victory feast together.
Who’s with me?