This is one of those occasions where I cannot wait to post something and upload it outside of my usual schedule. Not because I am excited to share my thoughts on a topic and simply cannot hold myself back, but because these are thoughts I cannot hold on to.
If you've logged on to Twitter at all in the past couple of hours, you may have seen "Harsh Writing Advice" trending.
At the time of writing this post, it's up to nearly 7,000 tweets and gaining traction fast.
When a writing-related tweeting trend catches fire, it can sometimes the result of a question being posed and a lot of people answering.
Oxford Comma—Yay or Nay?
Pen or Pencil?
Are you a Planner or a Plotter?
Paper books or Ebooks?
It might also stem announcements like a cover reveal for the next installment in a popular series or serious conversations about specific topics, like the portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters or a character who is deaf.
Then there are instances where the matter at hand rises to popularity as writers correct a misconception, as recently happened when Nora Roberts herself got involved with a commenter on her website after they accused her of delaying the release of a book she had not even finished writing for the sake of a marketing ploy. Writing Twitter had much to say, mainly using it as an opportunity to educate and explain how the publishing industry actually operates.
No matter the case, it takes a LOT for something to become so tweeted-about that it lands itself on the homepage sandwiched between Covid-19 updates and politics.
This time around, it's a bit different.
When I first saw HARSH WRITING ADVICE trending, I initially thought it was inspired by someone posting a question, maybe inviting fellow writers to share the harshest piece of writing advice they have ever been given or what they would tell their past self about writing.
Digging a bit deeper, I discovered it seems to have originated from a now-deleted tweet surviving as screenshots.
The tweet reads:
HARSH WRITING ADVICE
Your writer friends are also your competition.
As you may imagine, people had plenty to say on the matter. Many chimed in with their own pieces of advice about writing while others called attention to the original post regarding your writer friends being your competition.
It's this latter point I want to address in this blog post.
There are times where writing can feel like it's a competition. Agents can only take on so many clients. Publishers will only buy so many manuscripts. There is only one #1 spot on every weekly bestsellers list.
Comparing ourselves to these authors can make us question our own abilities as writers, regardless of whether or not we are published. Query letters require comp titles, meaning we need to list comparable titles with similarities to our own so the agent can get a sense of what they are looking at and how well they will be able to sell it to a publisher. Coming up with some for my manuscript has been one of the biggest headaches of the process for me, in part because I'm often left wondering if my book really is good enough despite beta reader approval and knowing I've poured every ounce of my heart into it for years.
But I also know I would not be ready to query or at this point in my writing journey without these beta readers, all of which are writing friends.
Even though some of my betas and my critique partner are friends from college and people I had writing classes with, the majority of the people I enlisted to provide feedback on my novel are friends I made on Twitter.
My so-called competition.
Even last night, a writing friend helped me rework my query letter after I mentioned being in an overall writing slump and my apprehensions about getting back in the proverbial saddle. She voluntarily took the time to pop into a Google Doc with me and not only provide honest feedback about my query letter but suggestions to improve it.
We went through several drafts and are still tinkering away at it.
While receiving feedback on your writing can leave you feeling like you've been scolded by Gordon Ramsey, this isn't the intention.
And honestly, Ramsey only gets this abrasive with adults.
Think of it like a reputable blogger writing a one-star review of a bestselling author's latest release after it leaves a lot to be desired. The reviewer might call them out on the lack of research regarding a protagonist's career, an inability to become invested in the plot, or the way character cameos and nods to past their works are just shoehorned in for the sake of nostalgia and really only serve to remind readers of other, better books they've written.
When it's a well-known author with such a reputation, more is expected of them. Similarly, those competing on Hell's Kitchen are professional chefs. The program itself and Ramsey are known for being unrelenting, but that is because as professional chefs, certain qualities are expected of them and their dishes.
Master Chef Junior features children but also features a softer Ramsey, whose comments are gentler and founded in constructive criticism. He knows these kids are not professionals and treats them accordingly, encouraging them not only to not be afraid of making mistakes but to learn from them because that is how you grow.
This is more often than not the way critique partners and beta readers provide their feedback. People understand an unpublished book is not going to be perfect. You're reaching out to prospective betas because there is more work to be done and you need their input to improve upon what you already have.
If writing were a competition in the sense of Hell's Kitchen and other shows, they may not be as collaborative. Rather, they would hope to do better instead of helping you make your work better.
If anything, this alleged competition among writers more closely resembles The Great British Baking Show than it resembles Hell's Kitchen.
There are a lot of reasons I love The Great British Baking Show, and one significant aspect is the atmosphere. There is a competitive element to it, of course. Whether it's making a good impression with your first-ever bake under the tent, ranking highly in the Technical Challenge, winning the Star Baker title for that week, or the trophy at the end of the season, everyone is working towards the same goal.
At the same time, however, there is not nearly as much bitterness. There are many instances of bakers checking in with one another and genuinely asking if they are okay, sharing cups of tea as they wait for things to cook, chatting about the history behind family recipes, consoling one another when things go awry, and even assisting with the finishing touches if their own bakes are done.
Several competitors remain friends after the competition ends, and one season's cast even reunited for one baker's wedding.
As far as I can tell as a mere viewer (and someone who cannot compete since I am American), eliminations are not so much met with a feeling of relief and one less person to worry about, but a sense of missing a colleague. The week following one competitor's exit saw those who remained clad in Hawaiian shirts as a nod to him, reminiscent of Dancing with the Stars competitors sporting temporary paw print tattoos after The Cheetah Girls star Sabrina Bryan was cut in one of the most shocking eliminations to this day.
This feeling of support is the same I find within the Writing Community on Twitter.
I've been open about things I disagree with when it comes to social media, namely hashtags intended to foster engagement and connect people being taken over by self-promotion, automatically DMing links to buy your books without so much as a hello, and a handful of auto-follow-back expectations and practices.
But these are only a small portion of people within the Writing Community.
The Writing Community overall is full of genuine care and support whether you're a budding writer or a best-selling author.
It's this so-called competition that celebrates their peers' signing with agents landing publishing deals, hypes up fellow writers' new releases, is there to offer a word of encouragement when you find yourself in a slump, and can be a wonderful distraction.
Just as often as I've asked for opinions or advice about my writing, I've had people shoot me a DM asking if I knew anything about a genre-related thing, sharing a resource they stumbled across and know would be relevant to my research, or something seemingly more trivial like what the exact term for something is.
In 2019, I attended a KissCon panel featuring romance authors including Tessa Dare, Caroline Linden, Megan Frampton, Olivia Waites, and others. During the Q&A session, I somehow got up the guts to ask for a bit of advice regarding the querying process and bracing myself to dive into the infamous "query trenches."
These authors could have brushed it off with a general "keep at it, kid" or "you're doing great, sweetie" and moved on. But they didn't.
They each shared genuine tips to keep in mind and a bit about what they wished they knew way back when. I had a chance to briefly talk with Ms. Frampton afterward, and she continued to share tidbits of advice with me.
Even though I am to this day not yet published, they treated me as a peer with the shared goal of storytelling. They encouraged me to, and I quote, "revel" in the fact I had completed a novel and to celebrate it.
The dreamcatcher I won in the trivia game earlier in the evening hangs in my writing nook as a proud reminder of that.
It is this collective mentality of working towards a shared goal that forges friendships.
Writers look out for each other. We ban together to do better and be better.
Writing thrives on a collaborative spirit, not a competitive one.
And the response to this HARSH WRITING ADVICE tweet proves just that.