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Everything Is Writing

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Image by Srividya Balayogi

How many times have we complained about the business of writing? We’ve heard others do it, we’ve done it, the internet is wall-to-wall jam-packed with it.

“I love writing, but I hate all the other stuff that comes with it!” We cry. “If only I could only write!”

Here’s the thing: most of that “other stuff” is writing too. Whether you’re published or not, but especially if you are, it’s a necessary shift in attitude. If you say “I love writing, but I hate promotion” or “I love writing, but I hate trying to get published,” there’s another way to see the picture.

What do I mean? Well:

The query letter. Queries are for sure a different type of writing than novels, but a good one is a thing of beauty, and it all comes down to words. Choosing words. Which is writing. You need to write just enough to get someone interested in the sample pages. That’s all. And a rejection isn’t necessarily an indication that your query-writing isn’t great. On the contrary, if an agent reads a query that perfectly describes your book and they instantly know that the book isn’t for them, it’s… actually a success, even if it doesn’t feel that way.

Synopsis. It’s basically a neck-and-neck race between the synopsis or the query for the title of Most Hated Task In All of Writerdom. And yet, it’s also writing. A synopsis that describes what happens in the book without only¬†describing what happens — and as a bonus, manages to convey tone and voice — is an amazing piece of writing, a demonstration of powerful writerly skills.

Author bio. Yes, even your author bio is writing. How do I know? Longtime readers on WU know my most recent book was published under a pseudonym [2]. My Jael McHenry author bio is 100% true, and my Pseudonym Me bio is 100% true, and yet there is very little overlap between the two. Select the details of your life as if you were describing a character you’re writing about. You might be “Reclusive New Hampshire author who prefers to see the world via snowshoe” or “She, for one, welcomes our new insect¬†overlords” or whatever else you are, but like it or not, you are telling readers something about how to perceive you, so choose your words wisely.

Social media. You may love social media or you may hate it, but either way, is it writing? It is. Twitter is 140 characters worth of writing, and if there’s an area where every single word (and letter, and space) is more precious, I have yet to find it. And again, writing is just choosing words. “BUY MY BOOK” is not good writing. Good writing, over the course of many tweets, means: good conversation; good signposting of other people’s good content; a sense of your personality and interests; and a call to action that, instead of consisting of you screaming “BUY MY BOOK”, makes the reader say “This is awesome! I’m going to buy her book/enter her contest/retweet that praise/sign up my book club/click that link. Right now.”

Blurbs. It’s a rite of passage that within the first month after your book comes out, you will probably get a request to be blurbed by another author whose book isn’t quite as far along. (Requests for blurbs are also writing, by the way.) If you say yes, and if you like the book, you need to craft something that perfectly encapsulates what you loved about the book so that potential readers will leap up and say “Yes! I want to read that!” It’s a big responsibility, but as with these other forms of writing, a well-crafted one is a treasure.

There are countless other examples. Cover copy. Guest posts. Pitch letters. Review requests. Conference applications. Award nominations. Thank-you notes to bookstores.

None of them replace the A-number-one responsibility you have as a writer of fiction — write the best book you possibly can — but they are all writing exercises that will sharpen your writing skills, and support your ultimate goal of finding your book its readers.

A simple rule: everything is writing, and writing is everything.

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About Jael McHenry [3]

Jael McHenry is the debut author of The Kitchen Daughter [4] (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books, April 12, 2011). Her work has appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Indiana Review, and the Graduate Review at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. You can read more about Jael and her book at jaelmchenry.com [5] or follow her on Twitter at @jaelmchenry.