“If you can write, you can write a book! Anyone can write a book!”
The world of self-publishing has unleashed a torrent of advice like this, which has in turn spawned a flood of frustrated writers and unsold books.
This sales pitch is the perfect expression of the Universal Writer Myth. It’s particularly dangerous and compelling because at one level, it’s true.
The Universal Writer Myth
The Universal Writer Myth is the belief that everyone who can read and write is a writer.
In the last post, I wrote about the Destiny Myth, or the idea that only special people are writers. That’s a limiting belief. The Universal Writer myth is its counterpart: everyone can write, so go for it.
Technically, it’s true. If you write, you are a writer. That’s important advice to remember.
But just as some people need to hear this advice for encouragement, others need to remember that the Universal Writer dogma glosses over an important fact:
Anyone can write. Not everyone writes successfully.
Success doesn’t mean selling thousands of books. Success is writing something that reaches and resonates with a reader.
Writing is not a one-way street: as communication, it must find and affect a reader.
If you write without any concern for the reader or what happens to the words when you are done, then you are really journaling.
I love the practice of keeping a journal. I write for myself all the time, to clarify my thoughts and think deeply, and to work on the craft of writing.
Keeping a journal is part of my practice, not my writing output.
At work, not everyone should be writing
The Universal Writer Myth pops up in the workplace all the time, particularly as businesses look for ways to increase employee-generated content to fuel corporate blogs.
Companies ask executives, engineers, support staff, customer success teams, sales teams, and others to contribute content to the corporate blog or email newsletter. Everyone knows how to write, so what’s the big deal?
Sometimes it works well, other times it does not. Even when the individuals write well, the resulting blog does not always achieve its purposes.
In the workplace, it’s not enough to simply write.
Writing effectively for business requires that you execute several tasks, including:
- Finding the right tone and style
- Understanding the target audience
- Creating content that serves the reader’s needs while fulfilling business objectives
Why this myth can be dangerous
A belief in the Universal Writer Myth can mislead people about the what it takes to be effective as a writer.
It’s not enough to write — you need to write effective content. So, the first question is, what’s the effect you want to have?
If you’re publishing a book, write a book that someone would want to read. Understand your audience and their needs and expectations, and then meet them. That’s how you write effective content.
If you’re writing a blog post, consider its purpose. You could simply write 1000 words and post them online. You’ll be a blogger, but not an effective one. We’ve all read blog posts like that. Consider what you want the blog to achieve and who might visit it, and work from there.
Yes, you can, but should you?
Anyone can write. But you should write only if you are willing to do the work to write something worth reading.
This is true whether you’re writing books or creating content in the workplace. In the workplace, asking everyone to contribute to the blog may not be the best way to create content.
Joe Pulizzi, of Content Marketing Institute, reiterated this advice in his 2017 Mid-Year Content Marketing Checkup blog post:
A few innovative companies that work with CMI have taken away all writing assignments from their employees and given them to outside writers. It saves on employee time, editing time, and, in most cases, produces content that is far superior.”
The Universal Writer Myth can lead to a great deal of ineffective content.
Plan first, then write
The first, most important step of writing something effective is planning. Determine what you are doing and why.
Planning is particularly critical in the business context. Without planning, you may waste time and damage your reputation. With the right goals, you know what to aim for.
Then, work on the craft. Edit and revise your words. Try to continuously improve. Hire an editor. Proofread. Read your words out loud and listen to how they sound.
Whenever you encounter the “anyone can write” advice, remember the essential modification:
Anyone can write — but do the work.
This is a part of a series of posts based on content from my upcoming book The Workplace Writer’s Process, to be published July 18.
In the mean time, check out these other, related posts:
Originally published at annejanzer.com on June 27, 2017.