Authors: Write Less on Writing, More on Stories

I’d rather explore fantastical stories than read about writing craft and industry.
on Jan 12, 2017 · 13 comments

Imagine a parallel world in which movie or TV actors behave like some writers I’ve seen.

Let’s say you become a big fan of a trending A-list actor, “Chris Lawrence.” You search for his name. What comes up? Perhaps his Tumblr feed, Facebook page, or Twitter account. Now imagine if all-American actor Chris Lawrence only says things like, “Practiced my acting today. Lots of trouble acting happy when I’m so sad inside.” Or, “I just read my latest movie’s script. It has 67,984 words.” Or, “Here’s a screenshot of an email with my agent.”

Or, perhaps even worse, “Learn A-List Acting 101 with Chris Lawrence! Delve deep into the secrets of 1) getting into character, 2) cutting up with Jimmy Fallon, 3) SO MUCH MORE.”

That would be weird. Instead you would first see publicity photos. Or shots from his actual movies. Or updates about convention appearances. Or maybe the occasional personal thought about the themes of his recent movies.

Shouldn’t novelists perhaps do more of the same?

Disclaimer time. This topic and challenge is risky for at least three reasons:

  1. I’m still only a fan, not a published author (not even self-published).
  2. I have many author friends. I don’t, and won’t, “pick on” anyone.
  3. If I go on about this, I’ll end up turning hypocrite in two ways—either right now, by myself focusing this article narrowly on authors, or else in the future, about 40 years or so, when you may get the E. Stephen Burnett Complete Novel-O-Rama Training Course Seminar To Write SplendidFiction™ and Be a Trim Healthy Author for Just $0.35 A Day.

That aside, as a fan-not-published-author, I don’t get why so many authors (or aspiring authors) instead focus so narrowly on the arguably dullest parts of what they do: writing and editing and the publishing industry.

As if their fans want to get behind the authorial scenes most of the time.

As if their fans want to know not only the release day and plot of the author’s next yarn, but also the release delay reasons, wordcounts, publisher inside info, and not to mention those infamous agents and deadlines and periods of midnight self-crippling doubt, amirite?

Also—and here I must be very careful—especially when famous successful authors showcase their Author Training Courses, I suspect a gimmick. What happened to you, All-American Novelist? Did you run out of novel ideas? Is this a retirement job? Did you get old and have your fun, so now you’ll sell your inventions so that everyone can have powers—everyone can be super?

Of course, there may be reasons for these writing-and-publishing-industry emphases to hit me all wrong:

  • First, actual pro authors may find their fans love this kind of stuff. Maybe I’m an outlier.
  • Second, clearly fans of fantastical or speculative fiction love writing this sort of thing themselves, more than, say, the fans of John MacArthur devotionals. So it stands to reason fantasy/speculative fans like more behind-the-scenes info than most.

And of course a good author wants to build personal relationships with fans. It would be bizarre and a bit inhuman to hide every detail of the author’s writing and publication process, as if it’s taboo.

But when I think of some writers—no one by name, but an overall impression—I struggle to recall their story “face.” I struggle to recall their recent novel titles, much less character names.

Instead, I retrieve this rather comparatively bland word association: writer.

I first recall impressions of memes, updates, screencaps, and essays about writing.

I’m not a fan of this kind of writing-and-editing-and-industry-info-dumping.

And I can’t help but suspect that even a slight focus on these details keeps the genre(s) of fantastical storytelling-by-Christian-authors from growing.

Mind you, I love writing myself. If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t be here.

But I don’t enjoy actually writing about writing all that much. The topic is boring.

I’d rather not focus publicly about how stories were made, but explore the stories we love.

I’d rather not dwell on a talented actor’s technique, but watch his or her movie.

I’d rather not know about sausage-making, but enjoy a sausage-egg-and-cheese biscuit.

I speak first as an aspiring fan. But surely these passionate writers themselves don’t benefit much from talking about writing more than they actually, you know, do it. I shared this article by Hannah Strickler Anderson, who recently resolved “to talk less and write more”:

I don’t want to build a community around my writing; I want my writing to help you build your community.

This seems to broaden one’s appeal beyond niche groups of blog or social-network allies.

This would also give more time to actually gain craft expertise. In reply to this article, some storytellers said they’d known people who seemed more enamored with talking about writing than spending time exploring the stories they love. (Strangely enough, those people often find little to actually write—time, perhaps, that they’d spent talking about writing.)

What if you do not love only stories in general?

What if you also want to see Christian-made fantastical stories grow and find more fans?

Well, if our websites and blogs and social-network shares focus on writing-industry things—that is, if our writing-and-editing-and-industry talk effectively becomes the hook for our marketing—our audience could shrink even more than usual:

  • From: people on the internet and who are Christians and/or appreciate fantastical stories and who go looking for this sort of thing for themselves or their loves ones and who have better-than-most attention spans and happen to find your website and happen to be drawn to your article and don’t mind buying books …
  • To: people who miraculously fall into all those categories, but also live and breathe for discussions about craft/industries of writing and editing and publishing.

This is one stumbling block we can easily remove so these amazing stories can grow.

Writing, and talking-about-writing, is a means to an end: stories. So authors, let’s not tell as much about craft-of-writing, but show more of the stories we love.

E. Stephen Burnett explores fantastical stories for God’s glory as publisher of and its weekly Fantastical Truth podcast. He coauthored The Pop Culture Parent and creates other resources for fans and families, serving with his wife, Lacy, in their central Texas church. Stephen's first novel, a science-fiction adventure, launches in 2025 from Enclave Publishing.
  1. Terry Palmer says:

    Boring is right. Ugh. Yawn. Stretch. Come on guys, let’s write more. It’s a fascination, I guess. My grand kids are masters at it. When they have a project going on that has their attention, all else goes out the window. They are fixated on that one thing. So, when it’s time for their morning chores, school homework, etc. then, well, that one fun thing is at the center.
    As an author, I react in similar fashion. It’s part of a trend. Authors are given, ‘wisdom’, to write about what they are writing for their ‘fan base’, etc.
    But you are correct. We need as writers to get more stories out there which will stimulate people to read and read more. Good stories – the kind that you can’t put down because because the drama is so complete – you just have to know what happened. It’s also part of our need to know, of our being in tune with the instant gratification of the world.
    Yet, here I go also, when I have less than an hour to pack more into my ms.
    Best to you. Author Terry Palmer Chronicles of Orm.

  2. I concur. I post occasional promotional items, like a song for the day or an announcement about a new story coming out (e.g., acceptance or other process step, cover art, release info). Just this morning I posted my schedule for a science fiction & fantasy convention that starts tomorrow. But I try to post a lot of other things I think are interesting – science stories or items about design or even publicity things on behalf of other writers or musicians. I admit that some of those things end up being at least tangentially related to something I’ve written, too, even though I’m not a very thorough self-promoter. But I don’t write a lot about writing and editing themselves.

    Nice post. Thanks!

  3. The trick in all of this is unlike actors, who can keep their fans happy with behind-the-scenes photos and snippets of trivia without really writing anything substantive at all, writers have a very difficult time talking about their own work without either spoiling a book that hasn’t been released yet (and possibly incurring the wrath of their publisher) or boring their loyal readers with excerpts and trivia about a book or books they’ve already read long ago.

    One alternative is to generate short stories and other new fictional content specifically for your blog that will be published nowhere else, but that takes away time and energy from the writing you’re trying to publish (which, again, risks incurring the wrath of your publisher).

    Or you could write a general blog about your daily life and non-writing-related activities, but there are a million of those out there and unless you are an enthusiastic diarist by nature, it’s pretty hard to sustain.

    You could write eloquent essays about the beauties of your chosen genre of fiction and the writers who have most inspired you, or review books that you are reading currently, but there are already lots of sites (including this one) that would be glad to share that content with a wider audience than you, Lone Writer, could hope to reach on your own.

    There are some authors who have an endless supply of ideas and energy to write them — I would love to be one of those authors myself, but I’m not. So for me, the only real alternative to blogging about the writing process is to not write anything at all.

    • R.J., as a publisher author you could likely advise many readers here. I wonder if perhaps some people feel the pressure to write daily or semi-daily on a website. I could never do that myself! I would quickly put quantity over quality, and lose focus.

      A site such as SpecFaith offers new content almost every weekday solely because of the dedicated writers here (including many dozens of fantastic guest writers).

      But lately I’ve theorized about how to try a improved single-person website as part of promoting the author’s stories. And so far the only thing I can think of is a fairly static website with hook-ins to the author’s social-network pages that almost often feature only image-and-text pairings (“memes”) with short, punchy, eye-catching excerpts from the book. For me, anyway, these always catch my eye.

      • So you’re saying I should revive my Tumblr and stream it straight through to my blog page? Oh, the humanity! 😀

        I did have a couple of book-specific Tumblr when I first started, full of links and pictures related to my Ultraviolet and Faery Rebels series. Eventually I got tired of the lack of interaction and started reblogging gifsets and memes from other books/TV/movies instead. There were a couple of fan-created blogs dedicated to my series, but they didn’t see much traffic and ran out of content eventually as well. It’s hard to sustain that kind of thing unless you’ve got a mega-popular fandom dedicated to your books.

        Anyway, eventually I realized I was spending way too much time on Tumblr, plus getting way too emotionally invested in arguments that didn’t matter, and deleted everything. Back to square one, wherever that is!

  4. Laura says:

    Amen, amen, and amen. This is why I stopped writing about writing. No one actually read those posts except me, and even I was bored. Now I blog about totally different stuff. I talk about theology, my experiences in ministry, “true tales of unbelievable social awkwardness”, and short stories. None of it is remotely related to my novel, but it’s related to me. I’d hope that people like my future books because they like me too.

  5. Paul Lee says:

    We grew up on DVD extras and “THE MAKING OF…” behind-the-scenes specials, and those aren’t even primarily for people who also want to make the same kinds of productions. The DVD extra has spawned some of the better elements of our culture, I think, including the indie musician making music video covers of big media songs and then branching off into originals. I selectively find discussion of craft and/or theory interesting, because they tell the stories of how real people in this world came together to make something awesome that became real in this world. That’s what I want most of all — to be part of a team, to work beside others on a worthy cause that leaves an inspiring legacy.

    I agree completely with the nature of the problem — it’s the curse of being overly self-aware combined with the common temptations of pride and vanity. It’s everywhere. I’m nominally in the web industry—I’m a webmaster and I made my employer’s website from scratch. The web design-development community is at least as bad as the writer community, and the creative freelancer community is probably worse than either.

    It’s the problem of inauthenticity, and it takes a painful amount of discipline to overcome.

  6. I value your insight.Words worth pondering.

  7. Khai says:

    Sometimes I think we write about writing because we’re always talking TO someone about that. When we just write stories, we are stuck alone with our keyboard and screen. Feels like a shallow way to procrastinate and get ego-soothed at the same time. And I am guilty as heck of it.

  8. Alexander Preston says:

    This is rather instructional for me. I’m actually in the process of setting up a blog to promote my “brand” as a self-published author. I’m still fleshing out ideas for future posts (I’ve completed only the first, so far) but the approach I’ve more or less settled on is a “thematic” one focusing on different ideas and interests that inform my creative process. It’s rather eclectic, but I’m hoping that can be part of the appeal. Some potential topics include Intelligent Design/Creationism, the world in Noah’s time, space colonization, transhumanism, the legacy of Communism, time travel, cryptozoology, UFOs, etc. Basically subjects that will be featured in whole or in part in my future novels, and how I interpret them through a biblical worldview. I’m going for a little bit of a George Noory/Coast to Coast AM type of atmosphere.

What do you think?