What this editor has to say about articles for writers will SHOCK you!

The Snark Zone: Letters From the Editors
Stephanie “Baker” Lenz


Photo Credit: Michael Coghlan/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Photo Credit: Michael Coghlan/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

  • “Every writer MUST do this!”
  • “Nine Rules For Your Novel”
  • “Thirteen Things You Must Write In Your Travel Journal”
  • “The Proper Way To Hold a Pencil”
  • “What You Need For Your Writing Space”
  • “Don’t Write Another Word Until You Visit These Sites”
  • “Never Do This On Your Social Media Accounts If You’re a Writer”
  • “Twenty Must-Read Classic Children’s Books”

Those are a few of the articles I found while browsing social media.

As a former journalist, I understand why these are the titles for these articles. They catch your eye. They command you to take a look and/or threaten that a terrible fate will befall you if you ignore them. The problem is that articles like these are so prolific, we assume that the articles that don’t make demands are, in fact, making demands—just like all the others.

I wrote our most recent Absolute Blank article, which gives writers ideas on how to use Pinterest and other platforms to organize your story electronically. The accompanying A Pen In Each Hand exercises encourage writers to do this. In the comments on the exercises, a writer named Joe said that he doesn’t use social media. I replied that the article is about using social media platforms as tools. Joe may not have seen the article first; he later commented “you convinced me” on it and said that he’d try some of the ideas. I truly look forward to hearing whether he found the suggestions useful (and whether he uses the social aspect of the suggested social media sites).

That’s what I like about writing articles and exercises for TC, as well as presenting older exercises in our Podcast In Each Hand: we have never said that you must do anything. Okay, we’ve said that you must write and you must read but that’s not the same as “you must write first thing in the morning” or “you must read a new-to-you book every month.”

It’s all well and good to provide a bullet point list of things a writer must do each day. It’s another thing when the writer reading it is working two jobs, cooking dinner for his family, helping with homework, and throwing in a load of laundry all while working out a scene in his head so he can jot it down his next day off. Adding an anxiety-inducing “must” list to his chores isn’t going to help him achieve his writing goals.

I get that clickbait headlines and numbered “must/never” lists are a way to be heard over the clamor (and get some money from it, if you have advertisers). Our titles aren’t clickbait. We have no advertisers to impress with a hit count. From our inception, we’ve been dedicated to being a site by writers for writers and supporting each other, our work, and our individual processes. One writer’s “must” is another’s “maybe” and another’s “never.”

Toasted Cheese’s articles and exercises have always been about tips, tricks, ideas, suggestions, prompts, and guides, a “take what you can use and disregard the rest” approach. Some of articles are deliberately broad in order to allow the reader to be liberal about what she disregards. Our article series is titled “Absolute Blank,” which (like all things TC) comes from “The Hunting of the Snark” but it wasn’t chosen by an editor throwing a dart at a copy of the poem. For me, AB is indeed an absolute blank: something that is complete in its openness. We get you started, provide an idea, inspire, answer a question, or give you a how-to outline. One of earliest articles presented “rules” and then told you how and why to break them.

We don’t provide a strict, narrow path. We’ll give you guardrails, path lights, and lots of forks to choose from but what you do on your writing path is your choice. You’re creative. You’re driven (how many other writers are devoting a few minutes today an editorial about their craft?) You’re the one who knows—or suspects—what will work for you on your journey. You know whether you have time for extra writing in your journal or whether you have money to spend on new objects for your writing space (and whether a cat or a kid will knock it down). Who is anyone in your online travels to tell you what you have to do to succeed? Who defines writing success in the first place, other than the writer herself? Of course these articles and lists provide a lot of inspiration and most of the people writing them only want the best for other writers. We’re just advising that you go placidly amid the noise and the haste.

Of course, you can take what you like from this editorial and leave the rest.

pencilEmail: baker[at]toasted-cheese.com

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