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Toil Story

by Garrett Warren about a year ago in advice
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My feelings regarding a trend that's been around forever but has reared it's head a little higher recently.

Toil Story
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

I went back and forth a lot on whether I wanted to write this. Not for any serious reason, but on issues of laziness – i.e. “I could play video games to give myself a writing break before I work on my Fair Winds story”. Also, I had previously decided that if I wrote any ‘non-fiction’ thing it would be something universally applicable and not contextually dependent on the readers familiarity with Vocal. In addition, I'm not particularly good at this sort of writing. But while the subject matter is specific to Vocal, those sufficiently skilled in extrapolation can probably find some broader applicable areas for this piece which is why I decided to go ahead and write it.

Ahem.

I’m part of two Facebook groups catering to Vocal writers whose styles, strengths, quality, expertise, etc.., run all over the adjectival spectrum. Both groups are populated by persons who are generally supportive and insightful and from whom aspiring writers can learn from by reading.

I see again and again people stating that their purpose for writing for Vocal is to practice their craft and yet, multiple times a day, I see questions regarding three things:

  1. How to win challenges.
  2. How to get a top story.
  3. How to get reads and hearts.
By Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

I don’t want to make this too long a thing, so I’ll skip the more (poorly) philosophized bits and writing advice I had initially planned on putting in here (Also, the quality of this advice coming from me – essentially a nobody – is probably dubious at best) and will just get to the meat of the matter: Don't worry about it.

Part of the allure of Vocal for many people is that it is a chance to earn money from writing. This is why I joined. I haven’t made any yet, but that’s okay. I don’t care. I pay $10 a month for a Vocal + subscription because I like to do the challenges. The challenges give me two things I tend to lack outside of the site which are hard deadlines and potential monetary gains. I have not gotten top story, I have not won any challenges, I have not made any money – so I essentially pay $10 a month to want to write. And for me, that’s fine because it’s an affordable thing. But whether it’s affordable to you is a value judgement you will have to make.

Outside of some of the more lucrative challenges, you do not need the subscription. A lot of people here are amateur writers who do, indeed, need to hone their writing skills. I don’t know how top stories are chosen or how stories are judged in challenges, but if paying $5-$10 a month is something you can’t afford to do without recouping some of your expenditures then don’t have the subscription. Write stories and post them in a group. Or send them to friends.

The awful truth is that – with a few exceptions – stories written purely for money or acclaim is often never good enough to garner either. Especially if you’re new to this thing, as most of us are. The problem, I think, with things like writing is its accessibility. It has a very low threshold for entry – requiring only a word processor or even just a pen and paper. But it takes a while to get good at and chances are you’re not going to hit a home run with your first real try.

That last point is very important because I think people set this idea up in their head that they’re good or great writers even if they haven’t actually written anything serious before or for a long time. This expectation of instant success is not a new thing, but it’s a bummer to see people who may very well be a future literary success get hung up on contemporary stats and hearts and then, dejected, hang their stories in the gambrel of a rarely visited folder on their computers desktop to sit there in digital isolation to rot and wither away with time. You’re going to need to work at it, and in order to keep yourself in the head space of working you’re going to need ignore stats.

By Markus Spiske on Unsplash

If you can afford the subscription to do that challenges, fine, but never go in with the expectation of winning. Put your heart and wits into your story, publish it, and move on to the next one. If you get a top story or win a challenge, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Don’t worry about how to tailor your writing to increase your odds of getting Top Story or winning a challenge because of that earlier thing I said about writing something only for money or acclaim. If you want to be a great writer – note, though, that while being ‘great’ and ‘successful’ are not mutually exclusive things, for you/we at this point in our careers they basically are – you’re going to need to tell an honest story. Honest to you. And by honesty here, I’m referring to something beyond the mundane truths of daily life and appealing to something more abstract and metaphysical. Write stories that you believe in. For me, I like the ostensibly limiting aspect of prompts because I like working around them and doing something interesting. Give me the laziest prompt and I will – successfully or otherwise – spend a large amount of time tweaking it to make as interesting a story as I possibly can. That’s how I like to practice my writing.

So, write your story. It doesn’t matter what it is. Just write it. Then write the next one. Post it wherever you can, get your critique, improve. Rejection and obscurity is as much part of the writer’s life as it is anyone else’s. These are mental hurdles that need to be plowed through, stepped over, and ground into the dirt, then sown with salt.

Just keep writing.

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Garrett Warren

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