Self Promotion & Writing for the Love of It

After I published The Writer’s Manifesto, I got mixed reactions. One group said “thank you” for speaking what had been on their hearts for years. Another said, “You’re full of it.”

Self Promotion
Photo credit: subzerconsciousness (Creative Commons)

I expected much more of the latter. The reality is every writer needs to learn to live in the tension of writing for an audience, while being true to the craft.

Self-promotion isn’t evil

Some misunderstood me when I said, “Writers don’t write to get published.” I didn’t mean writers don’t want to get published, or writers shouldn’t get published. I meant what I said: The reason that a writer writes is not so other people will read it.

How do I know this? Because I’ve lived it. I’ve written words for years that few or none have read. And I loved writing them, anyway.

Let’s be honest: It’s natural for a writer to want to get published. That just can’t be the primary motivation for writing.

What happens when you don’t get published? Do you stop writing? God help you if you do. There are few things in life more frustrating than a dream deferred.

When I wrote my manifesto, some people thought I was anti-self-promotion. Not true. When I published my eBook, I  personally emailed it to about 100 people I thought would benefit from it. I wanted people to read it. I wanted it to spread.

But if nobody had read it, I still would have written it.

Why love of your art must be primary

Writers need to not be motivated by applause and accolades. That comes and goes. What needs to fuel their passion is the love of the art. But there’s nothing wrong with promotion. It just can’t be primary.

I don’t have any problem promoting something I write (so long as it doesn’t get excessive or annoying). I want people to read The Writer’s Manifesto. But that’s not why I wrote it.

I wrote it, because I needed to hear those words just as much as I needed to write them. I wrote it, because it needed to be written.

That’s all any writer can do: write what must be written.

Can you self-promote and stay humble?

Some assume all self-promotion is bad. I don’t subscribe to that. There are countless undiscovered writers out there who are amazing and still learning how to build a platform.

There are also a plenty of hacks who act like sleaze bags, name-dropping and imposing their content on others without permission.

The trick for any serious writer is to write for the love of it and look for opportunities to share.

If you’re writing from the heart, the opportunity to make your work known to a wider audience will present itself. Be ready for it.

When will you be satisfied?

This is not easy. And I’ll admit it. Sometimes, it’s nice to get a pat on the back.

The thing I’ve learned is that human approval is flippant. When you make it your focus, you’re never satisfied.

One day, people love you; the next, they’re calling you an idiot. It’s chasing the wind.

But when you make your art the point (and not a means to an end), you’re continually satisfied.

Creating becomes the reward.

Embrace the tension

It may seem hypocritical to write about writing for the love of it and then tell you it’s not bad to self-promote, but it’s a tension we all live in.

We write for the sake of writing, but people do read what we have to say. And it’s not wrong to encourage that. What’s wrong is to fixate on the outcome and worry about what people will think.

Of course, you’re going to do that, any way. Just don’t let it influence what you write or how you write it.

The one non-negotiable

Whether you self-promote or not, there’s one thing you must do: You must risk failure.

There’s no guarantee you’ll succeed. And that’s what makes it fun, what makes is exciting. You must be true to your calling. You must go for broke.

If you do, people will listen to you. They’ll follow your passion. They’ll want to hear what you have to say. And then, it’s time to share.

How do you live in this tension of creating for the love of art and self-promotion? Share in the comments.

53 thoughts on “Self Promotion & Writing for the Love of It

  1. I agree!  This comment resonates with me. “Writers need to not be primarily motivated by the applause of an
    audience. That comes and goes. What needs to fuel their passion is the
    love of their art.”  Heck, if I waited for applause I would have a given up the day after I started.  I often get frustrated but the LOVE of writing outweighs my frustrations and the desire for that pat on the back. It HAS to or I wouldn’t find fulfilment in doing it. 

  2. “The reason that a writer writes is not so other people will read it.   How do I know this? Because I’ve lived it.”

    This is why I write also. I write because I have to create, and I love the flow of it when it’s all falling into place.

    I don’t sit down to write, thinking about readers or reactions or publishers (although I would love to publish a book one day). The fact that someone would want to read what I’ve written is awesome to me, but it’s not an outcome I focus on. The focus has to be on what’s in my heart that needs to be put into words.

    Tension in writing never entered the picture until I sent a manuscript to an editor. Then all of a sudden, the focus shifted to the outcome. Human approval became the motivation. And my re-write is still waiting to be done because now it all feels different.

    Thanks for writing The Writer’s Manifesto. It is brilliant.

  3. This reminds me a bit of the race to flight. The Wright brothers had a passion for flying. It wasn’t that they were trying to gain fame or fortune. They had no money, no media coverage, but it pushed them through to completion and it pushed their team. Passion was the reason.

    I heard Godin talk about that and he reference a lot of the points you said. 

    I am glad you wrote it buddy.

    I struggle with the self promotion thing. I cringe every time someone RTs something someone said nice about them. But I cringe because I often think I could do the same thing. 
    In a society that is wanted to be seen and will do a lot of things to be seen I have found that those who do the opposite (serve and put others first) are the ones that get noticed. 

    1. Ah, yes… the RT of the RT. I’ve done it before. It’s tempting, but pointless (and kinda douchey).

      I think self-promotion can be more subtle.

      I intend to soon write a practical post on how to share your stuff without being a content prostitute.

  4. Gotta say, I LOVE this tension. I love feeling really uncomfortable about self promotion because it reminds me that I haven’t completely lost it. 

    For me, the moment when there’s no uneasy feeling is the moment I need an intervention. 

    I think ‘self promotion’ ultimately must terminate on others to be significant. Yes I’m promoting ‘my stuff’ but my hope most of the time is that ‘my stuff’ can serve, build up or encourage others. 

    Also perhaps there’s a better word to describe what you’re saying than ‘self promotion’? I’m running a blank right now on a substitute phrase but for someone like me who struggles mightily with pride, I know I have to put a lot of effort into removing ‘self’ from my work because there’s already so much of it in there. 

    Can’t wait to read your manifesto bro. 

  5. Tension is a good word to use Jeff. The thing that helps me to push through this tension is to focus on the possibility that my ideas can help others grow and develop. “Iron sharpens iron” sort of thing. In terms of self promotion I would say being excited about something we create is contagious in an organic sort of way. So self-promotion can be accomplished without coming across like a pin striped suit used car salesman. 

    Thanks for your post and I just downloaded your manifesto. Looking forward to reading it!

  6. Jeff!

    Thank you for this post. I always go through the battle in my mind of wondering if people will think I am too into myself when I promote my work. Thanks for the reminder that I’d do it regardless if anyone read it or not!


    Doug “Bubba” Smith

  7. I believe self-promotion is amoral. What makes it good or bad is the motivating factor. If you are self-promoting to make yourself rich and/or famous, then it’s the wrong motivation and it will leak through into everything you do.

    If you are self-promoting because you are confident that you have a message that can benefit others, then it is great.

    I believe many pe0ple that think self-promotion is bad is because they are so discouraged with their own work that they don’t feel confident. Or they believe that if the work is any good, someone will divinely stumble upon their work and they will finally get the credit they deserve.

    It all comes back to motivation. I have no problem promoting myself when I have something worth sharing. People can tell when the difference when you are trying to bring attention to yourself or if you are trying to bring attention to your art.

  8. Again, so so good and exactly what I needed to read right now. Thanks! 
    (P.S. I’ll be posting on my blog later today about your manifesto and a few other posts that helped me this link, so my review is coming. 🙂 ) 

  9. It’s tough to write just because you love it. Particularly with blogging, we get addicted to the instant feedback our writing gets. The problem is that the comments and feedback can affect our art in negative (as well as positive ways). You start writing for a reaction rather than staying true to what’s inside of you. 

  10. I loved this Jeff! Thanks for sharing. I really like what you said about “the art of creating IS the reward.” I think too many times – myself included – writers shoot for the ego-boosting “pat on the back” instead of remembering that writing is in fact, art. My joy truly does come through just penning stuff to paper… even when nobody reads it.

    1. Me too, Matt. I like when people read my stuff, but the act of writing itself for me is enjoyable. I like writing, and I like having written. I’m learning to not obsess so much over being READ.

  11. I feel weird when I say this, but I write as a creative outlet.

    Although I dream of writing a book, all I have to do is pick up a Stephen King book to remind myself, “Maybe keep writing just for fun.”

    I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever be published, or if I’ll ever even try.

    I just want to write short stories.

    I guess you could say I found my niche and I’m happy in it.


    1. I agree with Jeff. I’m a very small fish in a big pond.  About a year ago, I bumped into someone at a church who I had never met.  When he found out my name he said…”oh, I read your blog!”  At this point in my blogging journey, I could count on one hand how many people followed my blog.  I swear I wanted to hug this man!  So you NEVER know who you are reaching 🙂

  12. Amen to this – “There are countless amazing undiscovered writers out there who are still learning how to build a platform.”

    It’s a learning process each and every day.

  13. I’m not at a point where I promote myself.  I only tweet my posts on twitter so others know its there and at times, on facebook.  I don’t do it 5 times a day though. I post it 2 times tops.  I just always feel like I’m being vain when I do it…and I don’t consider myself most of the time great at what I do.  I just know I’m mediocre.

    Can I say that I thought it was funny (actually hilarious) that you used the word “douche bags” in your post.  For some reason, it made me feel like one of you.  LOL.  Some words when used sparsely, make a huge impact.  Words like douche bags…

      1. I always question this kind of word use too, especially since I’m always slightly aware that my mother (or worse, my grandmother) will be reading my blog at some point and may have something to say. Nevertheless, I try to be honest and write what I think without censoring myself. It’s a fine line. I like that you used it because it’s exactly what I (and probably everyone else) was thinking, too.

  14. How do I live in the tension of writing and self-promotion? It helps to be a little schizophrenic, in writing mode at times and marketing mode other times.

    I’m not fully comfortable yet — still on the growing edge.

  15. I appreciated that  you wrote about this in greater detail than yesterday’s comments. These are important points.

    The tension is there. Writing to an audience requires thinking about the audience, their needs, and what they want. If you don’t write something they want or need to hear, you may not have much of an audience.

    In business writing, a writer can get used to this focus on the audience to get the job done. The piece isn’t about the artist’s creativity. It is about communicating an assigned message.

    Although, I wonder, you may have an insight on that type of writing also as it relates to the love of writing.

    I’ve switched from business writing back to freelance writing. There is more freedom now to stay true to a message regardless of an audience’s payoffs of praise or more bylines.

    Passion. Love.  It is really important. I appreciate the reminders as I balance writing a message, aware some listen.

    Thanks for expanding your ideas.

  16. Human approval is flippant. I think that to love writing is primary but to also love sharing, touching or connecting with others through our work can also be primal.

    Do the two have to compete?

  17. I love every word you wrote here, especially about self-promotion. About to download the manifesto. Looking forward to reading it. Still not sure if I have what it takes to be a true writer.

  18. You are right, Jeff, we write because if we do not we shrivel up and die.  It is wonderful to be read, but I write most of the day words that no one will ever see because I can’t make multiple blog posts each day.  You are an inspiration.  Keep it up.

  19. Great post, Jeff.

    I think it’s a bit of a contradiction for some to think that a writer must write only for the love of it, yet can still want to share that which they love, but I feel like I’m living proof that it’s possible 😛

  20. I have to say that I appreciate you. We don’t know each other, but I’m thankful that you’re doing what you’re doing. What you’re doing is helping me keep on keepin on. And that’s a priceless thing! Thanks!

  21. How do I live in this tension? Usually by struggling. In life, I struggle with wanting to just blend in the woodwork (I’m a major introvert) and at the same time wanting to be noticed and acknowledged. I think the same goes for my writing. Mostly I write to “get it out” of me and don’t need people to read it, but at the same time I want people to notice it and say it’s good. Wish I had a miraculous solution to the tension but I suppose the tension is part of what keeps pushing me forward in writing.

  22. “Creating becomes the reward.”  Yessss. And it’s so easy to detect when it’s not. 

    Especially in others.  😉

    Also, you say, “…will present itself. Be ready for it.”Hmm. I just have to add that, in my dreams, I’m wondering what “Be ready for it” looks like?

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