Do you actually have something to say? Then why are you talking?

Wait up. I’m not telling you to never talk. You’re a human being and have as much right to yell your opinions into the world as anyone else.


This is an interesting post by Deliah S Dawson, a writer I know by name and nothing more. The jist of her argument, as the title Please Shut Up : Why Self Promotion as An Author Doesn’t Work suggets, is that self promotion as an author doesn’t work.

This is both evidently true and untrue. For most people it is true. If we assume, say, 50,000 people who have for various reasons set-up shop as an author, 50 will be lucky to develop any kind of “following”, a word I air quote because I hate it. Twitter has imposed that word on us. Nonetheless, some authors do indeed have a “following”, and many have built that following by self promotion. For them, it definitely did work.

What is the difference between these two groups? To which I say, do you actually have something to say? Then why are you talking? Writing is putting your voice into the world. Everyone who has ever lived has a desire to be heard. It’s a basic function of being human. Now that the tools to be heard in some way – a blog, a twitter account – are free and easy to use, of course everyone is using them.

But if your ONLY reason to speak is to be heard, you have already failed. “How do I build a following and make money selling books?” asks a questioner in Deliah S Dawson’s blog. In doing so, they’re joining the amorphous shuffling hoarde of writers doomed never to be heard. Because they are, in essence, identical. Every word they write boils down to, “please hear me”, because that’s their only intention.

Why do you want these people to follow you? Where are you leading them to? There are a bazillion people shouting their opinions into the world. But if you listen closely, and bring some critical thought to the matter, you’ll quickly see there’s a scarcity of people who actually have something to say. And by something, I mean something coherent, original, and most importantly, intelligent. And because the intelligent voices are scarce, people follow them. Often in great numbers.

I give my social media clients the same basic advice, which they nearly all ignore until they get bored of failing at this game. Listen. Yes, listen to the vast, chaotic babble of opinions that are the internet. Pick your audience, and listen closely to what they are saying. Read blog comments! If everyone is saying the same thing, there’s no point repeating it. Say something new. If no one can agree, be the person to find the solution. Find the intelligent voices in your audience and learn from them. It takes time, to become interesting. Listen closely, then talk, and you might actually have something to say.


Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

3 thoughts on “Do you actually have something to say? Then why are you talking?

  1. You make great points, And I’ve heard others say that many (new) writers talk about the process of writing so don’t do that unless you can add anything. The problem is, you can’t really talk about parenting or woodworking if your books involve thriller writing. Wrong audience, as you pointed out above. So I’m left with the quandary. Everyone tells me I need a platform to help sell my books, but what in hell do I write about if not the process of fiction writing?


  2. True. I’ve had my blog for about a year , my second book was just published, and I’m still trying to figure out what makes me special that I can communicate to people. I feel like I have basically zero writing advice to give that hasn’t already been given a million and a half times. :)
    Good post!



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