Build a writing foundation before a platform

Photo by Devon Rogers on Unsplash

I chatted with a young writer the other day, and she asked me how important it was to focus on platform building. The lack of a platform can keep a writer wide awake at 3:00am, eating grapes straight from her fridge. Platform, of course, is  your visible, countable presence in the world — your spheres of influence, how many people you can trick into coming to hear you speak in some hall somewhere, and how many social media followers you can add up and include in your book proposal.

When I worked with Agent Hilary on my book proposal for The Minister’s Wife, my feeble follower numbers did not impress her, because she knew they wouldn’t impress anyone else and certainly not an American publisher. For all intents and publicity purposes, I was platformless. My feet were on flat ground.

Agent Hilary believed in my book because I could write.

What I had was my book. I had my writing. I had my craft, honed through writing articles about so, so many things for so many years. I could write a long list about things I know just a bit about, from interviewing people who know lots more. I had the free writing done for church newsletters from coast to coast and hundreds more pieces for .10 a word (sometimes less!). I had how-to articles, feature articles on this, that and almost literally anything.

I kept my nose to the grindstone and put my fingers into pies. My skin grew thick like a rhino.

Young writer, you are powerful if you don’t give up. Practice makes better. That is almost always true.

As I chatted with my younger friend — who I meet with monthly, on purpose, to mentor her in the writing life (which you can do too if you’ve gotten good at anything you’ve been doing for long enough) — I remembered the advice I used to give to writers years ago, before we knew a platform was anything other than a raised part of the floor at the end of the room. And that was to just keep writing and pitching articles and ideas to one publication or site after another. One after another. One leading to another.

Get published here, so you can be published there, if this is what you want. Write for free for someone, so you can show that piece you worked so hard on to someone who will pay you, if payment is what you would like. Write for your small town local newspaper, so you can write for a big city newspaper, if you’re building a writing career. Write for a tiny magazine, so you can write for a big one, if the big one is where you want to land your plane. You see how this can work. You start small and then keep writing wider and higher and bigger, on purpose. You get better all the time, because you spend the time. You build a foundation. And on that foundation, build your platform.

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