The Dead Robots' Society

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Friday Guest Blog: Matthew Wayne Selznick – What Every Modern Writer Needs To Know

The Dead Robots’ Society asked me what I think modern fiction writers need to know. It’s a big question, and of course modern fiction writers are constantly reminded of many things. It’s all important, but ultimately just pieces of a piece.

All fiction writers should understand the importance of developing a platform and establishing a personal brand. Sure, that’s a given. Also, everybody knows it’s not enough to “just write” these days. You’ve got to spend as much time face to face with people as you do with your butt in the chair. Another easy one. For most fiction writers, understanding they’ve got to have a website is a no-brainer. Don’t forget the need for a social media presence. A grasp of electronic publishing, self-publishing, copyright and licensing… and so on and so on.

If you’ve been listening to the Dead Robots’ Society, you know these things as well as anyone, or you should. Either way, it’s all common knowledge you’ll absorb soon enough.

There’s one more thing modern fiction writers need to know. One more essential item that might not exactly be conventional wisdom, but if you’re planning on being a successful modern writer, it’s something you need to embrace and accept.

You must stop thinking of yourself as a writer.

It’s not what you do, and if you declare yourself simply a writer you are selling short both your potential and your avocation. You’re declaring, “Yes, I’m capable of running, that’s absolutely obvious to anyone who looks… but I’m perfectly content to crawl.”

What you do is tell stories. What you do is craft simulations of human behavior that reflect and comment on how actual human beings behave. What you do is tell lies that model truths. What you do is nothing less than try to explain what it means to be human, and you do it, more often than not, by creating new expressions of the human condition out of nothing more and nothing less than your own experience, empathy and imagination.

Modern fiction writers, stop calling yourselves writers. You are storytellers. While you write to communicate your stories to others, don’t let that limit you to considering the apex of accomplishment seeing your name on the spine of a book.

As a storyteller, you can and should utilize whatever medium is most appropriate to tell your story You can and should utilize the medium in which your audience most wants to experience your story. Your goal should not be limited to “published author.” What does that even mean this week, anyway?

You must expose your story to the greatest possible number of people. Think beyond books. Think beyond short stories. Think beyond the cycle of submission, rejection, acceptance and outmoded gatekeepers. Your audience is waiting… but a big part of that audience might not want to read your story. Maybe they want to see it. Maybe they want to hear it. Maybe they want to be in it. Give them the chance. They’re hungry for the opportunity.

By the way, there’s one more thing modern storytellers need to understand and embrace.

You can be more than storytellers. You can be creators. What kind of opportunities will you discover if you share your creations with others and let them tell their own stories in that context? Let your brain soak in that one for a little while.

Modern writers, to truly succeed in what is rapidly becoming the most competitive creative environment in history, you must be more than a writer. You’re a storyteller unfettered by medium. And if you want to truly excel, you must be more than a storyteller. You must be a creator that shepherds storytellers in the wilds of your creations.

The ultimate secret to building a career and a creative legacy lies not in the words you write… it’s in the fertile, ever-expanding worlds you build and leave behind.

Get started.

Matthew Wayne Selznick is a creator working with words, music, pictures and people. He lives in Long Beach, California. Find him and links to his creative endeavors on Facebook and on



  1. I agree up to a point…at least with the general concept of being a creator. But I do divide things up. Storytelling is my passion, writing is my job, and publishing is my business. I keep those aspects in balance, and that has been the key for me.

  2. Hi India,

    I appreciate that you view storytelling as your passion, writing your job and publishing your business. Dividing things or not wasn’t the point of my post, and if that point was not clear it’s entirely my fault.

    My point is in the last few sentences of my post:

    You must be a creator that shepherds storytellers in the wilds of your creations.

    The ultimate secret to building a career and a creative legacy lies not in the words you write… it’s in the fertile, ever-expanding worlds you build and leave behind.

    As a creator, you could be much more than a storyteller, writer and publisher — you have the potential to build a Story Franchise from your Story Worlds.

    As a businesswoman striving to excel at her job, your goal must be to make your business as successful as possible. How many stories of Zoe Pendergraft and her world can you tell yourself? Compare that with how many stories could be told in the world of Zoe Pendergraft… all under your blessing and all adding revenue to your business.

    Follow your passion. Do a good job. Succeed in your business. Do all of those by thinking beyond the limits of what you can do yourself, and by seeing beyond the constraints of one medium. That’s being a creator.

  3. Great post – I agree wholeheartedly. Great storytellers are a value beyond measure. Personally, I don’t think it is something you can teach – you either are our you’re not.

    Writing skills – on the other hand are learned behavior developed with study and practice.

    At least that’s how I see it.

  4. Hi Robin — thanks for commenting! I don’t disagree at all that writing skills are learned behavior — that’s pretty much the definition of “skill” as opposed to talent.

    All successful stories share common structural elements, so I’d argue that storytelling is a skill that can be learned as well. If anything, level of imagination might be an unlearnable talent… but I’m open to be dissuaded of that notion in a heartbeat.


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