Unnecessary Micro Gatekeeping

Unnecessary Micro Gatekeeping

Unnecessary micro gatekeeping


It’s the best term we have managed to come up with. What am I talking about? Rules. But fake rules. Particularly within the creative fields. There are countless examples of what this might be about, but it’s probably easiest to tell you where I came across it most recently.


I posted a comment in a writing facebook group about how I was pretty sure I didn’t proofread my most recent book because proof reading is boring and I hate it. Cue the responses of a shocked face, even an angry one. The angry faced reaction person left me the worlds most helpful comment of “hire someone”. Duh. As if I didn’t know I could. I even know exactly who I’d hire if I had the money. Of course, then I’d need to have money to spend on publication of my books and my financial goals are elsewhere. Primarily saving three months of rent so that if my contract ends in a years time and doesn’t get extended, we have a roof over our heads. Terribly sorry* if saving money for that instead of paying an editor offends you (*sarcasm). 


The vibe of the posts and comments reminded me of blogging a few years ago; back when you were a horrible blogging monster if you didn’t drop $10k on a design for your brand new blog before you started (even though the designs all look like generic identical blogs to me). That’s just one example, but it’s the attitude of being “wrong” or skipping things on a checklist that some “expert” wrote. I feel like it’s other peoples unacknowledged fears attacking you. The checklists imply a guarantee of success and there’s no such thing. 


Another reply to my comment asked how many books I sell. There’s a few problems with that:

  • None-ya bizness
  • I’m too lazy to log into my book seller accounts
  • I don’t know
  • It’s a pretty meaningless way to imply (or maybe infer?) quality or lack thereof when there are a lot of variables involved in selling
  • I sold only a few copies of one book and it got onto a distributors “best selling list” once

I was tempted to go back and antagonise them by telling them how long I’ve been blogging and how I also don’t proofread my blog posts but I am an exceptionally wise human being so I just muted the notifications instead. This single facebook group conversation isn’t the only reason I’m writing about this – it has long been a topic in my skull but not one I’ve managed to put into words before. 


What is a fake rule?

Fake rules do not mean that you can’t or shouldn’t choose to follow them. It means that they are not compulsory for a ‘real’ reason.


To me a real reason, and a real micro need (rules or gatekeeping) is something like the checklists pilots use to get a plane ideally configured for take off (yes I have watched a large quantity of Air Crash Investigations). A checklist for the ideal steps to publishing the books is fake because the consequences for failing to follow them don’t matter.


Mattering, in the case of fake rules, is a matter of personal preference. Which is why I said above that it doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t follow them. Imposing them, on the other hand, is where I get pissed off. 


This isn’t new to me or limited to creative works – I was in constant trouble at my first high school because I refused to tie my hair up (I can’t wear my hair up, it hurts) and that was against their uniform code. I would tie it up briefly when the rule was ‘real’ (eg using bunsen burners in science labs) but not when it was just because that’s how they decided I had to look. That’s not a real rule.



Ok so I hate editing. I hate most detailed work. I chose my book distributor because the formatting is automatic whereas the other main platform has detailed books on how to get their formatting to work. Never gonna happen.  I suspect it’s something to do with my brain stuff (ADHD) that I’m almost maybe kinda thinking about seeking a diagnosis for this year. My privilege in not editing is that I have a great education and I’m smart so I can create a passable product quite easily. I’m not doing any more work than I have to (limited time and energy) and I’m lucky this is somewhat cuttable to me.


Creative Rules

There could be so many examples of this. We were talking about it in the car on the way home about lenses in both photography and movies (well sitcoms) but the point is that there are tons of examples about creative rules. Use x lens to shoot a portrait not y lens. Write sober, edit drunk. Or vice versa, I’m not good at rules. 


Rules aren’t unimportant. There’s no reason NOT to learn about them. Learning about them helps you know when to use and not use them; it’s the same as any tactic to me. But where I find it annoying in the land of creativity is that people seem to expect you to get a permission slip to ‘break’ the rules. 


I remember reading a comment or post once saying something about how you can’t just become a funny travel writer because Bill Bryson already does that. It implied you have to earn your travel writer vanilla credentials before having a personality. Granted there may be some bias here in how comedy has a lack of respect in writing and creativity overall, but the rule breaking aspect is what is relevant here. 


What would you call it? Is there a better word or phrase? Have you experienced these bizarre shoulds that are implied to be rules in your creative activities? 


Unnecessary Micro Gatekeeping


Further reading:

Tiny business, big money


13 Replies to “Unnecessary Micro Gatekeeping”

  1. Hey there, I haven’t read any of your posts for a while but am very hit and miss with blog writing and reading (other than the bookish kind) and only tend to read when I do link-ups.

    I hear ya on this. I’m not much of a ‘joiner’ and struggle with groups because it’s much harder to ignore people within a confined space. At least with Twitter you can tune in and out as you wish.

    Of course I am the worst person for setting random rules but only for myself. And even I know most of the time they make no sense (no reading, TV etc during the day etc) but I struggle to break them once they’ve set themselves up in my little head.

    As you know I’ve struggled a bit with my Masters because I find it hard to balance the sense that there are rules (or at least right and wrong ways of doing things) when it comes to creativity. I often read stuff people have shared with horror and yet others fawn over the work.

    Most of our lecturers do exactly that – tell us that we need to learn the rules first so THEN we understand when we can break them….

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      I actually didn’t blog for a few months after Vala died becuase it was too hard, so you wouldn’t have missed much!

      I think we can all set rule for ourselves, and I don’t mind if some people are horrified because THEY would always edit – but that means nothing forced forward onto me.

      Learning the rules then breaking them is a hard one and I guess a downside of institutionalised education? I mean in that they have to take everyone back to the start even at the risk of downgrading you in order to teach up from the bottom and then let you ‘free’ to go … which in some ways makes sense but in others it’s a bit silly, especially if it’s one that requires a portfolio or similar evidence in order to gain acceptance to the degree. I got bored AF studying writing and dropped out. I couldn’t do it. I think some topics are more suited to an individual mentoring style approach than a group “topic of the week” approach.

  2. I used to be part of a FB writers’ group when I first started blogging but stopped commenting and reading posts for just this reason. There is too much negativity in the world of social media. I don’t want to contribute to it or be a target. I think; “You do you.” Period.

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      Yeah I find that I drop out of FB groups fast, there’s not enough respect for adults being able to decide their own actions, people get so obsessed with formulas.

  3. I don’t have a better word or phrase, and I quite like micro gatekeeping. And I haaaaaate proof reading so much. It used to be fine when I was a journo for a newspaper where the absolute longest you could write was 40cm. Maybe 45cm, but that was stretching the friendship. Now with thousands of words per blog post, it’s a huge slog just to write the thing, I don’t want to go back and proof it too. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for a book’s worth of writing.
    TL;DR I back you on the non-proof reading 110%. My blog has the typos to prove it. #LifeThisWeek

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      Thousands of words is just a drag on my attention span!

  4. Welcome back…I missed your blogging presence but also completely understand why blogging was not on your agenda. I know 2020 brought all kinds of crap to your life, and B’s but the worst and saddest was your dear Vala and her end of life. I am so sorry.

    You teach me a lot when I read your posts that are like this. I learn that I am such a rule keeper. I know too how annoying that can be to some and I accept that it is part of who I am.

    Mind you it sure does not mean I am perfect. I take shortcuts. I too hate re-reading stuff I have written but Uni marking made me more disciplined. I like how I can put stuff down on my blog and it is not as worrying as Uni was.

    Anyway, thanks for coming back and joining in Life This Week, like I said, you were missed by me.

    Welcome back to Life This Week in 2021 on my blog each Monday. Thank you for linking up this week. Next week the optional prompt is 2/51 Announcement on Mon 11 Jan. Hope to see you back here then too. Take care, Denyse.

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      I was always really good at questioning rules – I swear it made teachers reallllly like me when I was at school 😉

  5. That is THE perfect word. I’m with you re the editing. I pay for structural & copy editing – the latter costs me a bomb. I know heaps of authors who don’t & think it’s a matter of opinion. I do my own proofreading but also get friends to read as beta readers so they can get the typos I miss, but still they get through. No way could I afford a proofreader. Besides, how many trad published books have you read lately with typos? My answer to that is more than the number I’ve picked up in Indie published books.

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      I would love to but editing and everything is a skill that deserves money I can’t pay. There still seems to be this fear that indie is lower quality than trad and that’s not always going to be the case.

  6. Thanks for this post! I’ve bern writing (unpublished) fiction for 6 years, and most of the internet advice is “show don’t tell,” “kill your darlings,” “don’t use passive voice,” “write what you know,” etc. Ugh. This post is a breath of fresh air. Thanks for being a person and not a machine!

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      Hi Beth – it’s so true with writing (though probably any topic) that people are obsessed with the rules rather than finding what works for you.

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