Anyone Else Suffering from Social Media Exhaustion?

I was cruising my social media universe the other day – it seems all I’ve been able to manage in 2013 is a little cruising – when I came across something that sort of disturbed me. I won’t link to it (a) because I can’t find it and (b) I don’t want to come across as critical of someone who has clearly mastered social media marketing in a way that is far beyond me.

This blogger/writer was touting the benefits of a particular social network site (it might have been Triberr or something, I truthfully can’t remember) and she was commenting that she really liked the auto-approval feature, which allowed her guest posters to post blogs, etc., during the week she was away for vacation or a conference and wouldn’t be available 24/7 to approve posts. Which sounds simply lovely, in terms of functionality. If you are a super-mega-blogger with tons of contributors and followers, I’m sure auto-approve is a convenient and helpful feature. In terms of scale, this person was sort of like the Emperor of Prussia, while I am more like the manager of a convenience store. And that’s all good.

What bothered me about the post was the next statement. It was something to the effect of, “I would hate for my social media venues to go silent for a week while I was away.” And I thought, REALLY? You can never just be ‘off’?

Wow.

For me, social media is all about genuine connection, learning something new, and having a venue to post ideas I find interesting or informative (mine or others). Yes, it’s about reaching readers and marketing as well, but as I’ve matured in my experience that has become less the focus for me.

Between the kids, non-writing work, managing a household, and everything else; just finding time to write is challenging. To have to be constantly “on” social media as well… wow. Just wow. Some people seem to do it — tweeting every few minutes, blogging three times a week, guest posting, reading and retweeting others. I just don’t know where they find the time. And I wonder (and maybe readers wonder too) how they can produce quality writing while they’re spending so much time being social.

In the end, it’s probably a matter of time, situation and personal style. I can’t tweet forty times a day and be genuine, the same way I can’t write a novel every six weeks and do my best work. But I have a one year old and a three year old, so maybe those who are super-present on social media have more time (and less yogurt smeared on their laptops) than I do. Or maybe they work harder. Maybe they simply want it more.

It will be interesting to see, if we have a way of measuring such things in the long run, whether authors who are ultra-active on social media have more success than those who post less frequently or those who abstain entirely. Certainly it seems unwise to stay away altogether (unless you’re J.K. Rowling, and then you can do whatever you want), but I have to feel there must be diminishing return for time spent posting and re-posting, especially instead of writing and revising, past a certain point.

Could it be that in our frantic race to get noticed by readers and other writers, we are creating expectations for online activity that are completely unsustainable over the long run? Are we watering down the tools we love, and our communal dialogue, through ever-increasing quantity and ever-thinning quality? Could it be that we are contributing to information overload, flooding our followers with information that is often repetitive and only marginally useful or entertaining?

Or maybe I’m just rationalizing my own laziness. It could totally be that, too.

{By the way, happy new year, everyone!}

Advertisements

What to Get your Favorite Writer for the Holidays

If you have a writer in your life — and really, who doesn’t? — you may be wondering what to get for him or her this holiday season. Naturally, I have some helpful suggestions, sure to bring a smile to the wordsmith in your life.

An autographed copy of his favorite book by his favorite author. If you’re considering this option, you’re either very thoughtful or very wealthy. Or both. Good for you. That being the case, you have already probably bought your writer friend countless dinners when he was short on cash, and maybe even filled his decade-old Honda Civic with gas once or twice. So this is that extra-mile gift, the one that says “Dude, enjoy this, because it’s the last thing you are getting from me until you can start paying for your share of the pizza.” The nice thing about this gift is that the scrawled inscription of his hero will inspire and encourage him when he’s feeling positive, and shame him mercilessly when he’s flailing around in self-doubt and indecision. Just like you would do if you could be there. Awww.

An office supply store gift card. It sounds trite, but if the writer in your life is anything like me, there is no place she would rather kill writing time than an office supply store. Leather bound journals with blank pages we can stare at for hours. Planners, calendars, list-makers, and grid paper — all suitable for outlining complex plots and ingenious ways of tricking ourselves into writing on a regular schedule. Folders, binders, notebooks. And color coding — oh my goodness. Innumerable tools — maps, software packages, reference guides — that we can use for “research.” And the pens. Dear God, the pens. It’s all such a turn-on. Not a figurative turn-on, either, but a serious, heavy-breathing, inky-fingered sexual thrill. Your writer will open that envelope, give an involuntary gasp, and whisper “I am going to procrastinate. I am going to procrastinate so damn hard.” And you thought this would be impersonal.

A free pass to use something from your life in her novel. This is kind of like the coupons that lovers give one another for free shoulder rubs or a night of doing the dishes. Except you’re giving over a part of yourself. It could be something quirky about you, like the fact that you have to line your food up alphabetically in the pantry before you can make dinner (which will make her hard-as-nails feminist detective seem more human and approachable) or something deeply personal, like your history of dating jerks who look suspiciously like your father. You don’t really get to choose, actually, but one day you’ll be reading your friend’s novel and come across a bit of you, right there in black and white for the whole world to read. Your cheeks will flush with embarrassment and anger. You will confront your friend, and she’ll give you a sheepish grin and the coupon you gave her in December 2012. Voila! Friendship saved. Not to mention you don’t have to spend a dime on her for the holidays this year. Lord knows she won’t be spending much on you.

A crappy childhood. Every writer needs a suffocatingly boring, chronically strained or downright traumatic childhood he can draw from in his writing. To be effective, a childhood must be happy enough to produce a semi-stable human being, and yet awful enough to provide the rich experience (and perpetual ennui) needed to be a successful writer. Now, unless you are the parent of an adolescent novelist, it may be too late to give your writer the crappy childhood he really needs. But what you can do is sort of a reverse Pollyanna: ask your writer to talk about his life, and point out the terrible side of everything he says. Grew up middle-class in a suburban home with unassuming parents who stayed together and loved him? Sounds like a bunch of vanilla, Stepford, cultural fascists to me… You get the idea.

A Kindle, nook, or iPad, pre-loaded with her favorite authors and the MLA style guide. There’s no snarky explanation for this one. That’s a damn nice gift. Need another writer friend? I’m available!

NaNoWriMo – How’d You Do?

It’s the first Monday of December, and all over the world, the participants of NaNoWriMo are either (a) celebrating their huge accomplishments, (b) explaining at length why they fell short of their goals, or (c) trying to pretend that they never really set out to do this crazy 50,000 word project anyway. It’s like the morning after a raging bachelor party: everyone is either trying to make it sound like it was more fun than it really was, or to distance themselves from the humiliation as much as possible.

I want to congratulate my two virtual writing buddies, Ann and Gus, who both made the goal and are Winners in the eyes of NaNoWriMo and everyone else who knows them. Awesome, guys!

As for me and the three R’s (my little group of friends here in Atlanta), we are a mixed bag. Ross, the one among us who had the least writing experience and the most ambitious energy at the outset is by far in the best shape: He made it well past 30,000 words and realized that his entire project could be completed in less than 40,000; so even though he is not in sight of the official 50K goal, going from nothing to an almost-complete novella is nothing to sneeze at.

The second R, Rob, developed an outstanding concept out of nowhere, and clocked several thousand words in the first couple of weeks. This being his first foray into creative writing in several years, I would venture to say he’s in the process of learning how long-form fiction can fit into his busy life. There’s also something extra challenging about having NO IDEA where you are going with a piece when you start. He was really brave to sit down and attempt it, and I’m hoping he will stick with the idea that formed in the coming months as it germinates and grows.

The remaining two of us abandoned our projects mid-stream, both realizing that our energies needed to go elsewhere in our writing lives (and with a household that could not stay healthy during November, I had fewer energies than usual to begin with). My friend Ryan realized he was essentially writing a prequel to the actual novel he wants to write; while I found myself lured away by a different project altogether.

Yes, I was distracted by a shiny object and, no, I’m not even all that embarrassed about it. I’ve come to respect and embrace this as part of my process. I’ve also come to realize that there is no way to say the words “part of my process” without sounding like a complete ass. And there you have it.

As of now, I don’t think I’ll be back next November. I wrote earlier about how I don’t think NaNoWriMo suits my working style at this point in life. I am, however, trying to capture the urgency and non-critical writing that comes with it. The other aspect of NaNoWriMo that is key is about making writing a priority: asking for help from partners, taking time out from other hobbies and activities, etc. I’m not someone who can put writing first every single day — at least not at this stage — but I do think it’s helpful to see how much I can accomplish when I bump it higher on my priority list.

What about you guys? Did you participate this year? What did you learn? What would you do differently next time?

Cyber Monday and Storytelling

Last week I wrote about gratitude in honor of the warmth of Thanksgiving. Now, with turkey eaten and football watched, we’re several days into the traditional season of consumerism. Many of us stayed up late Thursday or set the alarm for ungodly hours (not I this year, I’m happy to say), only to wait in line for deals, stocking up on gifts for others and ourselves.

Our stated object is to snag a deal on something specific: clothes, toys, electronics, maybe a TV the size of a small village. But the goal is usually something else. It’s not Tickle Me Furby or the 108-inch Plasma TV that makes us want to stand in line for hours, elbowing aside other shoppers and reverting to our primal roots. There’s some other, deeper goal at work: putting a smile on our kids’ or spouse’s face at the holidays, proving our love and thoughtfulness, enjoying the thrill of the hunt, filling the black void in our souls with material things… hey, no judgment here. Whatever that true internal goal is, that’s what really drives us to do the things we do.

Characters in good stories are the same way. They pursue one goal on the surface: solving the crime, getting the guy/girl, winning the epic battle between vampires and werewolves. That’s where the action is. But what the reader really relates to (whether he/she knows it or not) is the internal struggle for something: redemption, self-acceptance, a change in perspective, hope for the future. These internal goals aren’t always positive, just like our own secret motivations for doing things aren’t always saintly in real life. In fact, the internal struggle is often where the real nitty-gritty of our characters’ humanity appears.

A good writer has to understand both goals in order to develop the character’s struggle fully. We have to know why our character thinks she is standing in line outside Target in the middle of the night, wishing she’d remembered those hand-warmers; and why she is really there. It’s all part of what draws the reader in and makes the story worth reading, all the way through to the bitter (or triumphant) end.

NaNoWriMo – Sometimes It’s About How You DON’T Work

By the time we were halfway through November, I had already figured out I wasn’t going to make my NaNoWriMo goal. I’d paved my road to hell with plans of staying up late, getting up early, and dedicating a few kids-in-preschool days to churning out 3 to 5,000 words apiece to fill in the gaps. Starting with Day One, I was reminded about what G-d does (or the universe, if you prefer) when we plan our lives.

On the very first writing day, my littlest one came down with this weird, uncomfortable virus that comes with painful mouth sores and high fever. When he got better, his big brother came down with it, and I went from screaming, fussy infant to mushy pile of whiny three-year-old. When that was done, I had an all-day consulting project to prepare for and implement, and then a belated birthday celebration for myself to attend (not strictly necessary, you’ll say, but I beg to differ!). I’m every minute of thirty-seven, if anyone is wondering.

When the little one got sent home sick from school AGAIN three days later, I officially threw in the proverbial towel on reaching 50,000 words by the end of the month. I’m not giving up on the project itself, of course, just the absurd artificial deadline. And after talking to hubs and one of my writing buddies, I realize how things have changed for me since my first time participating in NaNoWriMo. Not only was my life different then (no kids, for example) but so was my perspective on writing.

For me, NaNoWriMo was a fun, useful experience when my main obstacle was the idea of writing. There’s a boldness of spirit required to take on, and continue, that kind of ambitious project. If you don’t think of yourself as a writer, or you can’t imagine “finding time” to write, NaNoWriMo is a wonderful way to explore ‘literary abandon’ and find out that you’re capable of more than you once believed.

But as they say in Texas, I’ve been to this rodeo before, and the idea of writing a novel doesn’t intimidate me the way it once did. I’ve finished and published two already, and they’ve been pretty well received by readers. So whether I can do it is no longer a question. How to build on past successes and make this a sustainable part of my life is the issue now. And whether I like it or not, my life is going to include sick kids and social commitments and schedule changes. I love living a ‘literary’ life, but right now I don’t have room for the ‘abandon.’

At the risk of sounding like a huge snob, I actually think I’ve outgrown NaNoWriMo a little. It’s been fun, and I’ve really enjoyed helping my buddies find their feet in the world of long-form fiction, but I think I need to find a way of incorporating what’s positive about NaNoWriMo (ambitious goals, writing without criticizing) into my life all year long. With room for life, of course. Off the top of my head, I’m thinking 5,000 words a week is more realistic for me.

What about you? If you’re NaNoWriMoing, how is it going? What are you learning about yourself as a writer? Would you do it again?

Writer’s Challenge No. 7

It’s the Writer’s Challenge – Gratitude Edition! Feel free to respond on your own blog or site and link with a few words in the comments section below. Happy writing!

Writing Prompt: In November, it’s customary to count your blessings (and as often as not, to post about gratitude on your blog, Facebook page and/or Tweetstream). Lovely. But what happens if we take the idea of blessings to extremes? What would life be like if you – or your favorite character – had everything you’d ever wanted? Or if you suddenly had none of the things for which you are grateful? It’s an apocalyptic thought, and a fascinating concept. Write 800 words today about having it all, or losing everything.

Business of Writing Challenge: What are you grateful for when it comes to writing for a living? Is it your natural talent, your tenacity, your friends who are always willing to share? Maybe you’re naturally organized and disciplined, or you have a knack for coming up with ideas that are truly original. I believe we are tasked with using our talents to make the world a better place (the Jewish concept is Tikkun Olam – Repairing the World). Take a moment to inventory and say “thank you” for your greatest assets, and to brainstorm about how you can continue strengthening them in the future.

Three Guys, a Girl and 200K

No, it’s not the latest reality show from VH1. It’s my National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) experience!

Last year I wrote my NaNoWriMo entry in a relative vacuum (perhaps one of many reasons I bailed out at 20,000 words), but this year I’m excited to say that I have three writing buddies who were already buddies to begin with. They also all happen to be men whose names begin with R. What can I say? I’m a girl with a type.

The first to join my writing group this fall was my friend Ross. Actually, he’s a guy I dated for a couple of years in college who is now married to a friend of mine’s younger sister. Awkward? Not at all. Why would you think that? I mean, how could I talk so freely about how not awkward that is unless it were totally not awkward, right? [insert high pitched, but totally not nervous laughter here]. Seriously, it’s exciting to see him challenging himself to write long-form fiction for the first time.

The other two are Ryan and Rob, whom I count among my very best friends in the world. The former and I bonded over Virginia Woolf during a summer at Oxford and have been alternately challenging, supporting and inciting each other to laughter ever since. Ryan and I exchanged playlists a few weeks ago, each of us creating an era-specific mix to help the other stay inspired in November.

And as for Rob, well, some may find this hard to believe, but Rob has been my friend since we were six years old. That’s more than 30 years, y’all. He is truly more like a brother than a friend, not just to me, but to my husband as well. It’s a gift.

People often comment about the longstanding, deep friendships in my novels. I can tell you that those relationships are certainly (fictionalized) reflections of what I am so blessed to have in my real life. Some writers prefer an isolated life, which I can understand, but that’s just not how I’m wired. I need that interaction and support, the stimulation of good conversation and mutual accountability.

Every writer needs a support system: whether it’s a richly woven web of relationships like mine; the simple acceptance of a spouse or partner who can take the kids while you write; or even a writing buddy who is time zones away, but can give you a pep talk just when you need it. The writing life can be difficult; but strong relationships can make it a little easier and a little more worthwhile. Who are your biggest supporters? Where would more support be helpful?

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo like me this month, feel free to connect with me and become part of my web. [Warning: once you’re in, it’s hard to get out!] The Writer’s Challenge Feature is on hold until December while I scramble for those word count goals, but we’ll be back with more fun stuff in chilly weather. Good luck, everyone!