I have two new stories scheduled for release this summer, and I am plotting madly on a sequel to Unspeakable Words. Well, you know what that means—it’s time to pull out the bullhorn and start the rounds of self-promoting—the updates to Facebook, my blog, my website, all my various writer’s lists, Twitter, and, of course, the usual rounds of guest blogging.
I signed up for some guest spots, carefully timing them with a run-up to story releases. Then I sat down and wrote out some thoughts that I keep mulling over from time to time. Over the course of several days, I pounded out a nice little blog post. I sent it off to friend and fellow author Cooper West for an opinion. The feedback was very complimentary—only she pointed out that the post, at five thousand words, was far too long for a blog spot.
Huh. I looked at what I’d written and realized she was right. I also realized what was at the core of my dissatisfaction with the whole self-promoting thing, aside from a natural inclination to be self-effacing. It was that self-promoting is a huge time sink. I could have used the time spent on creating the overly wordy blog post to write five thousand words of original fiction, and it would have been much more satisfying. So why didn’t I?
I only have so much time in a day to get anything done outside of work and taking care of the animals. The average workday runs from seven am to seven pm (by the time I factor in commuting). I have a large dog that needs exercise, a large horse that I must ride regularly for that activity to be safe for both of us, and an understanding, awesome boyfriend that I want to be with in the evenings and on weekends. I am also a prolific writer: I’ve written over sixty fanfic stories since 2006 and have three published original works, with two more on the way this summer.
That is, I used to be a prolific writer. Somewhere along the line, my output has dropped off dramatically.
I blame Twitter.
Not just Twitter, but social networking as a whole. I used to wake up in the mornings on fire with a new idea that would occupy a corner of my mind until I was able to sit down and hammer it out. I used to sit down to write, only to glance up at the clock a little while later and discover that I’d ‘lost’ three hours in the blink of an eye. I used to plot stories while I hiked with the dog in the woods, or did mindless barn chores. I would meander along on a muddy trail, watching my dog bouncing through the underbrush with the sheer joy of running, and suddenly a plot point would reveal itself in a ‘eureka!’ kind of moment.
Those moments were magic. So were the times I spent absorbed in a story, only coming up for air when my hands were cramping and begging for aspirin, or I was literally dozing off over the keyboard. These days, it’s more like I am trying to shield a guttering candle with my hand until I can safely get it to a lantern—trying to keep an idea alive until I have the time and energy to play with it. What happened?
What happened was that I got ‘connected’. I already had a Live Journal account, where I posted my fanfic. As a published author, I soon followed with a website, Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook, ARe Café, The GBLT Bookshelf, etc, etc. I joined one writer’s group list after another—all with the same message: shout loudly and frequently to call attention to your work or you are doomed as a professional writer.
My need to keep up with these sites, and post comments to other people’s updates, became my new obsession. I started checking the Tweets and emails before I left the warmth of my bed. I snuck glances at my cell phone during dinner out with my boyfriend. I stumbled along the trail trying to text while I walked, completely oblivious to my surroundings.
It was easy to fill the little moments of the day with posting a quick comment to someone else’s entry. After all, I’m busy. If I don’t have a good block of time (I think I need a minimum of two hours to really get my head back into a story), then I can easily put off writing to join in an interesting conversation on LJ, or catch up with friends on Twitter. After all, writing original fiction is hard work. It is far easier to laugh at someone’s funny video link or weigh in on a discussion on your friend’s list.
It snowballs, however. You start by making a quick blog post (after all, traffic increases your visibility, right?) but then you need to answer the comments that post generates. And you should really comment on other people’s blogs, so they will do the same for you. While most of it is really about making good connections in the form of friendships with like-minded people, there is a lot of making connections for the sake of increasing your ‘friends list’ and trying to out-shout everyone else when you say, “Look at me! I have a new story out!” The next thing you know, all those little moments that you have spent on ‘catching up’ online, you could have been spent walking the dog, putting away the laundry, or even, god forbid, exercising. And yes, even writing.
Somewhere along the line, I forgot that the real secret to increasing visibility, traffic, and my existence as a writer was by actually writing. By generating story after story that caught my imagination, and therefore excited the people reading them. So, while I still see the need to let people know when I have a new work coming out, and I still have online friends with whom I love to interact, I am challenging myself to shut up and write. To step back from all the social media and to remember why I started writing in the first place: because I had a story to tell.
I challenge you, as writers, to do the same. Who knows, we might both find that twenty minutes here and there is more productive than we think it is.
You can find all of Sarah Madison’s online links here: http://www.sarahmadisonfiction.com/