Saving Your Self for Yourself

August 5, 2010

Did you hear about the proposed merger of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube? The new company is going to be called You Twit Face!

In an insightful article in the New York Times Sunday magazine (8/1), Peggy Orenstein, author of the fall book Cinderella Ate My Daughter, wrote about Twitter. At her publisher’s urging, she is trying to raise an army of tweeple to help promote her book. She feels that tweeting about one’s personal life to please others makes us actors in a reality TV show.

She enjoys Twitter’s “infinite potential for connection” and the “opportunity for self-expression.” But she writes: “The risk of the performance culture, of the packaged self, is that it erodes the very relationships it purports to create and alienates us from our own humanity.”

When the world shares our personal and professional lives, what becomes of privacy and intimacy? This conflict will be the basis for thousands of fiction and nonfiction books. But it brings up the challenge of separating “person and persona, the public and private self.” You can appreciate this tension as a source for writing, but how do you forge and maintain two lives—one online that’s personal and professional, and one that’s private, that’s yours and you share only with those closest to you?

Creating a Living and a Life

A song from  A Chorus Line, which is about actors auditioning for a show,  begins: “Who am I, anyway? Am I my resume? That is a picture of a person I don’t know.” There are more ways to live, write, and get published than ever. (There’s a book to be done about the vast range of lifestyles we have to choose from.) Who you are determines the choices you make, and they become part of your identity.

As a writer, you need to be able to adapt faster than ever in response to changes in culture, technology, the economy, and the growing number of options you have as a writer as your craft, promotability, and career grow.

Out of this large evolving melange of possibilities, you have to continue to figure out who you are clearly enough to create a living and a life. And you don’t have a moment to waste. Devote your time to developing your talents, skills, knowledge, and relationships. You will need them.

Life, like art, consists of drawing the line somewhere. Good thing writers always have a pen handy. May fate elevate you from the literary chorus line to a starring role, yet enable you to disappear as soon as you leave the theater. Become a bestselling author, if that’s your goal. But if you do, you’ll need a private life even more.

(My thanks to our brilliant colleague, Laurie McLean–www.agentsavant.com–for passing on the humor at the beginning of this post.)

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Joining Your Literary Community

July 22, 2010

Groucho Marx once said that he wouldn’t join any organization that would have him as a member. Fortunately, writers welcome other practitioners of the craft to their ranks. One  reason why now is the best time ever to be a writer is that there are more ways to connect with other writers than ever. Nothing will be more valuable to you than a community of writers who share your goals and challenges and who can advise you about writing, agents, publishers, and promotion. Writers need each other more than ever.

After two posts on critique groups, a reader asked about finding a critique group if you’re new in town. Here’s one way: meetup.com lists writing groups. Type “meetup writing [and your city]” in a search engine, and they come up.

But this is part of a larger question: whether you’re new in town or not, how do you join the writing community?  

In a word: ask!

  • You can ask writers, booksellers, librarians, publishers, book reviewers, writing teachers, freelance editors, and book publicists.
  • Ask your friends, neighbors, and co-workers.
  • You can ask at writing and author events, writing classes and conferences.
  • You can ask your friends on Facebook and your peeps on Twitter and other social networks. Googling “social networks for writers” yields 12,000,000 links for sites like Red Room.
  • You can ask at businesses you patronize.
  • Since writers participate in reading groups, you can search online for reading groups in your town.
  • You can also be entrepreneurial and start a group. If you need a place to meet, at least to get organized, bookstores and libraries are logical places to try. Schools, churches, and other nonprofits are alternatives. A bank or another business with a conference room may be willing to host the group, especially if a member works there.

If you don’t have a collaborator, you’re writing alone. But you can create a continually growing community of writers and others to help you the rest of the way. Writers who are eager and able to help you are waiting for you to find them. Start now.


Social Media to the Max!

July 8, 2010

There’s a cartoon showing two Native Americans standing on a mountain looking at another mountain from which clouds of smoke are rising. One says to the other: “Makes you wonder how we ever lived without it.”

One editor at a major house went from loving Twitter and editing a book about it to ignoring it because of the signal-to-noise ratio. His interest was worn down by the gap between the number of tweets he saw and their value.

Delivering Value

Using social media like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and author communities like Red Room to build an online network of people interested in you and your books is essential. Building and sustaining that network requires you to get people to know, like, and trust you. This will take time, patience, and persistence. How can you transform noise into signals and earn the respect of potential book buyers?

  • Delivering value with the information you provide and the information of others you share
  • Being responsive to those who contact you
  • Being creative by offering what only you can provide
  • Being consistent 
  • Separating personal from professional communications by having a fan page on Facebook and a personal address on Twitter
  • Balancing the time you devote to social media with your other efforts 

The more valuable you make yourself to people, the less you will have to sell what you create. Your online community will know that your books will be worth their time and money, and worth letting their online community know about.

What Social Media Won’t Replace

Social media can enrich your life, but it can’t replace

  • Writing books that deliver
  • Meeting you; readers want both kinds of connections, and the relationships that your books will lead to will be best enjoyed in person
  • All of the other growing number of  ways you can connect with readers online that I’ve mentiond before, including: a blog, posting to blogs, articles or short stories, videos, podcasts, and a Web site
  • All of the ways you can connect with readers off-line such as talks, teaching, other events, bookstore and media appearances
  • The private pleasures of experiencing your books in whatever form works best for your readers around the world:

              * the feel, smell, and beauty of a well-designed book

              * an audio book or MP3

               * an E-book

                * serialization

 I hope you find the wealth of possibilities for sharing your ideas and getting responses to them inspiring and exhilarating. Someday you’ll wonder how you ever could have lived without them.


Growing a Tribe of Believers

June 17, 2010

All the great things that have been achieved in the world have been achieved by individuals, working from the instinct of genius or of goodness.

–Samuel Taylor Coleridge

A recent Thomas Friedman article in the New York Times quoted Curtis Carlson, the chief executive of SRI International: “This is the best time ever for innovation for three reasons:

First, although competition is increasingly intense, our global economy opens up huge new market opportunities.

Second, most technologies — since they are increasingly based on ideas and bits and not on atoms and muscle — are improving at rapid, exponential rates.

And third, these two forces — huge, competitive markets and rapid technological change — are opening up one major new opportunity after another. It is a time of abundance, not scarcity — assuming we do the right things with a real national growth strategy. If we do not, it rapidly becomes a world of scarcity.”

Friedman’s column was about kick-starting new businesses, but change “markets” to “media” and “growth strategy” to “strategy for change,” and you have the reason for the San Francisco Writing for Change Conference. The world has abundant needs, and the creative, passionate, dedicated people it needs to meet them.  What people need is the vision and leadership to mobilize the will to do what we must to ensure the future we want.

This is where writers come in. Writers have the opportunity to be the voices, visionaries, mentors, consciences, and inspiration for change. They can summon us to our highest selves. It is easier than ever to

* Reach readers around the world online with a blog, articles, videos, podcasts, interviews, and comments on what others write

* Grow a tribe of believers who share your goals and help you achieve them

* Use your writing to change the country and the world

The larger and older an organization, business, or institution is, the harder it is to change. That’s why we can’t rely on government, business, or religion. Non-profits are helping, but they are limited in what they can accomplish.

Americans are open to new ideas. They’re pragmatic about abandoning what fails for what works. United by the same needs, problems, desires, and the willingness to do the right thing, Americans will accept change.

Facebook exploded from an idea to 500,000,000 users in six years.  You cannot stop an idea whose time has come.  What’s needed is a barrage of ideas, forcefully and eloquently presented in all media with urgency and relentless determination, tempered with compassion for the human condition.  

Anyone can participate at any level in this transformation. The author James Baldwin wrote: “The hope of the world lies in what one demands, not of others, but of oneself.” There is no time to lose. Start making demands.

The San Francisco Writing for Change Conference will take place, Saturday and Sunday, November 13 and 14, 2010 at the Hilton Financial District. The keynoters will be Dan Millman, author of The Way of Peaceful Warrior, and John Robbins, author of The Food Revolution, www.sfwritingforchange.org.