Friday Fun – How do you manage social media?

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: I recently asked NYT Best Selling author Chris Bohjalian how he managed social media. Beside corralling it to early morning and evening (after he completed his writing goals for the day), he also said that he posts 40 to 50 comments/tweets a day (which he said takes about 30 minutes.) “If I can’t give my readers 30 minutes a day then I’m a despicable person,” he said.

We all struggle with social media – what’s too much, what’s not enough. Let’s take a look at how our writers handle this raging bull.

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: I’ll be the first to admit that I spend far too much time on social media. I try to answer as many comments and tweets as I can. The thought of setting a limit, quite honestly, has never occurred to me. I typically keep my social media windows open at all times and when I hear the siren cry of that beep indicating I have an interaction – well I just have to stop what I’m doing to check it out (and there is never any “just checking it out” I always come up many minutes later wondering where the time has gone.)

I’m using Freedom (and it now has an updated feature (you pay for this)  where you can schedule uninterrupted time.) I’ve tried to schedule my own time, but it doesn’t seem to work. I need a strict guard to the internet telling me “not right now, later, but not right now.” Social media is an ongoing problem that I continue to try and manage.

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: I’m afraid that I’m guilty of the same crimes Wendy confessed. Though I know that I should relegate social media (in my case: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, responding to comments here, and reading/sharing other blogs) to certain times of the day, I can’t quite seem to bring myself to cut off my 24/7 access to the digital conversation. Like Wendy, I almost always have tabs open in my browser to my social media pages, and I tend to “visit” there more often than I should.

That said, I have put some order to the madness by doing *most* of my blog reading at night during an otherwise unproductive time and queuing up tweets via Buffer (my most favorite social media tool for scheduling social media updates). I also try to batch process the bulk of my comment responses. Though this often means carving out a whole hour (or more), I believe it’s more efficient than posting ad hoc responses in real time.

I am always trying to assess the value or “ROI” (return on investment, in my case an investment of time) of my social media activities. At the moment, since I’m not actively promoting anything specific, it’s hard to measure whether or not my time is being well spent. I continue playing in these spaces (and organically building my communities there) so that – hopefully – when I do have something to promote, I’ll have an existing audience to talk to. I’ll get back to you once I see how that works out. 😉

 

I Love Twitter

A screen cap of my tweet streamDeborah recently wrote about her foray in to Twitter. I’ve been on Twitter since the early days. Back then, we were all kind of bumbling around, test driving and seeing what this baby could do. Now that Twitter has become social media force, it can be a tad overwhelming to say that least. That said, I LOVE Twitter!

Twitter for me is more of an intelligence gathering tool than a marketing tool. I view Twitter as a ginormous cocktail party. I realize that strikes fear in the hearts of some, but my advice it is to be yourself and travel around “listening” in on different conversations of people and groups that interest you. Keeping in mind some of the social conventions you would use in face-to-face communications. Introduce yourself (this can be accomplished by following someone you’d like to interact with), be polite and talk about others more than yourself.

As in individual, using Twitter as a marketing tool requires finesse. If you are L.L. Bean and marketing your weekend sale on canoes well sure, that’s one thing, but for the individual, I feel Twitter is less about overt marketing of the “Buy my book. Buy my Book! BUY MY BOOK!” variety and more about marketing by building relationships. “Hi, I’m Lee Laughlin, I’m a freelance writer and I’m working on a romantic fiction novel.”

Twitter as a News Aggregator

I use Twitter for multiple things, as news source for current events, (WHAT happened in Baltimore? What did they name the Royal Princess?). @WMUR9_Weather gives me a nice summary of the day’s weather and what to expect for the next two days all in two or three tweets. @Eversource (forever known to me as our electric utility PSNH), is phenomenal at keeping people up-to-date about outages. They were awesome during last Thanksgiving’s blizzard. My daughter is a huge Grey’s Anatomy fan, I’m not, but the chatter on Twitter during THAT episode, cued me that maybe I should watch it with her. I’m glad I did.

Twitter as My Librarian

I get the majority of my book recommendations from Twitter. I follow a number of editors, agents and my favorite authors. Yes, they announce their new books, but they also congratulate fellow authors on new releases or gush about something they’ve read or are reading. A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev Is a good example of this. I would NEVER have picked this book up were it not for Twitter. Everyone in my tweet stream who read it loved it. Then someone announced it was on sale. BOOM! It was on my kindle. I loved it too FWIW.

Twitter as an Educational Tool

I’m a very outspoken person, but in general, Twitter is a place where I listen more than I speak. That said, I have been known to “convotrude”, (intrude on conversations I’m not necessarily a part of). Like I said, it’s kind of like a cocktail party, so if I “overhear” (read) something that catches my attention I will politely tweet with a question or a comment.  With the people I follow this is ok, so long as it is don’t politely and judiciously. I have found if approached with respect, most people are very gracious with their answers. On the other hand, if people in my stream are discussing a topic where I have knowledge or experience, I will share (again politely). Not gonna lie, It’s an ego stroke when I share a link or a resource for someone and then they follow me 🙂

Twitter is balancing act. In general, you want to give more than you get. Read an article you found interesting? Tweet it! Did someone you follow on Twitter point you to a resource or share the article you liked? Don’t be afraid to tag them with an h/t (hat tip). For example “Here’s an interesting article on raising chickens http://link.com h/t @WendyENThomas.”

Don’t be afraid to RT (retweet) another author’s marketing. Twitter now allows you include comments on your RTs. Did you read the book? Are looking forward to it’s release? Say so! In general I try and stay away from negative tweets on any form of social media. If I have an issue, I will typically take it up via email.  The exception is companies who offer customer service via Twitter. If they are going to put themselves out there, I’m going to ask for help or share my displeasure.

Me "chatting" with AT&T Wireless about their lack of winter weather preparedness

Do you use Twitter? What do you use it for? If you are new to Twitter, post your questions and I’ll try and do a Q&A post in the near future.

Lee Laughlin is a writer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. You can find her on Twitter @Fearless. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com and she is a regular contributor to the Concord Monitor. Her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is currently working on her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction.

 

Weekend Edition – Finding Your Readers Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

So Many Fish in the Sea, So Many Readers in the World

wooded roadWriting is an intrinsically challenging task. To do it well you must corral and harness many different parts of your intellect and spirit. You must learn to manage the diverse elements of your vision, imagination, and craft so that they move in tandem, pulling your story forward. The process requires varying degrees of earned skill, innate intuition, and stubborn stamina.

If, in addition to getting the words on the page, you also hope to have others read those words, you introduce an entirely new layer of complexity to your literary endeavors. In essence, you invite strangers to collaborate in your creative process. Because, make no mistake, crafting your story with a reader in mind (even an as yet unknown reader) changes both the writing experience and its outcome. As Samuel Johnson said, “A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.”

As if the prospect of putting your words out into the world where they will be subject to comment, critique, and interpretation isn’t scary enough on its own, there is the matter of finding readers in the first place. The road to connecting with your audience can be a long and lonely one. Leading you through dark forests and across parched stretches of desert, it is pockmarked with potholes of doubt, misleading detours, and (on the worst days) roadside hecklers. This is not a path for the weak of heart or intention.

And yet, for those of us with a writer’s heart, it is not so much a matter of courage as it is a matter of simply putting one foot in front of the other. As it turns out, we are not separate from the path; we create it with each step we take.

But, sometimes, we forget this truth.

We falter, unsure of our next step, and we wind up putting our feet down on someone else’s path. We are distracted by the story of another writer’s success or swayed by other people’s presumptions about the kind of writer we should be. Though it looks as though we are still making progress, we have actually lost our way. We trudge happily (or, laboriously) along the road, hoping at each turn to finally meet our audience, completely unaware that we have taken a wrong turn and left our audience somewhere back there in the wilderness.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to find your audience by writing the Great American Novel, hitting the bestseller list, or having your books turned into box office gold. These are lofty goals to be sure, but that does not make them any less worthy. A word of caution, however, is warranted against allowing a single goal to consume you to the point of creative blindness.

The world of writing is vast, diverse, and always evolving. While it is admirable to commit, heart and soul, to reaching a specific audience by accomplishing a particular writing goal, it is not the best creative practice to let your pursuit of that one achievement blind you to other writing opportunities that might be uniquely yours.

For instance, while publishing a novel is a common, almost ubiquitous, goal of aspiring writers, it is only one of many possible ways to share your writing skills and stories. In addition to the long list of literary genres applied to novels (literary, historical, romance, mystery, cozy mystery, science fiction, fantasy, epic fantasy, urban fantasy, realism, magical realism, erotica, parody, paranormal, paranormal romance, fan fiction, dystopian, etc., etc., etc.), the world of writing also includes many different forms: essays (opinion, humor, editorial, lyrical), short stories, flash fiction, poems (in all their various forms and structures), scripts, non fiction (on every and any topic under the sun), journalistic stories, creative non fiction, educational texts, business writing, copywriting, and the list goes on and on and on.

If you have chosen to commit the lion’s share of your writing time to the pursuit of a particular goal, that’s fine. Just be sure it’s your goal, and not someone else’s. Also, don’t let your focus on that goal keep you from doing the two things that all artists must do to keep their creativity alive and connect with other artists and potential audiences: LEARN and PLAY.

Even if you are bound and determined to become an award-winning, bestselling novelist, know that there is still a lot you can learn about not only novel writing, but about writing in general. Be committed. Pursue your dream. But, make time to EXPLORE and EXPERIMENT.

Do not let your writer’s world get small.

READ EVERYTHING. Let your curiosity guide you. Taste all the different formats and genres. Indulge in the experience of reading the work of unfamiliar authors, new and old. Crack the stories open. Analyze them. Look at them through the lens of your life experience and your writing experience. Take away what serves you, and leave the rest. Remember that most innovations are mash-ups, putting two things together in a new way to create something new and exciting. Try out new combinations.

WRITE EVERYTHING. Don’t box yourself in with restrictions about the kinds of things you write or the way you write them. PLAY. Dabble. Turn things upside down. Try “translating” a story from one form to another. If you consider yourself a short story writer, take one of your stories and rewrite it as a poem or a play script. If you think of yourself as a serious journalist, take a piece you’ve written and make it into a humorous parody or a fiction story. Give yourself writing prompts that stretch you beyond your comfort zone. Don’t let your writer’s road take you in circles. Remember, each step that you take creates that road in front of you. Step off the beaten track and explore some new territory.

The search for your audience, your reader, may not be a linear journey. It’s more likely that the path will wind much, taking you through strange lands full of unfamiliar people and giving you the chance to discover unknown parts of your creative self. It is only by taking this journey and learning about yourself that you will finally be able to recognize your readers when you meet them.

The world of writing is vast, and so is the world of readers. You do not need to co-opt someone else’s readers or dream of writing success. Dream your own dream. No matter how crazy you may think your idea is, there is a reader out there waiting to read exactly the thing you are writing. The possibilities are truly endless. Not all of them have mass appeal, and that’s okay. That’s more than okay. Explore. Play. Experiment. An audience of one is still an audience, and if you are able to truly connect with one person, that one person will help you connect with another person, and another, and another. And, suddenly, your audience of one is growing.

What I’m {Learning About} Writing:

In a recent episode of the Writing Excuses podcast, Mary Robinette Kowal (one of the four regular hosts of the show) said this about books:

“The book is a way to hack the brain … When people pick it up, they are picking it up to produce a specific emotional state in themselves.”

Think about that for a minute.

What kind of emotional state are you promising your readers? What emotional promise does your story make? How are you going to keep that promise?

Thinking about your story in the context of the reader’s emotional state is subtly different than thinking about the “kind” of story you’re writing.

What I’m Reading:

I’m about two-thirds of the way through a new novel. I’m really enjoying it, but not quite ready to share. In lieu of writing about that particular reading experience, I thought I’d share a wonderful source of reading recommendations who has been around for quite a while, but whom I’ve only just recently discovered: Jen Campbell of the blog This is Not the Six Word Novel.

The book I’m currently reading is one I picked up because of one of her recommendation videos. Here’s her most recent one. I hope you find something interesting to check out!

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin write what you wish

I wish you luck and joy on your writer’s road. Happy writing. Happy reading. See you on the other side! 
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Forest Road Photo Credit: WarzauWynn via Compfight cc

Need Help with Social Media or Wordpress? Meet Barb Drozdowich

If you’re in need of help getting started with promotion through social media, and/or help in setting up a WordPress author page, I’d like you to meet Barb Drozdowich, a social media and WordPress consultant who *loves* working with and helping writers at whatever stage they are at in creating their writer’s platform.

You can meet her at a free online event this Sunday night.

Barb has taught at colleges and universities, trained technical personnel in the banking industry and, most recently, used her expertise to help authors develop the social media platform needed to succeed in today’s fast evolving publishing world.

Barb owns Bakerview Consulting and manages the popular romance book blog, Sugarbeat’s Books.

Her Building Blocks to Author Success series, currently containing 6 books, was born out of her work with authors once she realized there weren’t a lot of non-technical how-to books slanted towards the needs of authors.

AuthorsGuidetoWorkingwithBookBloggers BookBlogTours FacebookForAuthors GoodReadsGuideforAuthors WhatsYourAuthorPlatform

 

 

 

 

 

BookBloggerPlatform

She also has several free WordPress and blogger-related tutorials on her Website you can check out.

 

You are quite welcome to stop in for the live chat and conversation with Barb this Sunday night, April 26, from 7-9pm EST at The Writer’s Chatroom: http://writerschatroom.com/Enter.htm. No password or registration is needed. I’ll be moderating. We’ll even have virtual drinks of all kinds, chocolate, and other goodies.

–>During the chat, Barb will be raffling off a free 1-hour consultation on any of the topics covered by her books or her blogs.

If you have questions for Barb in advance of the chat, feel free to send them to me at lisa@writerschatroom.com, and I’ll make sure they get asked and answered!

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

Learning to Tweet

twitter symbolI’ve been learning to tweet for months now, and I’m still not sure why.

For a Friday Fun post back in 2011, NHWN bloggers answered the question, Love It or Hate It? Three loved Twitter, three were less thrilled, and I wasn’t on board.

Now I am.

I decided to join when I started my personal blog, back in December. I blundered around for a while, experienced the great time suck of reading lots of great stuff as well as junk, made tepid forays into posting tweets, inadvertently irritated someone I follow, and gave up.

But every Wednesday, my posts for Living in Place go out on my Twitter feed, and The Tao of Twitterlately, that’s generated some traffic. So I buckled down and reread the first half of The Tao of Twitter by Mark Schaefer.

It was Jamie who recommended this book to me a few years ago, and the first time I read it, I might as well have been reading Sanskrit. Mind you, I didn’t even have an account back then.

Now I do, so I cracked the Kindle and took another stab at what Schaefer has to say.

According to Schaefer, Twitter is good for Targeted Connections, Meaningful Content and Authentic Helpfulness. This all sounds good.

Next, he outlines the basics of setting up an account, lists 22 ways to find followers, and devotes a chapter to finding relevant and targeted audience – what he calls your tribe.

Mark W. Schaefer

Mark W. Schaefer

When I reached Advanced Twitter Concepts, which begins, Believe it or not, your Twitter journey is just beginning, I took a break – which is exactly what Schaefer recommends.

This is what I’m learning so far:

I’m not particularly interested in celebrities, and I’m not really that interested in strangers who just want to sell me their books or services.

I’m a people person, so I’m looking for people who share my interests in literary fiction; living in Vermont; interesting ideas, especially where culture and politics meet; making the most of middle age; homesteading and local foods, hiking, biking, skiing and generally being outdoors. Recently, I’ve decided to learn how to hunt so I really can step off the beaten path. And finally, there are connections to people in the medical field who need a writer to translate medical research for general readers.

Schaefer recommends spending twenty minutes a day on this platform. I’m not quite there. Some days, I get lost on Twitter, and other days, I simply don’t log on.

I’ve been experimenting with his advice to Tweet three different kinds of tweets: one about something of general interest, one about industry news, and one with an opinion, news or humor. I haven’t yet his mark of three tweets a day; I’m still aiming for three days in a row – at least while I’m finding my footing on this particular platform called Twitter.

Do you tweet? Do you love it or hate it? How do you use it? Please let me know in the comments below or @debluskin

Deborah Lee LuskinDeborah Lee Luskin is a digital immigrant. In print, she’s the award-winning author of Into the Wilderness; on radio, she’s a regular commentator for Vermont Public Radio; and on twitter, she can be found @debluskin.

Weekend Edition – Imagine A World of Writers Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

Imagine a World of Writers

"Dear Earth" by Katie Daisy via etsy

“Dear, Earth” by Katie Daisy via etsy

More people should write.

They should write about their days and their dreams, about their hopes and their fears, about their families and their histories and their possible futures. They should write lists and poems and wild ramblings that sound like the intoxicated rantings of a idiot savant. They should tell stories, wonderful, improbable, made-up stories. They should sink or dig or dive or fall or claw their way into that place inside where the stories live, and pull them out like blunt-edged gems from deep within the living, breathing earth. They should write lies that are true and truths that uncover lies. They should weave secrets into the spaces between the words, and then give those secrets gladly to the world.

For those of us bitten by the writing bug, it is near impossible (and quite terrifying) to imagine life without the ability to put our thoughts, ideas, and stories into words and onto the page. This simple act of using language to articulate the inner workings of our mind and heart serves to free the former and to ground the latter. Writing is both our wings and our roots.

I believe that the world would be a better place if more people would write.

I don’t mean writing professionally or even publicly. I mean that the world would be a better place if more people took the time to simply slow down and put into words how they are feeling, what they are experiencing, and why. We move too fast most of the time. We fly through our days and collapse into our oblivious nights. We live our lives in the context of other people’s stories, hardly giving a thought to our own.

It is all too easy for a lifetime to slip by unquestioned. And if we do not take the time to ask the questions, how will we ever know our answers? Not that the answers are all that important. It is the questions that matter. Writing helps us grasp the questions; and, in the process of seeking an answer, it helps us to understand the question more fully. Writing forces us to think more deeply and broadly and carefully. It  breaks a question open and invites us to explore. The process of writing – the digging in, the discovery, the meandering and wondering, the finding of the right words, the connecting of ideas and generating of more questions – makes it impossible for any question to be answered in simple black and white terms.The process of writing introduces not only all the grays that live in the thousands of stories behind a question, but every beautiful, brilliant color of life.

When it comes to writing, it is difficult to keep from slipping down the slope of my good intentions into a pit of proselytizing. And, even if I didn’t abhor the concept of coercive conversion, it would be silly to attempt such a thing here where I am, I imagine, preaching to the proverbial choir.

To write is a uniquely human skill that gives us the ability to transcend time and space, break the boundaries of reality, and understand the nature of life more fully. Writing connects us to ourselves, to others, and to the world around us. It is a powerful tool of self-discovery, communication, and self-expression. Writing gives us a magic lens through which to view our experiences with more depth and clarity, making us able to see into a moment in a different way. Writing helps us unlock questions and answers through analytical thinking, and it helps us create context and evoke empathy through creative play.

Imagine a world where writing is not considered a chore, a frivolous hobby, an indulgence, or the privilege of the few and gifted. Imagine a world where writing is simply part of what it means to be human. I wonder what that world would look like. I wonder.

What I’m {Learning About} Writing: You Need to Make Your Reader Care

book aurariaI downloaded Auraria by Tim Westover partly because it was free, but mostly because the highlighted promotional blurbs included this bit from Publisher’s Weekly: “Weaves tall tales and legends, Carrollian surrealism, and a fascinating cast of characters into a genuinely inventive novel that reads like steampunk via Mark Twain. Fact and fancy are intertwined cleverly and seamlessly in a top-notch, thoroughly American fantasy.” – Publishers Weekly (starred review) Sounds fabulous, right?

Unfortunately, I just couldn’t connect with the protagonist. Though the writing was lovely, and the setting and cast of characters was undeniably creative and whimsical, I just couldn’t muster much in the way of caring what happened.

Looking back, it’s interesting to note that the Publishers Weekly blurb does not mention the story – what is happening or why – in any way. It describes how the story is presented, but it doesn’t tell you what the story is about. It doesn’t ask a question that needs to be answered. It doesn’t even hint at the premise or the “what if” behind the novel.Sadly, this novel has earned a place on my “Did Not Finish” list in Goodreads.

Note to self: Make sure that you give readers a gripping reason to care about what happens to your protagonist and in your story. You don’t want to wind up in the unfinished pile.

What I’m Reading:  The Fairytales of Hermann Hesse

book hesse fairytalesAfter abandoning what was left of Auraria, I wanted  to read something that I knew would not disappoint. Since Auraria struck me as a bit fairytale-like, I decided to revisit an old favorite, The Fairy Tales of Hermann Hesse (translated by Jack Zipes).

I can’t recall exactly when I first began reading Hesse. It was quite far back in my youth, I think, a time when I was a little more starry-eyed. My memory of reading his books and stories was a feeling of being enlightened in small ways. It was a little surprising, then, that after all these years, these simple stories still held a sway over my head and heart.

There are three stories in this collection that are about the theme of artistic pursuits vs. worldly life. I read all three, “The Poet,” “The Fairy Tale About the Wicker Chair,” and “The Painter.” I also reread a story called “Iris,” primarily because it’s one that I remember reading. Though I could not recall the story’s details, I knew it was one I’d especially liked.

Interestingly, though the characters in Hesse’s fairy tales are, as is traditionally the case with the genre, only briefly “sketched” rather than being fully fleshed out, I was still able to feel a connection to them and to their stories. Unlike the challenge I had with Auraria, I cared enough about these people to continue reading to the end. Granted, short stories require a much lesser investment of time than a novel, but – still – I was not for a moment apathetic about the plight of the story’s players, or the discoveries they made. I’m looking forward to rereading more of these stories and thinking about how traditional tales like these might be adapted to a more contemporary kind of story telling. Hmmm … that might almost be a writing prompt. 😉

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin writing salvation gaiman Until next time – I wish you happy writing and happy reading! . Jamie Lee Wallace 

Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually. .

Weekend Edition – On “Real” Writers Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

How to Tell If You’re a “Real” Writer

Even the Blue Fairy can't make you a real writer ~ Inspirational Illustration by Gustaf Tenggren

Even the Blue Fairy can’t make you a real writer ~ Inspirational Illustration by Gustaf Tenggren

There has been a bit of a kerfuffle around the Internet for the past few weeks. Like drunken participants in a virtual bar brawl, the topics of MFAs and creative exclusion have careened from blog to blog, crashing into our headspace and spilling beer on our reading material. While I’m glad that people are talking about writing (even if they are being a little unruly about it), I’m discouraged that the conversation focuses so heavily on the idea of external validation – of whether or not (and how) someone else can say that you are (or are not) a “real” writer. And, for that matter, what’s with this term “Real” Writer?

This isn’t the first time we have been caught in the crossfire, but this particular row began with a piece penned by former MFA professor Ryan Boudinot. Published on The Stranger, Things I Can Say About MFA Programs Now That I No Longer Teach in One is less a personal expose and more a personal attack on both the students he taught and the institution he worked for. My favorite bit of his diatribe was this, “Just because you were abused as a child does not make your inability to stick with the same verb tense for more than two sentences any more bearable. In fact, having to slog through 500 pages of your error-riddled student memoir makes me wish you had suffered more.” I have no words.

As you might expect, Boudinot’s article raised the ire of other writers far and wide. Here are a few of the responses I found most interesting:

An Open Letter to That Ex-MFA Creative Writing Teacher Dude by Chuck Wendig on Terrible Minds – Though Chuck’s prolific use of obscenities and colorful metaphors (such as, “peeing bees”) may not be your thing, Mr. Wendig makes some very good points and he gets top marks for passionate presentation.

On Ryan Boudinot and the Goddard MFA by poet Bhanu Kapil provides a much more restrained rebuttal, but a rebuttal nonetheless. The piece is given additional weight by the fact that the author also taught at Goddard.

Open Letter to Crabby Writing Teachers Everywhere by Karin Gillespie offers not only a satisfying rebuke, but also hope to emerging writers with her debunking of The Myth of the Real Deal.

 

I have never taught in an MFA, and I don’t expect I’ll ever enroll in one. I have, however, been a writer for my entire life. My journey began at the age of seven, when I put pencil to paper in my first journal. I have been on my writing adventure ever since, and although I have not hit the New York Times Bestseller List (yet), I definitely consider myself a “real” writer.

Why?

Because the result of doing something is not the thing. Doing the thing is the thing.

Being published or even financially compensated does not make you a “real” writer. Earning public acclaim, industry awards, or the envious admiration of your peers does not make you a “real” writer. All you need to do to be a “real” writer is commit to the practice of writing. All those other things – income, fame, academic acknowledgement – are just possible results of writing. They are not the writing. And – one more time – they do not make you a writer.

When you think about the question of whether or not you are a “real” writer in the context of other things we do, the idea becomes kind of silly.

If I run for fitness, but have not been paid to run or won any marathons, I can still call myself a “runner” without fear of anyone questioning the veracity of my claim. If I practice yoga in the privacy of my own home without any hope of applause for my downward dog or tree pose, I can still confidently call myself a yogini. If I tend a garden purely for the joy of nurturing green things, without any intent to make a profit from the flowers and vegetables that grow in my care, I can still call myself a gardener.

When people like Boudinot judge (as if it was their job in the first place) whether or not someone is a “real” writer, the criteria they use is all wrong. Income, acclaim, and all the other external trappings of their “real” writer have little to do with the actual writing. They are simply the outcome of a person having written. It was the act of writing that made that person a writer, not cashing a check or accepting a trophy. You may not be a professional writer, but that does not mean you are a not a real writer any more than not being paid for my zinnias keeps me from being a real gardener.

The question of skill is equally as misplaced.

Just because I’m unable to stand on my head perfectly (or, at all) doesn’t mean I’m not a yogini. Just because my tomato plant didn’t win first prize at the county fair doesn’t mean I’m not a gardener. Skill is something we can acquire only through practice. And, if we are practicing a thing, we are a practitioner of the skill in question, which in turn earns us the title of runner, writer, gardener, etc.

In her lovely and deeply inspiring book If You Want to Write, Brenda Ueland asserts that everyone has talent and everyone has a story worth telling. She has no tolerance for critics. In the very first chapter of her book, she writes,

So often I come upon articles written by critics of the very highest brow, and by other prominent writers, deploring the attempts of ordinary people to write. The critics rap us savagely on the head with their thimbles, for our nerve. No one but a virtuoso should be allowed to do it. The prominent writers sell funny articles about all the utterly crazy, fatuous, amateurish people who think they can write.

Ueland wrote her book in 1938. Clearly, this isn’t a new problem.

 

I hope that if you have been troubled in the past by worries about whether or not you are (or, ever will be) a “real” writer, that this post will help you move past that concern and free you up to focus on the joy of your writing practice. Put your heart and mind fully into the effort. Study and learn. Discover. Uncover. Experiment. There is no such thing as a “real” writer. If you write, you are a writer, and it doesn’t get any more real than that.

 

And, the next time someone asks you what you do, tell them, “Professionally, I’m a [fill in your job title here]; but in my real life, I’m a writer.”

 

What I’m {Learning About} Writing: You don’t have to put all your eggs in one basket.

Morning Gather by Terri Unger

Morning Gather by Terri Unger

You only get one chance to make a first impression.

This may be true. It may also be one of the primary reasons writers stress out about sharing their work.

Fear of rejection often keeps us from putting our work out into the world. Whatever opus we’re working on, we hide it away to protect it from critical eyes and sharp tongues. We have worked too long and too hard to risk others tearing the product of our labors apart, or (perhaps even worse) ignoring it completely. How many manuscripts are out there, languishing in the proverbial bottom drawer?

But, what if, instead of putting all your effort into your Big Project (only to lock it away from the light of day), you put some of your creative energy and time into shorter, less momentous works?

This idea is one of the reasons writing practices like blogging, short stories, flash fiction, poetry, and other short forms are so valuable. They require less of an investment from you, and they provide you with many, smaller (and therefore less daunting) opportunities to share your words. Instead of having to serve an entire, five-course meal, you can just offer a cup of tea, a cookie, or an appetizer.

Sure, sometimes a reader won’t enjoy your tea or will think your cookie could have used a little less sugar and a bit more spice, but that’s okay. It isn’t as if one blog post (or essay or short story) can define your career or your identity as a writer. And, the more you put these little pieces of yourself out into the world, the braver you will become and the better your will be at learning to separate yourself from the work. You will worry less about getting hurt, and be more intrigued by what you can learn from reader feedback. You will start to see each moment of “exposure” less as a horrific moment of being naked on stage, and more as a chance to build connections that sustain and inspire you.

Give it a try. What small thing can you write and share today?

 

What I’m Reading: Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé

book peaches monsieurChocolat is one of my favorite movies. Based on the novel by Joanne Harris (which I’m sorry to say I’ve never read), it has a wonderful sense of place, interwoven themes, and an underlying current of magic. Imagine my delight, then, to find a copy of Harris’ companion novel, Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé, on the sale cart at my local library. Oh, happy day!

Set in the same provincial French town as Chocolat, Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé also features the same characters as Harris’ original story plus a new cast who bring heightened stakes and greater tension to this culturally-charged story. I was hooked by the book’s very first lines,

Someone once told me, that in France alone, a quarter of a million letters are delivered every year to the dead.

What she didn’t tell me is that sometimes the dead write back.

Harris’ protagonist, Vianne Rocher, is fascinating to me. She is at once apart from and deeply entangled with the lives of the people around her. Her gifts of small magic, of being able to see people’s “colours” and flashes of visions, are both enchanting and believable.

I enjoyed my return trip to the small town of Lansquenet, and it may be that I will soon journey to other lands of Harris’ creation. Having taken a closer look at her catalog, it seems she offers a wide variety of destinations to her readers.

 

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin real writers

Here’s to being as real as you can be – as a writer, and as a human being. Happy writing! Happy reading! I’ll see you on the other side. 
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.