The Social Side of Writing

Michigan Sisters (and a Mr) in Crime Critique Group

I’m still reading and journaling with Colleen Story’s book Writer Get Noticed. It’s been so enlightening. Light bulb after light bulb. Today I worked on identifying my strengths as a person and as a writer. I don’t focus on my strengths very often. I take them for granted. Maybe because they’ve hardly changed since I was a child: creative, organized, introspective. I’m social, too, but I’m always looking for the balance between being social and being alone for essential-to-me writing and reading time.

One way I combine being social with my need for writing time is in critique groups. I have two groups I meet with regularly plus another writing group I love in Florida. I’m a member of Michigan Sisters in Crime. Saw those folks Saturday (In photo, I’m sitting next the Mr–yes we have men in our group!) and will see them again on September 28 at Elizabeth Buzzelli’s workshop. Elizabeth always gives good workshop. This will be no exception. It’s open to the public, so if you’re a Michigan writer, you should come! We can be social together ūüôā

About six months ago I felt like I was getting a little too social online. I quit Facebook (I talked about that decision here.) This morning I was texting a friend and, not for the first time, thought about getting on Facebook again in a very limited way. I have a few non-writing loyal friends and yes, being off FB meant we were more reliant on text and phone calls. We set up RL lunch or dinner dates. All good. But I was amazed when, after a few texts we spoke on the phone and I found out how much had happened in Donna’s life since we saw each other last, just a few weeks ago.

I thought about my strengths, the ones Colleen made me remember, especially being social. And I dipped my toes very carefully back into Facebook. I know better how to deal with FB this time. I’ve been on Instagram all along so I’ll reconnect those two accounts, post exactly the same and basically keep my friend list very short, as I have done on Instagram.

I follow thousands of people on Twitter, but interaction there is very different and I manage it just fine. You can tweet me anytime @cynthiaharriso1. Twitter is my favorite way to interact online. I met Colleen there! And so many other writers who are important to me. I’m very comfortable with the “super soft sell” approach I take to book marketing on Twitter. I’m not on social media to sell books. It’s nice if it happens, but I wouldn’t do any of it if I didn’t enjoy it.

Which brings me back to why I’m trying Facebook again. I want to see if I can be there in a way I enjoy more. I’m not going to open a new business page on Facebook, as that really never worked all that well for me. I didn’t have a huge following or sell a significant number of books. It’s difficult to interact with readers, there, too.

You might have noticed that Colleen’s book has the words GET NOTICED in the title. I won’t lie, this made me nervous at first. I don’t really want to get noticed. I like laying low, holing up, doing my own thing. That’s why I’m a writer. I work alone. Well, until I send a new book to my publisher and my editor comes on board. But sure I want to sell more books. I thought it was a dilemma but Colleen has made me realize it’s more of a fine line. Finding the best way for me to be comfortably noticed as a writer.

As I get older, and look toward my husband’s retirement, I’m less interested in teaching, public speaking or giving workshops. I don’t enjoy book signings unless they’re group signing with other writers. Some of this marketing stuff is important to do when I release a new book. It’s gratifying to connect with readers in real life, so that’s why I do some limited public appearances. Colleen helped me clarify all that. Her book helps writers figure out ways to work with their natural inclinations and strengths to measure and build the platform that is right for them.

Not So Social Media

Last week, almost on a whim, I deactivated my Facebook account. I was just going to quit the one, but then they make it difficult to quit a personal page without also quitting the business page. I did a few things that are supposed to help you keep the business and toss the personal but nothing worked so I thought about it for two seconds and deleted both accounts.

The reasons for letting Facebook go are different for each of my pages. On the personal one, I left a goodbye note up for 24 hours and then when I saw people asking why I said “Trying to simplify my life.” Which is true. But also as much as I tried to block people who said plain crazy things, or horrible racist or homophobic things, it finally came down to people I care about very much saying these things. Not that I don’t think they have the right. Free speech, I get it. But every time someone I cared about wrote crap that was just so wrong it felt like a punch in the gut.

Getting punched in the gut on a daily basis is not fun. It’s only going to get worse as we ratchet up to 2020. I have plenty of friends who I agree to disagree with over politics and religion. We’ve had the conversations. It’s the more personal stuff, the plain hateful stuff, I can’t stomach. Also, some people are just a pain. Slightly annoying. So simplifying was a way to just get out of that town. It felt (and feels) great. But what about the business page?

I have had a lot of advice and help in my writing career that has served me well. One thing almost all the gurus say is You Must Have Social Media. You Must Have An Online Presence. Well, okay, but it doesn’t have to be Facebook. I still have Instagram. I had it BEFORE Facebook bought them. I still have Twitter and Pinterest and I have this blog. So I am still here, just not in that one crowded corner. On Twitter, I don’t hear from the haters. It’s like a little universe so it’s easy to stay in your own lane. Pinterest? I’m crap at that but maybe I’ll get better now. Bottom line: I don’t think my Facebook business page sold many books.

I’m not even on social media to sell books. I’m here because I am a writer who works alone all day and this is where I meet others who do the same strange thing I do. I meet lots of those people on Twitter and some of them from the Word Press thingy where you see a little capsule of every blog WP posts. I want to read more blogs. I miss my blog roll, where every morning I’d read blogs like they were my newspaper. Somehow reading other writer’s blogs got crowded out by all the other stuff. After I quit Facebook I realized I could go back to reading blogs. Just that simple!

Digging Into Revision

Back when I missed my deadline last October, I marked off the month of January as what one of my writer friends calls “writing cave” time. No distractions, appointments, or lunches. Just write. Every day. Except Saturday, which is my day with Al.

So six days, flat out, all day, until dinner or until I hit my page target (ten pages a day), or until I burned out. So how’d that turn out? Well, I think I’m going to make it before my trip to Seattle. But there were a few bumps along the road. Some days I struggled to enter the cave at all. I got a cold. Sniff. That was two days. I had burn out days. One or two. I had a problem, a psychological block, which Chuck Wendig¬†(hilarious writer who blogs about writers and writing and other things) would call FAKE WRITER’S BLOCK but I know was just me working out a knotty problem with a character and her situation.

You might guess: it was the sex scene that wasn’t about sex. I finally got it right. But that took a few more days. Other than those things, I wrote most days. I also grocery shopped, cooked, cleaned the kitchen, did the laundry, and dusted and vacuumed the living room and my cave. I’m lucky. Al takes care of the bathrooms. We have three. And he also does a ton of other stuff around here.

When I’d made that January promise, I’d conveniently forgotten about Luke. My book. The one that came out in December that I have done hardly a thing to promote. I mean, really, I have a folder of ideas but that’s it. Everything else, other people did for me, without me asking. I’m lucky twice. Today I posted a picture of the “real Luke” family on Facebook for #TBT. That’s Throwback Thursday for non-FB people.

https://www.facebook.com/cindy.harrison15

It’s ¬†not really promo because I didn’t put it on my author page, but my friend page. I didn’t add a “buy” link or anything. I didn’t even mention Luke or the book. I will get to promo, just not yet. It’s too cold out for one thing! And my Mac is busy doing other things, like writing this blog post. I have kept up my twice a week posting because it’s something I really love to do. But blog posts aren’t really promo…I don’t think social media really works as far as promotion. I like to tweet and sometimes I’ll (rare) throw up a link or quote a review of Luke, but mostly I make a few quick visits to tweeps (Twitter-speak for those of you not on that site) do some RTs (re-tweets) and follow links. Except for the blog, I have spent far less time on social media than usual. As I said, I don’t think it helps sell my books, but it relaxes me and I get to connect with other writers that way.

You know, we all work alone in caves so it’s nice to get out and wave hi every once in awhile. But the way to get the work done is to limit social media and defer all other activities until the pages for the day are done. My limit was ten pages a day but I always went over that. I’ve clocked several thirty-page days. But the thing is, this is revision of a first draft. So those thirty (or however many) pages get edited again the next day.

I remember Louise Erdrich saying that’s how she works from the first draft. She picks up the pages from the previous day and makes them as good as she can before moving forward. I’ve been doing that with this second draft, so it’s a combination of second draft and third round edits. Next I will let the manuscript rest while I’m in Seattle with Owen, then read it again when I return. If I can bring myself to ever leave this little sweetheart!

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Something occurred to me as I went through this month of intense revision. I realized that it was okay to go at a pace that felt natural to me. It was okay not to make my self-imposed deadline. (My editor said “take as long as you need.”) I only have this one life and maybe it’s about more than writing (gasp!) This is, after all, the first month of my formal retirement from teaching college. Writing is now my only job. For the rest of my life. I should enjoy it, not push myself because soon a new semester will be underway. So, I gave myself permission not to finish if it didn’t happen. Yet, it is happening. It was a goal, so I’m happy it’s looking like I’ll meet it, as I’d like to finish this book already and move on to what’s next.

Notice I didn’t say “the next book.” During this month in the cave I realized there’s a lot going on outside. And I want to be part of it. Even though it has a treasured place in my heart, writing has never ruled my world. It’s always been “people first, writing second.” When I was working the day job and wishing for the time of life when I could devote myself entirely to writing, I had no idea that when that day came, I might have other things on my mind. Like a new grandson coming in April. Let’s see, I have a trip to see my first grandson in February. Then in March, two weeks with Al in sunny Florida. New grandbaby in April. Maybe in May I can get focused on writing again. Meanwhile, I’ve got some living and loving to do.

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Someone To Watch Over Me

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Since¬†Mike and I recently parted ways (for the happiest reason in the world)¬†as far as this website goes, I’ve been trying to pull things together around here. We’ve had WordPress for awhile, so I’m familiar with the dashboard and know¬†how to add widgets and things. He’s always been helpful and patient, teaching me how to do stuff,¬†so I thought, snap. Ha!

A door closes and a window opens. Enter Barb Drozdowich, sacred dove on my shoulder and new web person. Because guess what? It took me 20+ hours to do less than she accomplished for me in an hour. My results were just okay. Her results, spectacular.

Wanted to give a shout out to this WordPress Warrior Woman, who is so easy to work with and charming besides. Also want to officially debut the new look of the blog to the world, now that it is almost complete. I still have a bit of homework…which I will do this week.¬†I would have never thought to add excerpts and reviews to my books page, but Barb did. Great idea! She also sized all the books properly, both on the book page and the sidebar. Then she linked them to Amazon in a much better way than¬†I¬†even knew was possible.

During our first conversation, Barb said the magic words every writer wants to hear “I’ll do this so you can spend your time writing.” Spend my time writing! Yes, please.¬†And you¬†read my opening¬†right, everything she did here, she did in under an hour. Mostly, she tidied up my messes. And I look forward to her continuing to do so for many years.

Yes, this is pretty much a love letter to a special woman, who is so unassuming I had no idea she published her own books, non-fiction titles that help authors and bloggers,¬†until I looked her up for this post. I found¬†Barb’s books¬†on Amazon and immediately bought two:)¬†¬†Barb also runs Sugarbeat’s Books and that was quite the find for the book lover within me. A treasure trove of titles and reviews for Regency¬†buffs (why yes, I am) and lovers of contemporary romance.

Barb’s official title is “Social Media and WordPress Consultant.” Her company is Bakerview Consulting. She¬†has taught at University, trained technical personnel in the banking industry and, most recently, used her expertise to help dozens of authors (including me!) develop the social media platform needed to succeed in today‚Äôs fast evolving publishing world.

Barb, my gratitude knows no bounds.

Feels Like Home

condo2photoLast Friday morning, my website went dark. It¬†felt like losing a friend. I knew I would get it back eventually, just didn’t know exactly when, so I took to my paper journal, read a couple novels, and tried to enjoy the¬†respite from my online¬†public life.

I met with friends at a charity lunch over the weekend, and I told them about how I was feeling a little lost without my blog. None of these people are big on social media, so they stared at me like I was from the planet Weird.

“It’s not real,” someone said, turning the conversation to something else. I didn’t disagree, at least not out loud. But in my head, all I could think about was that they didn’t understand.

I recently visited my son in California and we were talking about deep subjects like emotions and how people handle them¬†in various ways. For me, I told him, it’s easy. I write. I¬†use a private¬†paper journal, am active on social media, have my website, and am always in the¬† middle of writing another novel.

They’re all forms of writing, and each in its own way helps me deal with my emotions. I don’t think I could have gotten through this life without writing and the internet is just a big fat blessing in that I don’t have to feel alone with my strange preoccupation of writing lots of words.

I sweated out the weekend, waiting to see when the site would return. This morning, I checked, fully expecting to see a void where my website should have been. But, surprise, someone stayed up late last night so that I could post today. Whew.

It’s a brand new look, which is always nice. So clean. A little too clean. I need to get some book covers up. Meanwhile, it’s good to be home.