Thursday, May 27, 2010

New writers and the online conundrum

Mark Chadbourn in his May 15 post on his Jack of Ravens blog gave a list of the reasons that he pitied new writers. While I'm not really a new writer, I'm a newly-published writer, so I believe I fit his demographic.

According to Chadbourn, "It’s tough to get a book published. It’s tough when it is published. And it gets tougher." Thankfully, I'd done enough research in advance of being published to have fairly realistic expectations. It alarms me that so many aspiring writers, and acquaintances in general, have a fairy-tale impression of the publishing industry that goes something like this: you toss off a few words - c'mon, anybody can do that! - then get your book published, rake in the cash and live happily ever after, you lucky bastards! Oh, and Oprah looms large in their rosy imaginings.

I saw a video clip on Facebook this week that takes a humorous look at one of the realities new writers face: suppose we gave a book signing and nobody came? Then there are the insulting advances, the absence of real marketing for their books, the years of slogging before royalties begin to show up - if they ever do. The list goes on. My particular challenge at this point, though, is what Chadbourn describes as the immersion of the modern writer in the online world and the reader communities. He wonders whether writers should run in the opposite direction, and this is an issue that hits me right where it hurts. As a matter of fact, within the past months I've cut back severely on posting on my personal blog and disengaged from four online communities, all in an effort to focus on writing once again.

It's a huge bugbear. New writers are now expected to do all their own promotion which entails, apparently, no eating, sleeping, or anything else but being everywhere online all the time. In my experience, the part of me where the words reside goes further and further into retreat the more I immerse myself in the online world. I'm desperately trying to find some kind of balance: just the right amount of online engagement that allows me to return to the writing place and get the job done. Much as I delight in the online fellowship, much as I enjoy learning about the industry and my fellow writers, much as I treasure the feedback from my wonderful readers and the reviewers who have, every one thus far, been extremely complimentary and appreciative - much as I love all that and would never want it to go away, my first job is writing. And we 'new' writers have to do whatever it takes to keep the words flowing.

I'd love to find out how other writers handle this - especially since I'm more and more tempted every day to abandon the world of Google Alerts, Amazon reviews and obsessive e-mail checking, unplug the Internet, and retreat to my writing space indefinitely in order to survive as a creator.


Anonymous said...

Whenever I have too many things to do and not enough time, I use prioritisation. This can apply to many things, including on-line tasks such as reading and commenting. There's a thing called the "Moscow" approach to help rank your task list into four priorities:

M — Tasks that must be done.
S — Tasks that should be done.
C — Tasks that could be done.
W — Tasks that you wish to be done.

Do these in the order M-S-C-W and simply stop when time runs out. Then get on with your writing! It's probably a good idea to have an alarm or stopwatch to avoid going over the time limit.

Liane Spicer said...

Captain Black, I make reams of lists but the approach cited here clearly demonstrates that my error lies in not prioritizing the items thereon. I'm going to try this method, giving the writing top priority.

Thank you!

Jewel Amethyst said...

I'm thankful my mother prepared me for the harsh realities of a writer's life by her pessimism about it as an occupation. I must say, I never expected to get rich or make money. I just wanted a story to be shared, and if I made money, that would be good too.

Sometimes, though, I realize writing as a hobby is so much more pleasant than writing as a career, because as a hobby, it gives you the freedom of escape. As a career, you're in bondage because your primary goal is making a living from it. Paradoxical isn't it?

I totally understand your woes with balancing internet promotion and creating new stories. How do I find balance? Haven't found it yet, so when you do, please let me know.

By the way Captain Black, that moscow approach takes discipline, but I'll try it.

Phyllis Bourne said...

Liane - This is a tough one for me too.

I'm definitely taking Captain Black's approach under consideration.

Liane Spicer said...

Jewel, I tell my mother as little as possible about my writing endeavours; I'm way too embarrassed to hand her yet more evidence to support her belief that I live in la-la land! So - the search for this elusive balance continues...

Phyllis, so am I!

Jenny Beattie said...

This is an interesting question that has much resonance for me.

I struggle with getting the right balance. I think it's essential to be aware of how difficult it is to get published but at the same time you do have to believe in your dream to do it.

I love blogging but I have so many feeds to read that sometime it can detract from the pleasure.

I wish I knew the answer.

Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

I'm amazed at how many hours I can lose to blogging, and I don't have the internet connected to my laptop so that I don't get distracted.

I do check my blog once a day and emails a couple of times, but even that seems to take up more time than I expect it to.

India Drummond said...

I think the key is balance. I have worked out a routine that allows me 1-2 hours of emailing, blogging, twittering, and visiting blogs early in the morning. By the time I'm done with that, I'm feeling warmed up and energised by the interaction, so I turn everything off and write for a couple of hours.

Then in the afternoons I have a variety of things I usually work on, sometimes writing some more, sometimes planning, research, promotion, etc. It varies from day to day, but overall this schedule works for me.

I think it's very individual though! You have to find a way of working that works for you. But sometimes one thing that works for me is if I'm feeling like I want to procrastinate rather than write, I make a deal with myself like... another 500 words and then I let myself go visit friends blogs or mess around on facebook for a little while.

Shauna Roberts said...

I struggle daily with balancing my writing with my other obligations with trying to maintain an online presence to keep my name (and my book) in people's minds.

As for the pessimistic figures from the book industry, my approach is, some people are getting published, despite everything. There's no reason those people can't be me and my friends.

Besides, artists create. Not creating is a denial of our most basic selves. When one considers that for artists, creating is what makes life meaningful, the money is just lagniappe.

Sharon Oliver said...

Ah, yes. One of life's mysteries is finding that balance. It's all (writing, promoting, marketing, etc.)time consuming and requires time management.

Liane Spicer said...

JJ, the quest for balance is one that has dogged me (most of us, I assume) for most of my adult life. Actually it became an issue only after I had my son. The only time it wasn't a problem was when I stopped working a day job in order to focus on writing and getting published. Once I started working full time again the balancing act became infinitely more intricate.

Liane Spicer said...

Debs, those hours do fly! A friend started me looking for nostalgic oldies on YouTube last evening. When I looked up I was shocked to find it was 1.30 in the morning!

India, I really admire morning people, because they seem to have an edge in the balancing game: they can get important work done before the humdrum part of the day begins. I'm a stubborn night owl, always have been, and trying to change that would be like lopping off part of me. Love the idea of making deals with yourself!

Liane Spicer said...

Shauna, this seems to be a big issue for all of us. And yes, if we were just concerned about making money very few of us would persist.

Sharon, I've got to become an expert at time management, I realize, if I'm to do all that's expected and still have the time I need to think and to dream.

Mare Biddle said...

What struck me in your post was the idea of "immersion" in the on-line world. To me, this is different than merely allocating time between tasks. Immersion requires time and emotional/mental/spiritual energy to extricate myself and re-enter the other world.

I really felt the impact last spring while promoting a new play in production. It was like being in a relationship with a bad boyfriend, and I knew I had to break up with him. There is something about "social media" that is narcissistic in that it demands absolute attention and admiration.

I did eventually break up with twitter and facebook. I'm back to shaking hands, talking about my material, handing out business cards and getting email addresses. I am astounded that even without tweets and updates, most of us really are less than six degrees of separation from one another.

I still have my professional website up and two blogs. Not sure what to do with those... but I know we're seeing other people. :-)

Liane Spicer said...

Mare, welcome to Novel Spaces!

You're absolutely correct: the problem is the immersion and all the time/energy it entails.

Good for you for cutting back! I've managed to avoid Twitter's seductions, and I pay much less attention to Facebook now that my blog feeds there.