Thursday, August 18, 2011

My Latest Last Chance

By Jay Stringer

This week completes a trilogy of sorts. Me blogging about not having a laptop. Today I'm writing this from my very own shiny macbook after it's returned from the hospital. As long as it holds up, then we'll have some more podcasts for you again soon, and I'll be catching up on all the work that's been missed.

But first, I have a few thoughts to get out there. And this one is pretty much writing itself as I think aloud. To quote Ed Hamell, "got a whole lotta things running round my head."

I wrote awhile back about my decision to take a few careful steps back from the Internet. I wondered what would happen, and whether a net presence was as helpful for writers as we all think. You know what? I found not only that I became better at choosing when to speak, but also that people were more interested when I did. In the first few days after my laptop died, I started to tweet more regularly again, and people commented, "good to see you back."I picked up more followers while I was holding back, and got retweeted more often. It seems that not talking is as important as talking.

What strikes me is that we all know this already. We know from our writing that what we choose to leave out is as important as what we choose to put on the page. When it comes to marketing ourselves, though, we go a different route. Why not simply apply the same rules that we write by to the way we out ourselves out there. Less is more. Show, don't tell. Leave things out. Kill your favourite scenes.

Lurking on twitter really rammed home certain things. What is this obsession with writers deciding to tell us they #amwriting? I would have thought that simple fact was obvious by the fact that you've made text appear on a computer screen. Would you have a character stating things so obvious to a reader? No. So why are you doing it? Every day I'm seeing updates. "Today I've written 3k words, OMG." Why? People really don't need to know, "Holy shizbits, today i typed and typed until I saw the face of the baby Jesus on the screen." And this isn't just me shooting down others. If this is a meeting of tweetaholics anonymous then I'm raising my hand. Today I tweeted my progress on a particular chapter.

Why? Why? Why?

I don't see car salesman going on and saying, "hoooboy, sold three and a half cars today #amselling." Dinner ladies don't have a #amservingdumplings. Maybe the world would be a better place if the porn industry was on their telling us they #amscrewing.

And maybe all of these people are on there. Maybe I'm just not seeing these things.

But writers, here's my thing; People don't care what you are writing. They care what you have written. Stop looking for a round of applause at the fact that you've put one word in front of another, and come back to us when you've put a beginning, a middle and an end into a workable order and have a story to sell.

The other thing I discovered during my period of #amnotwriting is that people on the twitters? They like to shout. And they want to shout at you. More than once I've stopped following someone based on an outburst on twitter, and I'm sure far more often than that people have stopped following me when my political views or social leanings have become more apparent. This very week I saw another side of a writer I'd had great respect for, and my interest in the work has suffered.

In an ideal world we could always separate the person and their views from their work. And every time I sit down to write, I work hard to try and remove myself and my ideals from my characters. But if we can't hold back from letting these things spill over into our public ramblings, are we really selling ourselves?

Or maybe people want that. What do you say? Do you prefer to know whether a writer/actor/journalist shares your views before you pick up their work? Is that part of you decision making, and if so, how much would you say it affects your choices?

It seems to me that the more you think about what you say, the more you approach your web presence as you would your prose, the more likely you are to attract and keep readers. The more you give in to the dark side, and shoot lasers from your hands into the keyboard, the more damage you're going to do.

So that's my new rule, and one that I think would go a long way. Take all of the rules you've learned about writing fiction, and apply them to everything you do on the net.


Dana King said...

I don't tweet (pitching or catching), but I have the same attitude as you about Facebook. I've probably deleted as many status updates and comments there as I've sent. Same with blog comments. I'd rather not comment and be thought as someone who only joins the conversation when I have something to add. (Not that I've done that here, but no one's perfect.)

Gerald So said...

I agree with your sentiment, Jay, but I have to say I cut writers on Twitter a healthy amount of slack. They are by far more interesting and better spoken than celebrities and sports stars who take to Twitter.

Writing is a solitary task, and to me, writers' tweets are like characters' internal monologue, distinct from dialogue. They are putting it out there, but it will probably only be read by people who do value their thought processes. It's strangely encouraging to know that my favorite writers have the same random thoughts and songs playing in their heads that I do.

I agree that one should always keep in mind what to put in and what to leave out, be it formal or casual conversation, but it's difficult for me to get overloaded on Twitter when there are only 140 characters per tweet and I can't possibly read every tweet from everyone I follow on any given day. Tweets are, as Hemingway might say, glances at the tips of the icebergs that are people's lives.

Thomas Pluck said...

I came to twitter before I began writing again. I try not to alienate potential readers, but you can't please everybody, and I'd never try. I'm not a politician. I feel if you believe in something strongly, you should be true to yourself. You will lose some readers, but likely gain others.
Then again, I see Andrew Vachss my mentor. I don't care about his sales, but his entire back catalog is in print, so he's doing something right.

Scott D. Parker said...

Excellent post, Jay. I agree with you. But I also agree with Gerald's take as well. I've blogged less and less as the months go by. The irony of my DSD day (Saturday) is that I am rarely near my Mac on the weekends.