Blogger: Wendy Lawton
A few years back I blogged about a comment from a frustrated editor. The warning bears repeating. The editor, speaking about a writer we knew, said, “I just wish he would spend less time networking—Twittering and Facebooking— and more time writing a book that takes it to the next level.”
Eek! We are always telling our authors to build a significant presence on the social networks. A platform. We want you to Facebook, to Twitter, to blog and to keep up your website. It’s part of building community, right? And community is potential readership. I mean, we’ve all read Seth Godin’s Tribes and if we haven’t jumped into the blogosphere, we feel guilty about our electronic slothfulness.
What does one do with a comment like that?
Before we take a closer look at what this editor was really saying, take a look at this hilarious award winning book trailer from a few years back. Dennis Cass could be the poster boy for online neglect, but the snarky line about his once thinking it was all about the book is a sad commentary on how imbalanced we can become.
But back to what this editor was really saying. There’s an unspoken story here. It has more to do with the quality of the book being turned in than the online marketing the author is doing. This particular author is very visible on every writing blog and every social network. There is nothing more upsetting to an editor than having an author beg for an extension of the deadline when that editor can see the author Tweeting about lunches with friends or a parasailing weekend.
This editor actually loves connected writers, but she was pointing out a dangerous imbalance. I call it playing around the edges. There are too many writers who love the cachet of being an author; they just don’t like the work of writing. They’d much rather talk with other writers, sip exotic coffees in literary coffee houses and just play around the edges of writing. It’s a dangerous business if you hope to build a career.
How can you tell if you are a diligent networker (which is important for a successful career) or just playing around the edges (which can be a career killer)?
You might be playing around the edges if:
- You like doing Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and blogs far better than writing.
- You are spending more time online talking about writing to other writers than connecting with your readers.
- Your blog is all about writing instead of about topics of interest to your readers. (Your readers are more interested in the things you write about and in you than they are in how you write.)
- You can blow off an impending deadline to have lunch with a fellow writer or go to a conference.
See the pattern? If writing comes first, you have no worries. If you love the writing community or the online community far more than the solitary work of writing, you may have some soul searching to do. No matter how much we talk about connecting, it’s the writing that will ultimately insure success or be a career killer.
I’d love to hear you chime in. Tell us how you find balance.
One of my sons was easily distracted. He could do long division at home if all was quiet. In a busy classroom, surrounded by the bustle of other students, his columns would be lined up wrong, or he’d get the math wrong, or he’d skip a step. The right answer eluded him.
Social media feels to me like his classroom distractions. It feels a lot like attention deficit disorder–a thousand tiny thoughts, in no particular order, all equally screaming for my attention. I need a quiet corner to get the writing right.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
I cannot, CAN NOT imagine writing in a coffee shop.
I get distracted by the low water level in the fish tank, because I can hear the filter.
Good morning, Wendy! This is really encouraging to hear, especially that “no matter how much we talk about connecting, it’s the writing that will ultimately insure success or be a career killer.” Platform-building can seem daunting to someone at the beginning of the journey, and this post is a reminder that it shouldn’t take away from work on writing itself.
I’m new at this game but have been trying to find balance by writing when my two small daughters are asleep in the afternoon and evening, and social networking (which is a less absorbing task) during the occasional quiet moment during the day–when I have to sit down to feed the baby or if my girls are both happily occupied and the bulk of the housework is done.
Because Titus 2 comes first, so I’ve been fighting to keep my priorities in the right order–love God, love my husband, love my children, keep my home, and THEN write or network. The ideas are written down and will still be there when I come calling, and social media is certainly not going anywhere either. The kids however, grow and change everyday. That being said, they do provide endless fodder for blog posts 😉
Kristen Joy Wilks
This was my situation for several years. Nap time writing, early in the morning. So good that you are soaking up these early years with your girls. My boys are all in school now and I have much more time to write, but I am so so glad that I relished all that time together catching frogs and digging in the mud. Way to go!
Spot on, Laura. That’s the way I do it as well. Writing during nap time/quiet time and social media for a few minutes at a time during the day. Quite frankly, I couldn’t ask for a better WAHM job than writer. 🙂
James Scott Bell
Wise words, Agent Lawton. The moment “platform” started being thrown about for fiction writers I was concerned what that would do to the new writers who wanted, more than anything, to get published. They’d hear all this stuff from editors who could blithely say, “You have to do this, you have to do that” and then go out and start blogging….discovering what a time suck that was.
So it’s refreshing to hear an editor talking some sense here.
My balance has always been achieved this way: I write to a quota. That’s non-negotiable. With the time left I decide what the best ROI is for marketing and promotion. I also got good advice early on–specialize. Don’t try to do some of everything. Find what you like and what fits your time.
Excellent and wise advice. I, too, write to a quota every day–which is non-negotiable. After that I see where I can invest a little online “connecting” time. But since my time to devote to all of it is limited, when in doubt, I write.
“Find what you like and what fits your time.” I like that. I have yet to figure out the balance in this, but I’m working on it. It’s encouraging to be given “permission” to focus our energies where focus is key. This blog makes me think of the saying “Jack of all trades, master of none.” As a new author, I have spent a considerable amount of time on platform building and trying to figure out how to make it sing. It often frustrates my use of writing time. I like the idea of writing to a quota or time allotment.
“Writing is hard,” she whined. “Facebook is easy.” Social media has taken the place of sharpening pencils to delay that hard work of writing. You see, that’s the thing. Digging words out of your head to tell that story you want, you really, really do want to tell can be very hard. A long time ago when I was just beginning to try to write for publication and that has been a long time ago, I read the advice that if you had to get a day job to get something that had nothing to do with writing. That seemed contradictory but the reasoning was that if you got a job writing for a newspaper or whatever that the itch to put down words would already be scratched. Sometimes I think blogging and facebooking and twitter or whatever else can be like that. A way to satisfy my need to string words together. I like talking to people on Facebook. I like blogging. I like writing books too but sometimes the story comes hard and that other stuff is easier. It all comes back to discipline and desire. You need that on-line presence or so they tell you, but first and foremost, you have to write that story.
And so to work. Right after I check to see if anybody left a comment on my blog. 🙂
Ann, I so appreciate the perspective from someone who’s ‘been there, done that’. Your honesty is refreshing, but it also gives me the nudge I need.
Btw, I left a comment on your Facebook page, but I won’t be offended if you put off reading it. 😉
I’ve heard the basic gist of this post before, but it always bears repeating. First and foremost, we need to write. As a pre-pubbed writer, it can be hard to keep a balance between networking and writing. I need to write more than network at this point in my career. Couple that with real-life responsibilities and it feels downright overwhelming some days.
I’m establishing a habit of setting a timer for my online time. Once it goes off, I’m off the internet and going into writing. I turn off my email notifications while I’m writing because that’s probably my biggest distraction.
Jeanne, I know what you mean by writing more than networking at this point in our pre-pubbed career. On the flip side, defining balance after publication will be another blessed challenge.
Very true, Jenni. 🙂
Wendy, I could barely watch the video because of all the flashing. I’ve heard flashing like that can cause seizures, and I now believe it. 🙂 Hurt my eyes. I had to look away and only listen. 🙂
Balance. Well, this last story that I wrote … I enjoyed writing it so much … I woke up at the crack of dawn to pour my heart out … to pour out the notes I had jotted down on my phone or notebook for that next chapter as I was trying to go to sleep the night before, when idea after idea kept coming to my mind. Social media fell to the wayside. The only thing writing-related that didn’t fall to the wayside was the B&S Blog. 🙂 I’d wait till I had finished pouring out my heart into the story for the day or when I needed a slight break, then I’d check social media, if time allowed. I was more in love with my characters, and they totally had my heart during that phase with the good Lord right in the mix. After I finished writing the bulk of the book and had moved on to editing or adding a sub-plot, I was able to devote more time to social media.
Kristen Joy Wilks
I do love agency blogs, but yes, although it is difficult to do at times, I love to write. I am such an introvert and I prefer those quiet solitary hours with my computer. I go to one conference a year and I do not think I have ever had lunch with a writer friend…unless the conference lunch counts. So yeah, the writing, love the quiet, even when it is painful to get something good down.
Dennis Cass: “You are not the bad guy in this, that’s true.” I am still laughing!
Thank you, Wendy. I loved the Dennis Cass video!
I am not someone who “plays around the edges.” Just the opposite. I have to make myself to Twitter and Facebook (I really dislike FB) and I have definitely neglected my blog. For a while, I tried to be committed daily to working on the platform but it took up so much time and it took away from my writing time. So I stopped and focused on the book. I still will go on Twitter and FB now and then (most of what I do at present is re-tweet, share links, and welcome new followers). I decided though, a while back, that my priority at present (as a yet-to-be-published author) is to focus on writing the novel and to work on platform when I get closer (way closer) to sending out queries. Although I love this blog and this community, I do the other social media (right now just sticking my toe in on and off so I don’t totally lose touch) but primarily because it’s something I have to do in order to be an author.
Blessings on your day.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
This was in a Facebook message I received VERY late last night.
“How’s your editing going? You’ve been scarce!!”
Now I can pat myself on the writer’s back and chill a bit.
That my absence was noticed is a good thing. That my friend, the awesome Cathy West, knew I was working is a better thing.
And now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go. I’m off to help design my website.
Seriously. I am.
No, for real. I not making this up to schmooze anyone!
Kristen Joy Wilks
A new website is really fun. I’m still waiting for mine. Have a blast Jennifer.
Can’t wait to see your new website! 🙂
Kristen Joy Wilks
Hopefully by September! OK, now don’t judge me but…I hired an artist friend to draw a picture of people reading…surrounded by puppies! OK, one dog and one puppy. But there is also a very cool willow tree. Um…I really hope it turns out.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Do you have a Native American/Canadian theme?
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
No theme, just me.
Can’t wait to see your new site, Jennifer!
I like social media OK, but I honestly wish it weren’t connected to the success of writing. I do think that it can suck the life out of us, draining that part that needs to put words down on paper, so that we’re dissipated somewhat. Scratching a temporary itch and all that. I tend to be an all or nothing person, so I wish I could say goodbye to social media and just write, for my own sanity. But I’ve been warned again and again that this is no longer possible–even for fiction writers…
Hannah, I agree. I actually wish social media were not connected to success in any realm. I fear that in posting my blog links on fb and twitter, that I will be like that multi-level marketer who would like to talk to you about a “business opportunity”. I would rather fail miserably than gather “friends” only to use them as stepping stones.
Hello, my name is Elissa, and I’m a procrastinator.
I have a feeling if there was a 12-step group for procrastination, it would be full of writers. “Playing around the edges” is an excellent way to to phrase the problem. It can’t be procrastination is it’s somehow related to writing, right? Right?
Thanks for the reminder that the writing must always come before the “writing life”.
Wendy, thank you for continuing to affirm that it really is all about the writing. It never occurred to me to blog about writing because when I started, I didn’t consider myself enough of an expert. Who would want to read it? But when I began blogging about large families, readers connected with that. And that, right there, is where I find balance. If I have social media in front of me too much, all it takes is a look around at the children who are growing much too fast. Like Laura commented, I have a limited amount of free time each day, and I want to make it count. That means spending the bulk of my time writing, not updating a status or tweeting or pinning.
Sean Michaels, who won the Giller prize in 2014, made a point of finding a cafe which did not have wifi access when he was working on his prize winning book. He liked to be out of the house and have noise and bustle around him while he worked but knew that if there was wifi he would waste time. I write best when I turn off the Internet too. Sometimes I miss my Underwood (dating myself there).
This is a tough one indeed. I’m running crazy right now trying to keep up with my fast growing blog, completing a novel I want to get out for first edits and then “bam!” a pitch I made over a year ago suddenly gets picked up and has a deadline. ..on top of the small here and there bylines and assignments I took on while nothing was happening. Feast or Famine lovlies, that’s all I can make of it.
I am utilizing LinkedIn as a way of connecting and I have learned a great deal on this site, however I put two hours or more aside daily for writing/editing. I am not published and feel the only way I will get published is to learn from agents, publishing companies and published authors. Thank you
Wendy L Macdonald
Wendy, one of the things I appreciate about Seth Godin’s advice is his focus on moderation. A following doesn’t need to be large–it needs to be focused and loyal (And balance is best achieved when a writer stays focused on the Author of their life story).
Last night I wanted to rush upstairs to my woman cave to edit more; however, my husband was resting and our teens were still hanging around. So I decided to sit with them instead. It was the first time I realized it wasn’t just my husband’s company they needed–but mine. I was so honored that I had to hold back tears as they all hung out with me and we chatted and laughed. Love of God, family, and neighbors will help us keep balance.
Later I did get to my room and do some editing. And the peace I brought with me was worth the wait.
Blessings ~ Wendy Mac ❀
Aw, that’s beautiful, Wendy. Peace is a sweet thing, indeed. 🙂
Rachel Leigh Smith
Writing absolutely comes first for me. The community of writers I’m part of is awesome, but being there is secondary to my writing.
I also don’t write in public places. When I write outside my house, it’s at the library. I’m a pretty extreme introvert, and just being in a coffee shop is exhausting. I don’t want to imagine trying to be creative in one.
I’ve been in edits for the last month, so at the moment I am having trouble getting back into my writing groove. But I know from experience it will pass, and I wrote my first short story for submission over the last few days to help get my flow back. That and changing up my music routine a little bit seems to have done the trick.
I do have a bit of a Facebook problem at times, though I’ve done enough weeding out in my newsfeed that it’s becoming less and less a problem. I hate Twitter, so I never go over there and I don’t use my account much. Pinterest isn’t a distraction either. My Pinterest account has a specific purpose to help me track characters and setting pictures. It is not part of my social media presence, nor is it a medium I enjoy participating in.
If I don’t write every day on a novel, even as little as 100 words, I get antsy and my day isn’t complete. It’s rare I take a day off, even Sundays. That’s how I’m wired and how my creativity works best. No other form of writing meets this need, not even blogging. I hate blogging, in fact, so I don’t do it.
My base philosophy for social media and reaching readers has become this: if I don’t like it, I don’t do it.
A serious question for Wendy: just what is required w.r.t. social media presence in one’s author persona for an unpublished novelist to get an agent to consider asking for the full manuscript?
Yes, my writing comes first – always!
Hi Wendy, it’s wonderful to have you back! Hope you are all well now and ready to roll. Missed you.
(Oh, yes, like the post too. Actually love that editor who said, “Where’s the writing?”)
I would love to have the chance to have an agent to push me with deadlines. This would be my dream come true because I know I can write stories..
I’m late to the conversation, and it’s directly related to this topic. I’m between ISPs and am using Barbara’s Smart Phone to try to keep my blog alive. I can only borrow it for short periods, and keeping up on Facebook, or even email, isn’t on.
It’s certainly increased time for writing , but something has been lost, too…a kind of leavening that social media engenders, the degree of which I was quite unaware.
Wendy – excellent post! Writing around the edge is an easy trap to fall prey to.
I find I wrote best in a room all by myself.
Heidi Kneale (Her Grace)
I crave writing. I daydream about it at my day job, when I’m in the car, during housework/homework and I indulge in it when it’s my writing time.
I write until I run out of time, or I’ve reached the daily stopping point. I take satisfaction at my daily accomplishment, reflect on past accomplishments, and ask myself, “who’s buying my books? Who should be buying my books?” and that’s what motivates me to blog/tweet/whatever. I think about connecting with my readers to build a fanbase. I think about what I’d want my favourite authors to say and I say that.
I confess I occasionally neglect my social network. Platform’s pretty useless if I don’t have the works to prop it up.