Facebook Author Pages Are Useless. Make One Anyway.

November 11, 2020 § 11 Comments

A writer asked me, “Should I start a Facebook Author Page? My book is coming out next week, but I want to keep my personal profile private and just get everyone to like my author page.”

What I heard: I don’t want to share my real self or genuinely connect, but I want people to sign up for my commercials.

Because yes, we share our blog links and promote our friends’ books, too, but these are all commercial activities. Read me. Buy me. Buy this other thing.

Nobody wants to be your customer. They want to be your friend.

Facebook already knows this. That’s why Facebook feeds you a steady stream of news from family and acquaintances, posts from interest groups you’re part of, and a very occasional post from that author page you liked a long time ago because your friend asked you to.

Even when you like and follow a business or author page, Facebook rarely delivers their posts. You have to specifically visit the page. For that author, only 10-15% of the people who clicked “follow”—who signed up on purpose!—will see their posts. Mathematical algorithms weigh a page’s popularity and interest to the public, because what Facebook wants is for people to spend more time on Facebook. If a page has thousands of followers, Facebook shows the posts more widely and more often. Famous people get more famous. Viral content goes viral-er.

Social media algorithms aren’t looking for “quality” or “this author deserves a boost!” so if you want anyone to see posts from your author page, you’ll have to pay for advertising. Do you have a product to sell? Your beautiful book, or maybe a course you’re teaching? Run $20 worth of well-targeted ads. No product yet? Don’t bother.

Because Facebook Author Pages don’t attract their own traffic, they don’t usefully separate professional from personal. You will always get far more engagement on your personal page. (Try posting the same link or post or picture to your author page and your profile and see who shows up where.)

No-one wants to be your customer. They want to be your friend.

Even if they see your post in both places, commenting on a friend’s post feels “real” and “connected” in a way that commenting on their low-traffic author page doesn’t.

For a useful compromise, join some interest groups on Facebook. There are plenty of writing groups in all genres, and whether you write about boating or genealogy or special-needs parenting or hot-air ballooning, your topic almost certainly has groups, too. Lurk for a while until you understand how the group functions. Comment when you can help, or congratulate, or encourage. Almost zero groups allow direct “buy my product” advertising. But if you gain a reputation for being helpful and kind, people will ask you about your book.

Administrating an author page is a little more difficult than updating a personal profile. They don’t get traffic, they feel fake even to your friends, and you’ll feel weird constantly advertising yourself.

Make a Facebook Author Page anyway.

Here’s why: One day, you’re going to publish that book, or that second book, or offer a workshop or a course, and you’re going to want to spread the word. You can only buy Facebook advertising for posts on a page, not your personal or group posts.

Here’s why else: if you’re writing a book that will benefit from a social media platform (that’s not all memoirs!) agents and publishers will care how many followers you have on Facebook personally, and on your page. They’ll also care about how many members your groups have, and how active you are in the groups. Pumping up those numbers from scratch at the last minute doesn’t create genuine connections. A long, slow process builds bridges between your writing and reading communities.

  • Set up an automatic feed to post to your author page whenever you write something new on Instagram/Twitter/your blog (I use IFTTT, it’s free).
  • Share non-private posts from your personal profile to your page, so your fans see some of the personal you.
  • Once or twice a week, find a helpful or well-written blog or article you didn’t write. Say why you liked it or found it thought-provoking, and quote something intriguing or counter-intuitive. Post that to your author page (and Twitter, if you have it). Tag the original author. Sharing their work connects you to them a little more, and their fans may discover your work, too.

Sharing your work on your personal profile, among the genuine moments of your life, will always be more rewarding and gain more readers. “We had a picnic!” “So excited about my publishing deal!” and “Wow, these fall leaves!” are far more engaging than “Buy my book,” “Review my book,” “Tell your friends about my book.” Instead of asking friends to watch a commercial, your work sits amidst the many things you mutually find interesting. But a Facebook Author Page has advertising and platform benefits you’re going to need one day—so start gently building your following now.

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Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor. She’ll be teaching the webinar Second Draft: Your Path to a Powerful, Publishable Story December 16th (replay will be available). Click here to find out more and grab your spot!

How Will Your Memoir Sell?

October 29, 2020 § 6 Comments

Do you need a platform to sell a book?

Read that question again. Not as “Do you need a PLATFORM to sell a book,” but as “Do YOU need a platform to sell a book?”

We usually think of “platform” as “social media.” But there are literary platforms and mass-media platforms, too. Some memoirs sell on powerful writing alone.

How do you know if yours is one of them?

Memoirs fit roughly into four categories, and each category needs different elements to sell. Yes, a strong social-media platform can be one of those elements, but it’s not the only one. Let’s break it down:

Voice-Driven memoirs are collections of anecdotes, essays or loosely-connected stories. David Sedaris falls into this category, as does Jenny Lawson—authors we want to spend time with, to enjoy whatever story they want to tell because they’re telling it. Comedians’ memoirs are also in this category. Their plot might be “I grew up, I worked hard and then I got famous,” but we want to hear that story from the person inside it.

Character-Driven memoirs are often generational family stories through the eyes of the narrator, like The Glass Castle or The Liar’s Club. Or the reader navigates a particular situation or time in close concert with the narrator, as in The Year of Magical Thinking. The journey is through time and personal change, rather than up a mountain or around the world.

Plot-Driven memoirs focus on a journey, from Point A to Point B. There’s usually a physical element: sometimes these are places on a map, as in Wild; sometimes the journey is through addiction, or traveling from sickness to health as in Porochista Khakpour’s Sick.

Personal Record memoirs survey a place, culture or time. Orange is the New Black (women’s prison), Kitchen Confidential (professional cooking), and Maximum City (Bombay) each encapsulate the writer’s personal intersection with a larger phenomenon. “Legacy” books—collections of family letters, parent biographies, community histories—fall in this category.

The sellability of each type of memoir—to agents, publishers, and ultimately readers—tends to spring from these elements:

Voice-Driven Memoir: Come Spend Time with Me

  • Personal Fame from public speaking or a public career like theatre, dance or politics.
  • A unique, consistent, often funny, voice.
  • Mass-Media Platform: publications in newspapers and newsstand magazines.
  • Social-Media Platform: a high-engagement blog with hundreds of comments per post, or social-media accounts that regularly receive thousands of likes.

 

Character-Driven Memoir: Personal Change, Beautiful Writing

  • Excellent writing with a strong narrative voice.
  • Deep insight into oneself and the human condition, expressed on the page.
  • A “hot essay”—a literary or mass-media publication that draws wide attention.
  • Literary connections: teachers and workshop leaders who promote you to their agent and publisher, and will blurb your book.
  • Literary platform: a body of work in literary journals and upscale mass-media; places at selective residencies; literary awards and contest wins.

 

Plot-Driven Memoir: The Journey Is the Story

  • Newsworthiness of your journey, especially if a physical journey has been reported in mass media or an internal journey is related to an emerging hot topic.
  • Cultural relevance of your journey, like a significant generational, ethnic, or gender experience.
  • A “hot essay”
  • Literary platform

 

Personal Record: My Experience with an Interesting World

  • Self-publication and niche-marketing to the community the book is about (your relatives, a geographical area, etc.), though traditional publishing is also an option.
  • Cultural relevance, especially if you are an expert on or native of a world that’s becoming newsworthy or topical.
  • Social-Media Platform, including incredible visuals that invite readers into the world OR
  • Mass-Media Platform, especially regular publication in niche venues about your world, such as popular travel or cooking websites OR
  • Literary platform if your writing is voice-driven.

 

You don’t need to tick off every element in your category. But the more you can achieve, the better your chances of selling your memoir.

If you want to focus primarily on your writing, you’ll need to consciously improve your craft, seek publication in top-notch journals, and cultivate ongoing connections with your teachers. If your physical journey is the fascinating part, try to interest a reporter in your story, or learn to pitch to mass media yourself. If you want to build readership online until you reach critical mass, make improving your reach and content on social media a large part of your writing practice, and write a book that makes social media a positive contribution to your time.

As Jane Friedman says, “Everyone has a meaningful story to tell, but not everyone’s story (or writing) will find an agent or receive a commercial publishing deal.” Your book is worth writing. If you want to sell it, start educating yourself now on how that’s likely to happen, and how you’re cultivating and connecting with the readers who need your book.

Need more platform information? Want to know how to build an audience with or without social media? Join Allison K Williams and Ashleigh Renard for The Writers Bridge Platform Q&A Zoom chat today at 1PM EST (recording will be available). Always free. Sign up here to receive the zoom link.

 

Cover Story

October 13, 2020 § 16 Comments

Sometimes writers feel we have to limit what we share on social media and in our work: I write memoir, why does anyone want to see my garden? My book is a parenting journey—can I write an essay about addiction? But our whole selves make our creative work. Seeing a writer’s favorite topics juxtaposed shows why you’re writing about those things. Parenting informs your writing on trauma. Gardening influences your thoughts on social justice. Readers want to see what inspires us as well as the words we create.

These topics and interests are your “content buckets” full of ideas for books, essays, articles and social media posts. Everything you see and have a strong feeling about. Every problem people have that you could advise on. Every experience you’re willing to share, so readers discover, “I’m not the only one who feels like this.”

One way to name your content buckets is the #MagazineCoverChallenge. If Writer-You were a magazine, what would the cover look like? What photo represents an aspect of your writing tone, genre or material? What topics from your work AND your life would be featured articles?

A Facebook writers’ group I’m in used the #MagazineCoverChallenge to visualize and share our content buckets. Here’s what we experienced:


Stephanie Weaver: I knew if I focused on design skills I would never get it finished, so I decided right up front that mine would not look professionally designed, because that wasn’t the challenge. That freed me up to get it done and post it. I also didn’t spend much time crafting the topics to sound exactly like they would on a magazine cover.

Candice Marley Connor: being given permission to toot my own horn was very liberating. Funny how I feel I’m not allowed to tout my accomplishments unless invited to.

Casey Mulligan Walsh: The fun of designing a magazine cover unleashed the sort of thought process I couldn’t quite access when attempting to make a simple list of content buckets. Suddenly every idea seemed a little more exciting and sparked another.

Abby Alten Schwartz: In addition to being a writer, I’m a graphic designer, so approaching this as a visual project allowed me to use tools I am familiar with and communicate it a way that makes sense to me. It necessitates bite-size descriptions and decisions about the hierarchy of the thoughts on the page.

Emily Brisse: Whether it’s a product of my Midwestern roots or just my introverted self, I cringe at anything resembling self-promotion, especially if it involves my face. I like my face just fine! But I’m often constrained by this cringey belief that I’m not supposed to say that. So, creating something where my face is front and center? That took a lot of other women showing me just how okay it was to gather together a list of why they were amazing, AND include their face as one of those reasons, for me to find some kind of permission to do the same.

Sarah Bringhurst Familia: I put off making my cover for weeks, and eventually realised I was unconsciously recoiling from the idea of distilling my entire personality into a magazine cover. Actually going through my [Instagram] feed allowed me to see certain topics I come back to over and over. Then I gave myself permission to focus on those, instead of trying to stuff a whole biographical sketch into a magazine cover.

Jo Acholonu: 2020 has been a trying time for so many of us and, I think, has forced us all to be reflective in some way and so my cover focuses on the aspects of life and writing I want more of, not just of myself but creatives in general. Especially the no more slave narratives…that thought in particular has been consuming me in the best and most beautiful way possible. The BIPOC community is so rich in experience, it’s a disservice to paint us with a single brush of suffering and servitude. Not only do my personal life experiences show that, but also my extensive travels and it just feels like the more I see of the world, I realize just how many stories go untold.

Carrie Honaker: Focus. As a writer, I know what content buckets I lean into, but I tend to be all over the board on social media. [The challenge] helped me distill my “brand” and see how building a platform and my ass-in-the-chair writing can feed and reflect each other. Designing the magazine cover forced me to laser in on what you might find about me if you looked past the cover into the pages of words.

Abby: I was having a difficult time wrapping my head around what my IG feed should be about. Originally it was purely personalbooks I was reading, meals I cooked, photos of my dog. I deliberately shifted to content that will help me connect with an audience for my memoir-in-progress and the essays I am now writing and submitting. This exercise helped me recognize that I have expertise in a number of areas and they are all spokes of the same wheel. What will pull them together will be my visual voice and my writing voice, as long as I am authentically representing myself. It was a surprisingly effective challenge.

Casey: I’ll definitely be coming back to these categories when brainstorming ideas for both social and blog posts, and they’ve helped me more clearly articulate my “brand” and what belongs on my website.

Abby: I’ve already started putting together some ideas for future posts about freelance life, with the intention of providing tips that bring value to the reader.

Emily: I hadn’t realized that most of what I write and post about ties back in some way to “learning.” This definitely fits with how I experience and understand the world, so I was happy to find this overarching theme.

Stephanie: I learned that I should talk more about living with chronic illness, something I don’t tend to share much about.

Abby: My content can be eclectic, and what unifies it is me. My voice. My perspective. My journey, to use a slightly cringe-inducing but apt word. I learn visually, so seeing my content buckets displayed in a magazine cover format helped me quickly wrap my brain around them.

Candice: The magazine cover challenge helped me realize that building a platform isn’t the scary, out-of-reach monster it felt like the first time I heard about it at an author’s seminar. Writing platforms are really just embracing your interests and being yourself!

Want to take the #MagazineCoverChallenge?

Your own cover doesn’t need to be super fancy. Our group made them in WordSwag, Instagram Stories, Canva, even PowerPoint! Design skills are great, but ultimately we’re writers. Regardless of the level of visual slickness, every writer above has shown who they are and what they write. Our covers are guides when thinking, “what should I write my next essay about?” or “how can I develop themes in my novel?” or even “what should I put on social media today?” And it was fun!

If you’d like to share, post your cover to Twitter or Instagram. Hashtag #MagazineCoverChallenge and tag me @guerillamemoir. I’ll RT/repost and give you some love.

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Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor. Her webinar Nail Your Memoir Structure By Thinking Like a Novelist is October 21 (recording available). Register here!

Platform Without Tears (today!)

August 25, 2020 § 8 Comments

Back in May, I wrote about many writers’ fundamental misunderstandings of “platform”: it’s not being famous, going viral, or all about getting clicks on Twitter.

Here’s the main problem with “building platform”: a “platform” is something you get up on and yell at people.

Instead, build a bridge.

Your bridge is all the ways people who need your book can reach you. You are making a pathway for your readers, and it’s a two-way street. You listen to them, they listen to you…If you’re consistently entertaining, kind, and helpful in your world, some of your connections will become advocates for your book. You’ll also know more, be a better writer, and understand your readers.

This resonated with many writers. But there’s still a lot of confusion over just how to start building platform, from the beginning. From the “How do you turn this thing on?” stage of social media. The very beginning of brainstorming what kinds of outreach will engage your readers, develop your own writing craft…and is fun for you!

Memoirist Ashleigh Renard and I are here to help. We’ve started The Writer’s Bridge—a free biweekly Zoom chat about all things platform, aimed at writers who are just beginning to connect with readers on the long road to publication.

Some key takeaways from the last chat:

  • You don’t need 100k followers, you need 1000 superfans. Engagement is much more important than follower count
  • Show your face in your profile pictures, because readers want to know YOU
  • Only do the platforms you like—you don’t have to do them all
  • Create things that are fun to create!
  • Share MOMENTS not THINGS; make the reader feel something—show instead of telling.

We also talked about limiting your social media time by setting a timer and doing strategic actions, rather than randomly scrolling.

 

If you have 15 minutes a day…

  • Follow accounts of writers you admire who have bigger followings than you, and add relevant and contributing comments—sometimes you’ll start a conversation with their other followers, and that can lead to those people engaging with you on your own account.
  • Spend five minutes interacting and commenting, by clicking hashtags you follow, like #amwritingmemoir, #cnftweet, or #writewritewrite. This helps you see and be seen by accounts who aren’t already following you, and writers and readers you don’t already know.
  • Post once to one platform.

 

If you have 30 minutes a day…

  • Follow your admired-writer accounts, add relevant and contributing comments
  • Spend ten minutes interacting with hashtags you follow
  • Post once to each of two platforms
  • Work on planning your posts. Explore a look or tone you like (funny tweets? light and airy photos?) and stockpile ideas by taking screenshots and saving them in a new album on your phone. OR Brainstorm ideas for blog posts or newsletters, collecting useful links to share or thinking of personal stories you’d like to tell your email list.

 

If you have 60 minutes a day…

  • Follow your admired-writer accounts, add relevant and contributing comments
  • Spend ten minutes interacting with hashtags you follow
  • Post once to each platform you are using
  • Start/Add to your list of potential captions, by thinking about stories or writing tips you’d like to share with your readers and fellow writers. Seek out quotes that inspire you and you’d like to respond to. Put some rough-draft captions in the notes app on your phone that you can work on and copy-paste to Instagram or Twitter when you’re ready.
  • Play around with a photo-editing app like Snapseed (free! also available for Android) or A Color Story (free and paid options, iOS and Android) and see if there’s a look you enjoy unifying your photos with. OR Recreate classic Instagram photo types: hands holding something living, flatlays (your desk with your writing stuff, shot from above), a book in a “styled” environment, etc.

 

This week’s chat is today at 1PM EST. If you’d like to join us, sign up here to receive an email with the Zoom link:

The Writer’s Bridge

If you can’t make it, sign up anyway! We’ll send a link to the recording afterward, and you’ll be invited to the next chat September 8th.

Today, Ashleigh and Allison will journey through Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, and answer this week’s million dollar (or six-figure advance) questions:

  • Who to follow?
  • How can I use Twitter lists?
  • Instagram analytics…um are what?
  • Does my IG need to look pretty?
  • Facebook Author page, colossal waste of time or merely pointless?

We’ll also answer questions in the chat and review one lucky volunteer’s social media with tips and tricks.

After last week’s chat, we heard:

“…Flawless and jam packed with great information and tips. Thank you so much for catering to the absolutely clueless!”

“This was SUPERB. I’ve taken several workshops on this topic. Yours was the first one that not only didn’t exhaust me — it energized me!”

“Social media feels so overwhelming and I love how you make it feel manageable.”

Next week, we’d love to hear from you. See you on The Writers’ Bridge!

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Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor. Join her newsletter for adventures in writing and stories from the road!

Why No-One’s Interacting With You on Twitter

June 23, 2020 § 15 Comments

You have ten minutes, so you open Twitter. No notifications. Your inbox has an auto-message from an author you don’t know, thanking you for following (delete!). You scroll for a few minutes, note the level of political outrage, like a few tweets advertising books (that you’ll never buy but you want to be supportive), retweet a couple of “safe” posts (author quotes, an agent’s advice) and a “writer lift”, and exit, mildly disappointed.

How come nobody talks to me on Twitter? I have #writingcommunity in my bio, I like all my friends’ tweets…maybe I’ll just never be cool enough to get attention on social media.

First, let’s get one thing straight: You do not have to be popular on Twitter to write or sell your book. Twitter is most helpful (but isn’t mandatory!) for how-to/self-help/narrative nonfiction. For memoirists, Twitter can help reach readers, but email newsletters, public speaking, published essays, and Facebook groups (not pages) are all better ways to connect with your audience. For novelists, Twitter is a place to build community, not show how you’ll sell books.

So what do writers do on Twitter?

  • connect with writing idols and industry professionals in a low-stakes way
  • practice writing tight, focused sentences that provoke and engage readers
  • meet other writers and have fun

But Twitter has plenty of unwritten rules, just like every other social arena. Breaking the rules requires deep understanding. For example, if I walk into a Star Trek convention dressed like Henry VIII, I am breaking the rules. If I’m cosplaying as Captain Kirk experiencing historical monarchy in a holodeck, at least some fellow attendees will love me. You don’t have time to learn all the rules, let alone parse that previous sentence, because you need to be writing. So here’s a guide to why people aren’t engaging with you, and what you can do about that.

Technical Troubleshooting

Are you following too many people? “Writer lifts,” in which everyone who responds to a tweet follows everyone else, give us inflated statistics. If Bob Writer has 14.1K followers/15K following, he’s following too many people to meaningfully interact with any of them. Bob’s followers never see his tweets either, because they’re all following too many people. Writer lifts are randomly following to build numbers, not genuinely sharing interests. Follow people you want to read.

Are your followers active? Every time you log on, check ten people on your followers list. If they haven’t tweeted in a month, unfollow. If you value the connection, find where they’re active and meet them there.

Are you active? Twitter’s a weird, bitter, funny, ridiculous community, but you truly do get back what you put in. If you aren’t responding and/or tweeting for a few minutes 3-4 days a week, other people aren’t seeing you.

Better Writing

Think of your audience. Better yet, think of a specific person you interact with on Twitter, and what they react to. We don’t have to be laugh-a-minute, especially right now, but people interact with tweets that move them. Comedy or tears, a moment of thoughtfulness or joy.

Tweet like a writer. Tweak your first draft. Is the question phrased well? Is your joke funny? Do your sentences that begin and end with strong verbs or nouns instead of prepositions or pronouns? Do your best sentence-level work.

Stay positive. Avoid whining about publishing (or anything else). Ask, “Is this complaint because I personally feel hard-done-by, or is there a larger group or principle at stake?” Then decide whether you want to express rage, bring up a legit issue to discuss, or quip about knowing you’re riled up over something silly. If you can, suggest a solution, or ask for information, instead of just venting.

Take part in conversations that mean something to you. Avoid begging for attention. Tweets like “is anyone out there?” or “I guess I’m not important enough to get likes” are unappealing. Start a discussion with a question.

Skip the ads. Sharing your newly published essay (with a quote, or a sentence about your process or motivation) is great. Sharing your great review, or “hey I published a book today!” gets likes. Posting repeatedly about your book for sale is tedious, and people will unfollow. Spend that time submitting articles or essays that tie into your book, and brag about those instead of another commercial.

Better Engagement

When you retweet, comment. It’s fine to just RT, but try to more often have something to say about what you’re sharing. Why you liked it. What makes this author or article important. How that joke made you feel. Even an emoji helps connect.

Find a couple of accounts that are just for fun, like reading the comics pages. I’m a fan of @AITA_reddit (some adult material), and I see other online friends in that feed. Responding to their comments there gives us a low-stakes interaction, and they’re more likely to see my other tweets. Literary agents and high-profile, fascinating writers like Chuck Wendig, John Scalzi, Tayari Jones and C. Spike Trotman often have regular commenters, and you can get to know other writers in discussions.

Adjust Your Expectations

Building connections with readers and fellow writers takes time. My social media helped me get a book deal…after spending five years building bridges to readers through Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, blogging and a newsletter. But I’m not there to rack up numbers. I’m there to share information, make connections, answer questions, and practice writing in those formats. It wasn’t the numbers that got me the deal, it was the behavior. We often dismiss social media as frivolous or shallow, and yes, wide swaths of it are. But Twitter also holds professional camaraderie, writing-process and publishing support, and literary news. Truly connecting on Twitter takes time, and genuine interest in the community—exactly like connecting anywhere else.

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Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor. Follow her on Twitter for writing tips, publishing news, and fabulous GIFs.

Mother’s Day Feature: My Mother’s Belly

May 10, 2020 § 10 Comments

Editors’ Note: We rarely include creative nonfiction on the blog, focusing instead on craft talk, book news, and the writing life. But Diane Zinna’s micro-essay (also posted to Brevity’s Instagram) felt right for today.

A white toddler, her belly hanging out of her top and shorts, among chrysanthemums. Behind her, her mother holds a walker.My Mother’s Belly

by Diane Zinna

Today is 22 years since my mother died. It was my graduation day from my MFA program, and I had gone to her apartment to show her my diploma.

There was baseball on TV—she never watched baseball, that’s how I first knew something was wrong—the water was running in the kitchen, her favorite rainbow coffee mug was broken in the sink. Her dog, who would become my dog, was cuddled up beside her body on the floor, his front paws on her, upon her round belly.

She had the roundest belly, like me. Our shape of being pregnant that never went away. I remember being embarrassed of her round belly when I was a child, outlined in her many seam-down-the-front polyester pants, my friends always asking me if she was pregnant.

That night, I put my hands on her belly, and kept them there, waiting for people to come and help me, loving it, finally loving its shape, missing it though it was warm under my hands.

Almost every week someone asks me if I’m carrying a boy or a girl. People give me their seats. They smile in a way they think is knowingly. Sometimes it makes me cry. Other times I try to laugh it off.

Like on this day last year—I was boarding the Acela train to NYC with my boss, when a pregnant conductor announced, big-smiling, arms thrown open, “From one mother to another, Welcome Aboard!” I’m conscious of it always, the way my body reminds me of my mother, the way people’s mistakes make me miss her, surprise me into missing her.

I might be boarding a train, putting my luggage up in the overhead rack, but in my mind I’m in that apartment, and baseball is on, and the sink is running, and the puppy’s paws are on her belly. I think that was the first time I ever really touched it, that night, 22 years ago, from the outside.

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Diane Zinna is originally from Long Island, New York. She received her MFA from the University of Florida and taught creative writing for ten years. She was formerly the executive co-director at AWP, and Diane created their Writer to Writer Mentorship Program, helping to match more than six hundred writers over twelve seasons. Her first novel, The All-Night Sun, is forthcoming from Random House and you can pre-order it now. Learn more at dianezinna.com.

How to Bypass Writer Burnout in the World of Social Media

April 20, 2020 § 4 Comments

Sweta_Headshot_BrevityBy Sweta Srivastava Vikram

Social media is incredible; it introduces us to writing opportunities, communities, retreats, residencies, prizes, scholarships, and so much more. It helps us connect and communicate with people around the world. It orchestrates new friendships. Social media dissipates geographic boundaries and makes the writing life less isolated. But, like most things in life, social media too comes with its complications.

Research tells us that excessive and compulsive social media usage is linked to depression, anxiety, insomnia, low self-esteem amongst other health issues. If we don’t learn to take care of ourselves, pause every now and then, and stop refreshing our feeds constantly, burn out is inevitable.

  1. Take a deep breath: While Facebook live and webinars and Zoom meetings make it easier for us to RSVP and “attend” more events because we aren’t limited by geographic location and timings, they can also take a toll on us. Sleeping at odd hours, skipping meals, not getting enough movement, and jumping from one event to another because there are no commute constrictions can have its own consequences. Fact: It’s important to pause. It’s good to take breaks in between. It’s imperative to exercise and eat right. And, it’s perfectly fine to not attend anything once in a while. When you make the time to recharge yourself, you get back to your writing life, writing community, and creativity with vigor and appreciation, you have so much more to give to your tribe.
  2. Redefine boundaries: Social media has made access to information seamless. It makes life more alluring. You see pictures of your friends at book launches, literary gatherings, and book clubs, and if you perceive exclusion, it can have negative impact on your mental health. Then there is the fear of missing out (FOMO) and tendency of over-booking your calendar to not feeling adept because everyone else around you seems to be doing better—courtesy of social media posts. Develop a healthy relationship with social media. Don’t check social media posts at least two hours prior to going to bed. Don’t log on to social networks first thing in the morning. Maybe schedule your social media posts or you use an app that compels you to take breaks? Consider having an editorial calendar in place to plan content ahead of time and allot specific time of the day to use social media. Whatever you do, do not forget to add a nourishing distance between yourself and social media. Sometimes, we need to build boundaries to protect us from our own thoughts and actions.
  3. Figure out your why: Social media can be addictive, and it can create a want for instant gratification. Figure out why you are on social media—what your goals and expectations are from it. You don’t have to be on every social networking channel just because others are on there. Figure out, which social media network makes most sense to you and allocate time wisely. Reality is that the more time you spend on social media, the more you start to seek personal validation through your social media engagement. So, if you share an update/post something about your new writing, book, interview, essay, award, struggles, wins….and don’t get “enough” likes or comments or emojis on your post right away, you might find yourself refreshing the feed obsessively. Then the inner voice gets loud and leads you on the path to self-deprecatory reflections: People don’t like my writing. People don’t like me anymore. People aren’t happy for my success. They don’t think I am relatable, witty, or intelligent. I don’t matter. My words don’t make a difference. No one will read my work. My career is over. The writers mind can be filled with insecurities, doubts, and self-loathing. We tend to make up fearful stories in our head.
  4. Find your community: While it’s important to feel that you aren’t alone, it’s equally important to know that there are different kinds of writers and paths available for your writing career. That said, not everyone will be a good match for you even if though they might be the best human being to have walked this planet. For example, if you are a writer with a day job who is feeling anxious about their commitment to the craft and publishing, talking to a full-time writer who has much more flexibility in their schedule and can afford to spend hours online to research options and opportunities, might put you in a more vulnerable space. Talk to those who can relate to your situation. Find those in the same position as you in life and build a community.
  5. Embrace tech timeouts: Have you noticed…on some days, you sit down to write with full intention…and then you make the mistake of opening Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Snapchat or Pinterest on your phone? And there starts the world of mindless scrolling and thumb impressions. On a good day, aside from wasting productive hours, you might not be deeply impacted. But we all have bad days where we doubt our writing, our voice, and our capabilities. On a day like that, it’s easy to assume that everyone in the world has a better life than you. Because social media constantly exposes us to idealized versions of other people’s lives, we assume everyone is more successful than us. Fact: Everyone is struggling in their own ways. People only show those aspects of their lives that they want the world to believe. Intentionally disconnecting from social media can give you untainted perspective.

Social media is powerful. Try to use it mindfully, not reactively. While it’s important to be an active member of the writing community and support your fellow writers, it is equally important to take care of your emotional, physical, and mental health. Information overload can overwhelm us for the wrong reasons. There is a tipping point for each one of us, after which we end up on the road to burnout.

“A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.” ~ Christopher K. Germer

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Sweta Srivastava Vikram is an international speaker, best-selling author of 12 books, and Ayurveda and mindset coach who is committed to helping people thrive on their own terms. As a trusted source on health and wellness, most recently appearing on NBC and Radio Lifeforce, Sweta has dedicated her career to writing about and teaching a more holistic approach to creativity, productivity, health, and nutrition. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and other publications across nine countries on three continents. Sweta is a trained yogi, is on the board of Fly Female Founders, and holds a Master’s in Strategic Communications from Columbia University. Voted as “One of the Most Influential Asians of Our Times” and winner of the “Voices of the Year” award (past recipients have been Chelsea Clinton), she lives in New York City with her husband and works with clients across the globe.

An ENG 101 Instructor’s Plea: Let’s Stop Sharing Our Theses (So Soon!)

April 8, 2020 § 11 Comments

MadrazoBy Christen Madrazo

COVID-19 social media content was all fun and games at first. We shared memes, tweets, and posts about the media hype, the handwashing, the run on toilet paper… Now, though, this is our real lives—not just our virtual ones—and our online tone has grown increasingly somber.

The same folks who, three or four weeks ago, insisted this was all “no big deal” and even shamed others for their “hysteria,” suddenly implored us to “check in on our friends with anxiety.” Those who said “relax—it’s just a flu,” almost overnight began to chastise those not doing their part to #flattenthecurve.

But I’m not writing to call out the hypocrisy here. That our social media content would shift makes sense. As more information surfaces, our opinions change.

I get it. In fact, it’s my job to get it. For 14 years I’ve taught university-level intro to writing and research. My work is rooted in the premise that writers’ opinions shift the more they dig into complicated questions and issues. The old saying’s typically true: the more you know about something, the more you realize how little you know at all.

The not-knowing part is frustrating. Composition students don’t like to hear, “You don’t know your thesis yet,” but if your topic is worth writing about, the inquiry—no less the thesis—will not be clear without extensive research. And maybe not even then.

People want answers, though. They want to share “the truth” and fast. Understandably, they want to avoid grappling with something for ages only to find out they’re more confused than when they started.

But that’s what real thinking is.

And so, my problem with the recent COVID-19 social media posts is not the shift in opinion. I like that. It means thinking is happening.

My problem is that we jumped to our theses so quickly—and publicly!—to begin with.

When my students jump to a thesis without doing the hard part, I send them back to the drawing board, and no harm’s done. But when our unsupported theses are shared (and shared and shared and …) what are the widespread consequences? At best, simplistic and unsupported theses are boring. At worst, they’re dangerous. How many cases might we have avoided if our infectious disease non-expert social media contacts hadn’t provided their definitive thesis about COVID-19 so soon?

Now, I’m not suggesting that we leave the posting to the experts. In fact, in our field, we proudly insist that even the most academic conversations are for everyone. I’m also not calling for any sort of social-media-distancing. This is not a plea to unplug. As a writing instructor, I couldn’t be happier that people of all ages, classes, and education levels now regularly express themselves in public writing more than perhaps ever before.

I am, however, calling on us to consider some 101 best practices before we jump to publicly share our unsupported theses.

What if instead of treating social media platforms as a way to engage in transactional writing— writing defined as that which operates in a one-way, definitive direction—we instead embraced one of our field’s most exciting practices: writing-to-learn?

Writing-to-learn is the process by which we write to reflect, grapple with, and question what we know and don’t know. When instructors assign exercises designed for students to write-to-learn (vs. those designed for them to learn to write), we aim to provide a space for thinkers to arrive at meaning through writing—not yet to argue for meaning through writing.

This can look like stream-of-consciousness writing. It can look like a rambling free-write. It likely involves crafting and re-crafting dozens of questions to which the writer has absolutely no answer or ability to answer. This type of writing is vulnerable. It’s not polished. It rarely looks ironic or edgy. While I’m ecstatic that intellectualism is “cool” right now, that doesn’t change the fact that intelligence doesn’t always look cool.

Similarly, the best writing doesn’t always start smart.

And so, I wonder, what if we took a less transactional approach to social media composition and instead embraced writing-to-learn strategies? What if we collaboratively speculated? What if we asked more questions than we did provide answers? What if we helped each other revise our inquiries? What if instead of sharing a source for its headline, we read several and compared them—took chaotic notes in the comments like we used to in the margins? What if we wrote to unpack the great heaving mass of information together?

Imagine how much more quickly we could get to the bottom of things if we posted-to-learn. Or, more likely, how much more quickly we’d realize that there might not be a bottom yet. Maybe we’d feel more at ease with the not-knowing. Maybe we’d start to embrace questions like we do answers. And maybe, we’d realize that having no thesis at all is far more responsible than sharing a rushed one.
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Christen Madrazo is a lecturer at CUNY, John Jay College of Criminal Justice where she ran the writing program for several years. She is the founder and director of John Jay’s literary nonfiction podcast series Life Out Loud, and she teaches storytelling around the world with Dramatic Adventure Theatre. Her original nonfiction has appeared on various travel sites and has been performed at New World Stages, Cornelia Street Café, and Renegade Reading Series, among others.

In Fact, You Don’t Have to Write Right Now

March 26, 2020 § 17 Comments

MatternBy Grace Mattern

Good news! My screen time is down to an average of 23 hours and 10 minutes per day, @NasimiShabnam, writer and activist, tweeted the other day, one of the first I see when I sneak over to Twitter from the essay I sat down to edit. Comedian @DoctorDoug replies, Good news guys, my screen time is down 8% to 27 hours a day.

In our new world ruled by the novel coronavirus pandemic, I have no social life, my volunteer and personal commitments are cancelled, and consulting gigs are on hold. Unexpectedly, the open time I crave as an over-committed writer is here.

But right behind the word document on my screen is my Google browser. What’s happened since the last time I checked the The New York Times (five minutes ago)? Is there an update on the number of cases and deaths on the Johns Hopkins Covid-19 dashboard (checked six minutes ago)? But first, Twitter.

I don’t have a program that blocks internet access for a set period of time. Time to write. Time to focus. Usually I’m able to ignore the addictive suck of the internet for an hour or two, closing my ears to the attention whining that seeps out of my computer. My guess is that even writers who have internet-blocking programs aren’t using them right now. Or if they are they’re setting them for 15 minute intervals.

Pandemic life has created an unprecedented level of distraction. The established structure of our lives unraveled so rapidly I wouldn’t have believed it a week ago. Extreme social distancing, isolation, lockdowns, restaurant closures and empty schools — I would have tossed that all off as a particularly paranoid version of an imagined future.

Yet, here we are. Here I am, looking at my screen, then looking out the windows of my study. There is the same physical world out there, the farmyard minus the farm house and milking barns that burned down in a blaze so fierce I felt the heat standing at the end of my driveway, a hundred yards away. Only the concrete silo still stands, topped with a silver metal dome backed by a line of tall spruce. This rural landscape is lovely but right now it can’t compete with the invisible virus, a blaze I can’t see.

Back to Twitter for distraction. Thankfully I also find validation.

Writer @susanorlean tweets, I’m amazed by everyone who says they will get tons of work done during this lockdown. I can’t begin to focus! Am just obsessively reading the news, listening to the news, watching the news, spreading the news. No work.

With such compelling news why wouldn’t we be obsessive? We’ve been fed distracting online content for years, our brains trained to go back and go back and go back to whatever our screens feed us. And we’ve never needed the latest feed more than now.

Orlean replies to a tweet by musician Rosanne Cash who reminds us all that Shakespeare wrote King Lear during his plague quarantine – I, on the other hand, will be playing Words with Friends. Researcher of extremist groups @egavactip isn’t even planning to play games: 500 years from now, students of history will be saying, “Just a reminder that when Mark Pitcavage was quarantined because of the plague, he made like a billion mediocre tweets.”

Poet @chenchenwrites posts, honestly i can neither read nor write poetry right now. which i’ve been feeling down about. but like, that’s ok! poetry doesn’t have to be the answer all the time! poetry doesn’t have to save us or even sustain us every crisis.

To which queer romance author @FozzyGlamKitty replies, that’s why i been annoyed how in the beginning with the Shakespeare/King Lear posts, like dammit us writers/creatives are people too. Creating/writing can wait, we’re allowed to be distracted, worried, and tired.

@HomoSherlock (neurodivergent jew-ish gayzn) had perhaps the best answer: nope sometimes what sustains us is stale pantry popcorn & ten hours of Love is Blind

Back to my windows. It helps to see that the sun is still traveling north, lengthening and warming the days. The red buds of the old maple in the yard are beginning to bulge and this morning there was a rush of bird song as dawn spread around the rim of sky. Here I am. Here we are, part of a web of life that grows and diminishes in endless cycles.

The novel coronavirus isn’t evil. It’s not a “foreign disease” that arose through intent. It’s how the world works. Viruses change their cellular structure over and over to find new ways to bind to animal cells and reproduce. We’re all here to reproduce and right now the coronavirus is having tremendous success.

Given the intelligence and creativity of humans the virus won’t always have the upper hand. But for now it has fundamentally altered how we all live and work and focus. It’s okay to give ourselves a break if we can’t create.

As artist and author @adamjk says, sorry i can’t write “king lear” right now
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Grace Mattern is a writer, artist and activist. She has published two books of poetry and her work has appeared in The Sun, Prairie Schooner, Calyx, Appalachia and other publications. Her writing and visual art can be found at www.gracemattern.com

Unified Theory of Ned

November 11, 2019 § 5 Comments

nedBy Paul Haney

Ned Stuckey-French was an essayist and a scholar of the essay, a book-review editor and an anthologist. He was an author, an English professor at Florida State University, a generous reader, a connection-maker, an advocate for anyone attempting what he termed “this queer little hybrid thing,” the essay. A tallish, lanky fellow with thick glasses and a runner’s build, Ned was political, and he was personable. He was a wise-ass, he was a warm soul. He was Ned, and he was on Facebook.

“I’m on Facebook every day,” Ned confessed at AWP in 2011. The name of his talk: “My Name is Ned and I’m an Addict.” To Ned, Facebook was a meeting place abuzz with opinions and gossip and news of the day. It was a tool of democracy, a forum for hashing out political disagreements and plying rivals with logic and facts and more reasonable truths. It was a digital dynamo of discourse, a sprawling harbor of humanity, a portal for engaging the world.

Ned poured words, millions of words, onto that medium. Even when classes were in session, or when he was traveling, he posted articles supporting unions, and universal healthcare, protections for the marginalized and dispossessed. In sharing these pieces and welcoming discussion, Ned fashioned himself a champion of the left. He never backed down from his “fundamentalist, right-wing brother-in-law,” as he called him, who swooped in to decry liberal idiocy and hypocrisy. He didn’t back down from that brother-in-law’s friends, either, tagged and recruited to the debate. Back and forth, paragraph after paragraph. “I enjoy butting heads with them,” Ned said. “It’s a way to be in touch with a group of people I might not otherwise be in touch with.” Hard-line conservatives, that is. Staunch Republicans.

On-lookers didn’t know who these people were–Ned himself hardly knew. They were Facebook addicts as well. Some brave progressives jumped into the fray and Ned engaged them, too, pleading for humanity while sizing up their logic and dishing out sources, good ones. A daunting task–to take so many stances, to mount so many arguments. To return day after day and articulate an evolving set of positions. Ned qualified his allies and refuted his opponents, always trying to figure out exactly where he stood. He was developing a platform, a worldview. He was forging a unified theory of Ned.

The threads were epic, endless, always growing, an expanding universe of discourse. The replies grew by the dozens, sometimes reaching triple digits. Trump’s political ponzi scheme. The virtues of Black Lives Matter. When did Ned teach? When did he sleep? The posts and comments, likes and shares kept coming. Politics, sure–no one was a bigger fan of Jimmy Carter, as evidenced by the family photo he’d taken with the former president and himself, his wife, and his two daughters, all beaming in the Georgia sun. But every new track & field record, the latest amazing golf shot, scores of great new essays. His voice was eager as he cheered on his students and colleagues writing their own lives. “Onward!” he cried, and “Go get ‘em!”

“We are in the age of Facebook,” Ned said in 2011. “The toothpaste is out of the tube.” Even then, Ned admitted the platform was a timesuck that played on our pettiest instincts. But he also marveled at the site’s ability to memorialize those who pass away. What would he say about the outpouring on his own wall since he passed? A thousand things, no doubt. Just as he did each year on his birthday, he would’ve left a thoughtful, personal, wise-cracky comment on each post. He would’ve engaged.

Over the years Ned learned alongside everyone else Facebook’s deeper dangers, the misinformation, the polarization, the true customers: the advertisers. Yet Ned was on there all the same. He was on there for the people, for the conversations. He was on there precisely because Facebook is democratic, in the worst and best senses of the word, and Ned believed in public discourse. Ned never took a break, never needed a cleanse. Ned was on there, posting and sharing and liking and loving and thinking and rebutting and becoming. Till the very end, Ned was on Facebook.
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Paul Haney was a student of Ned Stuckey-French’s, a friend, and a golf partner. His work has appeared a few times in Ned’s book review section of Fourth Genre, as well as Slate, Boston Globe Magazine, Cincinnati Review, Essay Daily, Sweet, and elsewhere. He serves as Managing Editor of Dylan Review. Follow him @paulhaney.

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