Saving Family History with Tumblr

October 17, 2019 § 16 Comments

By Kat Fitzpatrick

I inherited hundreds of uncaptioned photos from my parents.

Though I have no desire to archive every moment of their lives, I do wish that some of those photos had been annotated to provide context, dimension, and color. Even something as simple as this would have been great:

July 16, 1976—Grandpa loved to fish. Sometimes it drove Grandma nuts. On this beautiful summer day in Seattle, she grabbed the pole to make fun of his style. He didn’t smoke, so the cigarette clenched in her teeth was all her. Shortly after this fishing expedition they went to a bicentennial celebration downtown—1776 was the two-hundred-year anniversary of our country, after all.

A caption like this may have lain in wait for years until someone opened the scrapbook, but it would have still been there, inked into history—a date, a setting, a personal glimpse. I can’t go back in time and magically inscribe such captions but there are ways to start now to capture memories as a gift for future generations.

Some may believe that we are already doing that with Instagram or Facebook. However, those posts tend to be quick entries aimed at our immediate and intimate audience. They already know a great deal about us so there is no need to provide any background information. For instance, if you were posting a current photo like the grandparent-fishing caper, you wouldn’t usually notate that Grandma smokes and Grandpa doesn’t—current family and friends don’t need to be reminded. But when considering generations to come, such details become relevant nuances we don’t want to leave out.

As I played with this idea of saving moments of history, I stumbled upon an easy and satisfying way to share them with others today and to preserve them for tomorrow: I keep a running blog of “Flash-Memoirs”—short social-media entries describing a photo, a clipping, or even just a memory based on an image I like.

With this practice I have preserved such stories as:

  • the time my mom nearly stole an ashtray from the Korean De-Militarized Zone (she ultimately bought it)
  • the way my pioneer ancestors patrolled their Idaho ranch on horseback
  • how my father, despite his long CIA career, believed that in the end, “it is the common people who call the shots.”

I would like to encourage you to take up this simple and streamlined way to preserve your family history. Here is my method in three steps:

  1. Choose a photo or a memory
  2. Write a short essay (200-400 words) including date and time, people inside and outside the immediate scene, setting, and some historical context if possible, e.g., it was the year of the bicentennial celebration.
  3. Upload to Instagram to be enjoyed by friends and family today…
  4. …and to Tumblr to archive for future generations.

It is easy to post to both places at the same time because Instagram has a “push” feature that can simultaneously post to the blogging site Tumblr. (This feature also allows you to post to Facebook and Twitter, if you so desire.)

In case you are not familiar with it, Tumblr (pronounced “tumbler”) is a social networking site for microblogging—short posts that can include text, images, video, audio, and links to other articles or sites. A Tumblr account can be public or kept private, a nice feature for those just wishing to archive and not to create additional social media interactions. My intention using Tumblr is not to attract more current readers, and I send only those flash-memoir posts to Tumblr because I want that “blog” to contain only my historical stories.

The advantages of posting my flash-memoirs to Instagram and Tumblr at the same time:

  1. Instagram allows for 400 words or less, so I must keep my entries succinct. Quite a discipline!
  2. By only archiving specific posts, I can go to my Tumblr site to scroll through family-history entries only—an easy walk down memory lane.
  3. Eventually I will use a service such as BlookUp or Blog2Print to transform my Tumblr into a printed book.

I love the idea that one day those bits of history I have captured will be available for my family to peruse on real live paper. If you heed my encouragement and save some history in this way too, we may just inspire some real old-fashioned social media interaction.

________________________________________________

Kat Fitzpatrick, M.F.A, is a New York-based writer and artist who works with memoir, particularly her family history in Vietnam. Her work includes the The Fight to Write: What the Vietnam War Taught Me About Truth & Writing, and the humorous novel, Kat Manudu’s Holistic Advertising Agency. See her flash-memoir collection at www.tumblr.com/blog/flashmemoir or follow her on Instagram at kat_adventures22.

Of Reading and Culture: An Interview with Vivian Gornick (Part 3)

August 28, 2019 § 7 Comments

Brevity’s Associate Editor Kathleen B. Jones, author of Diving for Pearls: A Thinking Journey with Hannah Arendt, interviewed memoirist Vivian Gornick about The Situation and The Story, her career as an author, and her other works.

The interview is divided into three parts. Part One, “Structure is Everything,” and Part Two, “The Other in Oneself,” ran earlier this week.

gornickPart 3: Modes of Writing and the Art of Structure

JONES: A lot has changed in the world of writing since you published The Situation and The Story in 2001…

GORNICK: Really?? No kidding? That went right by me. (Laughs)

JONES: Oh, c’mon.

GORNICK: Well, what do you mean by that?

JONES: I’m just thinking about the explosion of the internet, the development of other arenas for writing, whatever you think of them, blogs, other forms of instant writing. I wonder what effect you think this has had on literary nonfiction, if anything?

GORNICK: Well, that’s something even I think about a lot, by which I mean, I’m completely out of the world of the internet. Totally. I don’t do anything. I’m not on any of these social media outlets. I don’t read blogs. I don’t do anything. However, even I have become aware of, as you say, this explosion of intensely immediate—I don’t really look upon it as writing—it’s an intensely immediate form of expressiveness through words. I look on it mostly as venting more than anything else.

Sometimes a blog is called to my attention and I read it and I think, this person is just free-associating here on the page. And it can go on and on and on because they’re not really writing, they’re waiting to figure out what they think themselves. Then again, there are times when I have to look something up myself and then I will stumble on these thousands of reviews of a book that I was looking for or wanting some more information about, and I’m amazed by how intelligent and thoughtful so many of them are. They’re usually short reviews.

For instance, I was writing a piece on Elizabeth Bowen some time ago and I looked something up on the internet about one of her books, a piece of information, and I stumbled on a variety of reviews, peoples responses. Elizabeth Bowen is a hard writer to truck with; her syntax is extremely demanding and, because her sentences are so convoluted, many people are put off. But there was so much smart, thoughtful responsiveness and often from people who said, ‘I’m not much of a reader but I stumbled on her and this is what she made me feel.’ But this is not writing. None of this is about writing.

It reminds me of the fact that, you know, children have all kinds of minor talents, a child can suddenly produce a poetic sentence. I remember a teacher once did a study in which he made all these 6 and 7 year old kids write something about some subject and one of these kids wrote, and I still can remember this, ‘I am so sad that my tears go around the corner before they come out of my eyes.’ So now, I’m sure his mother put that sentence up on the refrigerator and announced, ‘My kid is a genius and he’s going to be a writer.’ Well, he wasn’t a genius and he wasn’t going to be a writer. And in all the years of teaching, there’s never been a single student who didn’t have one piece in them. But this is not writing.

JONES: Well, some blogs are different. Brevity’s blog has a blog of very focused essays, usually by teachers of writing for other writers about some element of craft, and they’re edited.

GORNICK: OK. Oh, well that’s different. Then that resembles the world of print. The old world of print.

JONES: Exactly, so in a sense what I’m saying….

GORNICK: So that hasn’t changed…

JONES: No; there’s a shift where what you would call writing has another venue for being circulated.

GORNICK: Yes, yes, right. So it’s electronic now instead of print.

kathleenbjonesJONES: In books too, there’s the potential for even the form of the book to be exploded again. The way we moved from the illuminated manuscripts to the printing press…

GORNICK: Yeah (quizzically).

JONES: Now, with this electronic form, there’s the possibility for layers to be added.

GORNICK: How?

JONES: Visual, aural…I have a friend who’s a poet who experimented with different ways of integrating forms of visual and aural creativity into a set of poems about a river.

GORNICK: You mean you’d be reading a book on your computer and suddenly it would speak to you?

JONES: No, it wouldn’t speak to you, but the possibility would be there for visual images and sound to be pulled up, to explore other dimensions about what’s been written.

GORNICK: None of that means anything to me. (Laughs) I will live and die a very conventional reader. What I require from writing is structure, and language, and development that is conscious. What can I tell you.

JONES: Because other modes would be distracting?

GORNICK: Yes.

JONES: Pulling you out of the flow of the writing, you’re pulled out of the story?

GORNICK: RIGHT! Exactly, you are pulled out of the story.

JONES: Let’s talk a little about structure in relation to The Odd Woman and the City. How did you discover the structure for this?

GORNICK: Ah!

JONES: I read it the first time all the way through. Having just reread it, I see how you’re making quite substantial leaps from one thing to another, your conversations with Leonard then on to something else.

GORNICK: I wrote it 50 times.

JONES: 50 times?

GORNICK: I put this thing together differently 50 times until it felt right. I can’t really say anything more than that. For years, I wanted to write about Leonard and me because I thought we were a paradigmatic friendship. Between the two of us, the things we said to each other over these 20-25 years, were really sufficiently indicative of a generation, of what we were all living through. And I couldn’t find a way; I didn’t know how to do it.

Then I discovered what I always knew about my relationship of walking through the streets of the city and I thought, ah, I can do it that way, if I can figure out how to write about walking in the street and the adventures that I have with people and then using Leonard and me, not as the main characters, but like a Greek chorus. So that was the first part. I got that and I knew that was right.

And then…well that was it, there were so many other things I wanted to fit in and I didn’t know how to do it until I did it. The style I adopted over many books is collage and collage depends on your intuition for what goes with what. And I can’t explain that, when the transition feels right and when it feels strained and when it doesn’t. When does one thing lead naturally to another? I can’t tell until it feels right. And also, before I wrote the book, I had about 30 pages of this stuff and I sent it to a friend of mine, then the editor of the Paris Review, and he loved it and said, I’d like to publish this, if you’ll allow me to fool around; I don’t think it’s in the right order. And he had a little bit of genius. So he changed the order of things and once he did, I saw it differently myself, and saw he was right, and I took my lead from that. I was able to think more clearly about what should go where. But there are essentially two things: the incidents in the street, and me and Leonard.

JONES: But then that is refracted through many other things, other friendships. With Emma for instance.

GORNICK: And literary stuff, little bits and nuggets of literary history, and life that I just throw in. It all began to feel right, once it did feel right. I can’t really tell you how.

JONES: What are you reading now and what are you writing now, and how are the two connected?

GORNICK: Well, I just finished writing, but I can’t seem to finish it. For two years now, I’ve been writing a book about rereading—rereading books I loved as a young woman. So it’s that hybrid form of memoir and criticism, in which I describe myself at various stages, reading different books. I start with Sons and Lovers, a book I read three times between the ages of 20 and 35, and each time, identified with another character, and I show why and how. It’s a very short book, really like a book-length essay. But I can’t seem to bring it to conclusion. I’m having a hard time.

JONES: You recently wrote about Doris Lessing in the New York Review of Books.

GORNICK: That’s right, the cats. Actually, that little story about Lessing and the cats was written in one of my low points in this book. I did that for comic relief, to amuse myself.

JONES: Yeah, but you had these insights about yourself. What you got from reading Doris Lessing at this point in your life. What you heard in her that might have attracted you before, but now repelled you. Her lack of compassion.

GORNICK: Right. Her inability to stop protecting herself. I have to explain that better. I have to rewrite that part.

JONES: I read the D. H. Lawrence excerpt in Harpers.

GORNICK: That’s the first piece in the book. And then I do Collette and Marguerite Duras, Elizabeth Bowen, Natalia Ginsburg, a lot of women. Delmore Schwartz, Thomas Hardy, all very short. Whole thing is 120 pages. And I can’t finish it. I am so exhausted. This past week I swore I would make all the changes by Thanksgiving. But I got this cold and my head is in a fog. So I am torturing myself because I think I should sit down at the desk every day…By Christmas it will be finished.

JONES: What else are you reading?

GORNICK: When I am in this mood I’m reading three things at once. Actually what I read to calm myself when I’m feeling rattled is George Orwell.

JONES: (Laughs) You find Homage to Catalonia or 1984 calming?

GORNICK: Not those books…There’s a four-volume work of all his journalism, written during the Second World War, with a huge amount of literary work, book reviews, essays. A lot on literature. He wrote as an English socialist, and critic of socialism, but as an intensely political man. He wrote because of the politicalness of life. He was really extraordinarily educated. In one long piece, an excerpt from a book he was writing about the English people, there are parts where he’s trying to pull apart the English language grammatically to shed light on the English people. And he’s so brilliant and knows so much. I don’t know anywhere near enough to process this grammatical essay. During the Second World War, for two years, he wrote a column called ‘As I Please’ for a newspaper called Tribune in England. You would be amazed at the things he wrote—a nice cup of tea, the perfect pub, American soldiers on the street—and I read these things, they’re small gems. His voice is so clear, so direct, you would think it was yesterday. He’s writing from 1942, I feel like he just wrote it yesterday. It calms me.

There was a time, in every culture I think, when the culture was in trouble, people read. And it certainly doesn’t feel like that’s happening now.

__

Kathleen B. Jones taught Women’s Studies for twenty-four years at San Diego State University. She is the author of two memoirs, Living Between Danger and Loveand Diving for Pearls: A Thinking Journey with Hannah Arendt. Her writing has appeared in Fiction InternationalMr. Beller’s NeighborhoodThe Briar Cliff Review, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. She recently served as Brevity‘s Associate Editor while completing an MFA in writing at Fairfield University.

 

www.you.com: The Author Website

July 2, 2019 § 10 Comments

If you’re writing for publication, you need a website.

Not an expensive site with social media feeds, embedded video and a blog with weekly updates. Just an internet calling card that serves as a hub for your online presence. Ideally, the first thing that pops up when someone googles your name, or if your name is common, “Your Name+Author” or “Your Name+Writer.” A website makes you look more professional than social media alone, and it’s part of the framework of your writing career.

Pick a domain name. If you can get your own name, or your own name with a middle initial, or yourownnamewriter or yourownnamebooks, get one of those. Don’t name your site the title of your book, because the title may change before publication, and you will (hopefully!) write more books. If you also register the title of your book, super, but until your book is published, point that domain name to your main website.

Make the domain name simple enough to say out loud and have people remember it. Make it short, so it fits easily on a business card. If you’ve got social media handles, try to get that domain name: @SoniaRashidWrites = SoniaRashidWrites.com

I’ve found Name.com to be cheap and reliable; you don’t need to already have a website to register your domain name. Here are the basic steps.

Use a responsive template. “Responsive” means the website automatically changes size and shape when someone reads it on their phone. Most modern website templates are responsive, but check for that word.

Just the facts. If you’re making your first author website (or redoing an unfortunate previous site), include:

  • Your name and a tagline or very short bio that tells what you write about, visible on the first page without clicking or scrolling.

Martha Carroll

Freelance Travel and Memoir

Allegra Martinez

Adventurous cookery from a food scientist-turned-travelista

  • A photograph of you, or that is evocative of your writing topics. Read our previous blog post for secrets to a good headshot, and search “free stock photos” for a professional photo that shows something about your work. Or heck, pay for a stock photo—they aren’t expensive for non-commercial use (you aren’t selling copies), and that reduces your chances of picking a photo six other writers are using on their own websites.
  • Contact information. Either an email contact form or a link to email you, plus icons that link to your social media.

If that’s what you can do for now, great! Your online calling card is good to go. If you have more time and energy, add:

  • A full bio that tells your background and education, how you came to writing, where your work has been published, and what you’re working on right now. If you’re writing fiction, you may want to include a charming personal detail like your pets or relationship. If you’re writing memoir and worried about privacy, you don’t have to put personal info down, but one detail like “He enjoys goat yoga,” can help the reader get to know you.
  • Links to anything you’ve previously published that you’re proud of.
  • A blog where you update readers on your publications and/or life relative to writing, about once a month. You’re unlikely to gain many readers through the website, but that’s not what this blog is for. This blog is to show agents you are engaging with the world as a writer. If you want people to read the blog, send out posts as an email newsletter. Turn off commenting if that’s an option, because “0 comments” looks sad.

That’s enough. Really! Until you’re publishing regularly, that’s truly all your website needs.

How much does a website cost? Anything from $50 for hosting, domain name and a stock photo on an existing platform, to $3000 or more for a fancy site with dedicated hosting. Good basic websites can be had for $500-1500; spending more can help you get exactly what you want without having to learn very much.

If you do want to throw money at the project, make sure you look at other writers’ websites and check out who designed them. Ask for references, and ask those references how fast the site was done and if they got what they really wanted. Google the writer and check that their site is on the first page of results; if not, the site designer hasn’t done great SEO (search-engine optimization—basically little coded flags the website waves to say “Here I am! Show me to people!”)

For doing it yourself, WordPress, Wix and Squarespace are the main build-your-own-website platforms. (Links are to basic tutorials for each platform. And if you love one of those, please tell us why in the comments!) If you feel more adventurous and are willing to spend 20-30 hours and learn a little html code, try a Bootstrap template.

A writer website doesn’t need to be constantly updated. When you publish something new, link it. When you write a blog post, post it. If you blog somewhere else, post the first paragraph with a link to the other blog. Add the website link to your email signature, so friends can click over and see what you’re up to. And when you’re ready to query? Double-check for typos one more time, and feel good about being a professional.

____________________________________

Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor. She’ll be speaking at the Hippocamp Creative Nonfiction Conference in Lancaster, PA, August 21-23, 2019.

Two People and a Baby: On Accessibility and Literary Publishing

June 26, 2019 § 7 Comments

4293161316_4739d166fb_b

Two People and a Baby

By Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter

My fingers manipulate keys, navigating Facebook. Arrowing down, the cursor lands on a picture, and I hear, “Two people and a Baby.” Great, I think, no context. I continue to arrow down, finding another picture. This time, the electronic buzz of my computer’s voice says, “Man in sunglasses.” Again, zero context for me.

Fifteen years ago, I became visually impaired. I transferred my visual understanding of the world into a non-visual medium. To use a computer, I now use a program called JAWS, which is a text-to-speech screenreader. It reads whatever the cursor highlights, allowing me to still do email, Google-search, write and, of course, shop! However, if pictures and graphics are not properly captioned, I have no clue what they are.

Recently, a writer friend spoke about the aesthetic appeal of a literary journal she stumbled upon. It occurred to me that, while I can still envision in my head what visual information looks like, I rarely consider aesthetics. Instead, I look at how accessible an online magazine is; is it compatible with my screenreader? Are pictures and graphics labeled well enough for me to understand their point? The kaleidoscope of a world we are surrounded by has narrowed down to sound and touch for me. When looking at publications, I only consider those that have online access as hard-copy print is not readily accessible for blind people. With online magazines, I care little for how they look visually, wanting easy navigation for my screenreader, affording me the same opportunity to read pieces and study submission guidelines.

Our world is extremely visual. Despite it being the least intimate sense, we place so much importance on sight. Since becoming blind, my life does not feel less than, as if I’m missing out on something. I do have to navigate the world non-visually though, and sometimes it’s made more difficult when accessibility is not a factor. Pictures and graphics in particular can be pesky, uninteresting, not-useful pieces of information if not given captions. Whether social media, Amazon or online publications, undescribed photos hold no appeal for me. Some platforms have created generic captions that interact with screenreaders, but they provide bare-bones details, like if a picture is of a group taken outside, my screenreader will likely say, “Several people in nature.” I have no clue who is in the picture, or what kind of nature scene it is. I don’t need a dissertation on the pic, but, some context and brief detail is good. If posting a photo of you and your baby, JAWS might tell me, “Woman and baby.” I want some extra detail to paint a visual in my head.

I have the ability to discover fonts and formatting in a Word document on my laptop, but JAWS is not able to discern this information online. I appreciate innovative structures and playing with format, but at the end of the day, I don’t think much about this unless I’m aware of it. I can only be made aware if it’s noted somewhere. I have several blind friends who are literary, and like me, they read a broad selection. It’s primarily based upon how accessible and easy to navigate a publication is. Some of us use a screenreader, some use both a screenreader and refreshable Braille, which is a device that connects to a computer, and as the cursor jumps from line-to-line, Braille pops up on the device, allowing you to read in Braille. Placing a caption under pictures and graphics and if necessary, providing a brief description of content if the formatting is experimental is a simple solution. This allows people with visual impairments to have equal access.

As a nonfiction writer, I write about the world, using my experiences to address discrimination, isolation, acceptance, breaking stereotypes, usually in context to disability. As a writer, I participate in classes, retreats, conferences and workshops, and often, we are given very visual exercises. Recently, I was asked to create a visual memory map. Having been sighted for twenty-two years, I can recall visual memories in my mind, but creating them on a piece of paper is difficult. I ended up writing a timeline with descriptions of place instead of drawing a map. This emphasis on the visual is so prevalent in the writing community. While I’m actually still a visual person, constantly creating visuals in my head, and while I think visual references can be great and beneficial for sighted writers, I’m also now in this other world where non-visual means of accessing the world make more sense and are much more helpful. Thinking of non-visual means to achieve writing goals not only includes potential blind writers, but is a good sensory exercise for all writers.

Inclusion and equality for all is a big topic these days. However, disability is usually missing from the discussion. It’s not always intentional, we just need more education about accessibility. As the artistic community moves forward, as the world moves forward, we need to consider accessibility, making disabled people an active part of the conversation. Often, it doesn’t take much to make information accessible, but it has to be considered, then implemented. I want to work with the writing community to bring attention to this issue and help create resolutions. The world is a better place when inclusion involves all of our voices.
___

Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter has her BFA and MFA in writing from the University of Nebraska Omaha. She is currently working on a graduate certificate in nonfiction writing. Her work has appeared in 13th Floor, Breath and Shadow, The Omaha World Herald, Misbehaving Nebraskans and Emerging Nebraska Writers. She was a finalist for the McKenna fellowship. She lives in Omaha with her husband and two sons who provide endless material for her writing, when they give her the time. She tells us that she “recently joined a Crossfit cult. I mean class!”

Getting Personal

June 20, 2019 § 13 Comments

The biggest misconception about social media for writers is that it’s free.

Sure, we don’t pay to subscribe to Twitter, there’s no cost-per-click to view our friends’ news on Facebook. But there’s still a price, and what we’re paying is time and privacy.

What do we get in return? Genuine connection. Relationships with people we’ve met briefly but who share our interests. Family news that needn’t be shared one paper letter at a time. And as writers, we build our readership and promote our work.

That’s not free.

I’ve seen several writers wondering if they should start a Facebook author page, because their book is coming out next week. How can they keep their profile private and get everyone to like their author page instead?

Let’s break that down: I’m not going to share my real self with you, but I’d like you to view and share my advertising as often as possible.

Because that’s what an author page is. A commercial. Yes, we share book news and promote our friends and link free articles. But fundamentally, an author page’s purpose is to entice people to enjoy our words enough to shell out $12.99 to read more.

That’s not free either.

Even when someone likes and follows your page, Facebook doesn’t automatically deliver your news. Only 10-15% of your followers will see each post. You’ve heard of “the algorithm”? Fancy math weighing a person’s popularity and their topic’s interest to the general public. Social media companies’ number-one priority is keeping people online. If you’re interesting and fun and have lots of followers, Twitter ranks your tweets more highly. Instagram puts you on the Explore page. Facebook drops your announcements into your friends’ newsfeeds. You’re paying for eyeballs by donating your popularity. Algorithms make famous people more famous and viral news more viral. But math doesn’t discriminate on quality or worth (sorry, America!), so if you want people to see your book news from your author page, you will have to purchase advertising.

Facebook and Instagram advertising do actually work. (Presumably also Twitter, but I haven’t bought any ads there.) Ads take time and care to make attractive visuals and reach your intended demographic, but they aren’t that expensive. I’ve gained followers, event guests, and course attendees because they saw a promoted post. I’ve never spent more than $20 to run an ad for a couple of days, as a final push after I’ve been talking about my event for several weeks. Most of the people who attended Instagram For Writers already knew me, in person or online, but about 25% clicked through an ad that reminded them they meant to sign up.

Separating your personal and professional life online costs more time. Maintaining two accounts per platform is a drag when you want—need!—to focus on writing. I find it challenging enough to write “real” micro-essays on Instagram, clever/helpful writing tips on Twitter, and check in with my cousins on Facebook, plus remembering to text my mom. Administrating an author page is a little more difficult than updating a personal profile.

If you’re dead set on keeping literary and personal separate, that doesn’t have to mean two accounts. If something is truly private, don’t put it on the internet. And our privacy is far more valuable to us than violating it is to anyone else, until we become famous enough to hire bodyguards, and then we can also hire a social media manager.

Using your personal profile as your professional page lets you include your work among the genuine moments shared with your friends. “Look, Rashid’s walking!” “So excited about my new cover!” and “I had a great hike last week!” 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.

If a separate author page is still best for you, ease your way:

  • Set up an automatic feed to post to your Facebook 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.
  • Use a feed planner like Preview or A Color Story to set up your Instagram pipeline, and a hashtag through IFTTT to selectively post Instagrams to your author page. (Yes, we’re behind on the Brevity Instagram, good stuff coming in July!)

Promoting a book and guarding one’s privacy are not 100% exclusive, but it’s worth keeping in mind that if you’re writing nonfiction, you will at some point lose control of how much you’re willing to share. Someone’s going to walk up to you at a family event and strongly disagree with how you described a scene from your own truth. Don’t negotiate or pacify—just smile and say, “I can understand how your view would be different. I hope you write that story someday.”

Not engaging with a troll in person? Now that’s protecting your privacy.

_________________________________________________

Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Manager. Why yes, she’s on Instagram.

Instagram for Writers

June 6, 2019 § 36 Comments

Flatlay of laptop, teacup, teapot, sugar, milk and paper on wooden tableSocial media is a distraction from our writing. Social media can be a support system for our writing—creating community, building readership, and allowing us to practice our craft. Writer Twitter is definitely a Thing, with terrific advice in #askagent, and editors tweeting calls for submissions and pitches. Writer Facebook includes genre- and demographic-based groups that foster literary citizenship and build real-life connections as online acquaintances meet at conferences and readings.

But Instagram? The one that’s all about the pictures? Sure, there’s #bookstagram, where book bloggers share their reading piles and recommendations and authors reveal new covers. But what’s the benefit for writers on a primarily visual platform, and why should they bother?

Instagram is (so far) the calmest, sanest, and most relaxing social platform, with three big benefits for writers:

1) Make genuine connections with people who want to read your work.

Writers don’t need 20,000 followers on Instagram. Writers need engaged followers. “Engaged” means people who like or comment on your posts, and a good engagement rate is about 1%. That’s right: If you have 100 followers, and one person comments, you’re doing well.

This is not how most people think about Instagram. We see “influencers” with 200K followers and ask why we should even bother. But look closer:

Influencer AllThatIsShe – 529K followers, engagement about 0.7%

Memoirist Dani Shapiro – 19.3K followers, engagement about 1%

Memoirist Esmé Weijun Wang – 9.4K followers, engagement about 0.8%

All three of these people are proportionally influential. The influencer makes fun and funny visual jokes. The writers share writing news, book tours, personal stories behind their work, and moments of joy and poetic wonder from their lives. AllThatIsShe’s comments include lots of casual interaction like sharing summer plans and laughter at her clever photographs. Dani and Esmé’s readers give their own responses to prompts, wish the writers well, share corresponding moments from their own lives. They actively engage in meaningful dialogue with the writer and her work. That 1% are people who will show up to a reading and pre-order your book.

Instagram is economical. You don’t have to fly across the country to a conference that might take 50 waking hours. Spend that same time in 15-minute Instagram sessions interacting with writers you’d like to know, and that’s 200 days of cost-free relationship building. You don’t even have to wear pants.

2) Write better.

The Instagram caption is perfect for encapsulating a moment. In 50-100 words, writers can practice craft at the sentence level. We get to write in short, manageable chunks on busy days.

When writing captions, tell a moment that is a whole moment. Stay in the scene, or in a single thought. The medium is the message: there is no “and then I realized…” because the venue says that for you. Being a caption establishes, “I thought this was important to crystallize and share with my readers.”

Writing in this constrained form is the ultimate flash. How fast can you bring a reader into your mood? How much emotional impact can you create in under a minute? Can you draft a killer first sentence that makes readers click to read the whole thing? That’s a skill all writers need for work in every medium.

3) Get Inspiration and encouragement.

When I’m posting regularly, I see more stories in the world. I’m more likely to ask questions of the people around me, and truly listen. This spills over into my longform writing, making me more curious about my characters and more conscious of the circumstances that make people who they are.

Posting a micro-essay is like a low-stakes “submission” to the world. There’s no “dislike” button, so I get the encouragement without the rejection. The level of engagement tells me what people enjoy reading, and comments suggest future blogging topics for Brevity and writing questions to address in my next book. Every little heart makes me feel like someone is interested in what I have to say and reminds me to write again tomorrow.

*

If you’re just getting started on Instagram, or you want a more enjoyable experience that benefits your writing, a couple of quick tips:

  • Line breaks. One of the great mysteries of Instagram! To get an empty line between paragraphs, make sure there is NO SPACE at the end of the paragraph. Hit return. Type a period or emoji, NO SPACE, hit return and start your next paragraph. There are apps that allow you to type a caption and copy-paste with empty lines, but it’s an extra step. Keep your Insta commitment small.
  • Don’t worry about the follow/unfollow thing. Many “large” accounts are using follow-bots to artificially build their numbers. When you click through to see a profile with thousands of followers and very low followings, they are going to unfollow you. Only follow back if you’re truly interested in their content.
  • To build your own followers, find people you like from other social media or real life. When you follow, comment on their most recent post with what you like about it and say where else you know them from. Make sure your profile says what you do and your name is identifiable. Show your face in your profile picture. Participate in following threads on Facebook and Twitter.
  • An engaged Instagram presence doesn’t have to be time away from your writing. Unlike influencers who need current daily content, writers can do just fine with 1-5 posts/week. Don’t bother to post on the weekends unless you love it.
  • Don’t get sucked in. Stay limited and specific: take 20 minutes and post one picture, write one solid caption. In your down time (subway, waiting room, on the potty) take 15 minutes and comment on 10 people’s most recent post. Like 10 more posts you actually like. Follow 3 new people and comment on 1 post each. Then close the app and look around for a story to tell.

________________________________________________

Wanna know more about writing on Instagram? Brevity‘s Social Media Editor Allison K Williams will be teaching Instagram: Improve Your Craft, Grow Your Readership as a live webinar for Hidden Timber Press on June 15th. Sign up here!

The Death of a Writer

June 4, 2019 § 27 Comments

I’ve been reading my dearest friend’s journals. Spiral-bound notebooks, cloth-covered hardbacks, loose-leaf paper in three-ring binders. Sorting out teenage angst and adult story notes, false starts and full pages. Some of the words are casual, some inspiring, some sad.

I’m also digging through her computer. Looking at old story outlines and half-drafts of essays. Working on breaking into her phone.

I’m not snooping.

I’m her executor.

My friend wasn’t especially organized, but two other close friends and I found what we could after her death, tried to piece together what was worth keeping, what would be a beautiful memory and what was garbage. It was good for the three of us to read her old journals. We threw away the teenage angst and kept some of her adult musings. We pulled some of her unfinished writing from her old laptop and put it in a Dropbox so we could all look at it and feel a little less bereft.

Poking and prying and talking about her. My friend might not have wanted this. She might have been very angry that we’re reading her private thoughts, looking at rough drafts not ready for prime time. But she didn’t tell us, so we get to make that choice for her.

Stieg Larsson, writer of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series, died without a will. His partner of 24 years, Eva Gabrielsson, was left in the cold. Larsson’s estranged father and his brother got everything. The estate is still in court 15 years later. It’s not only the millions of dollars: Gabrielsson contends Larsson’s work isn’t being presented to the world the way the late author wanted. But he didn’t write those wishes down.

Many “big deal” authors have literary trusts, where chosen trustees work with the author during their lifetime to establish how their work should be treated, and set up procedures to continue selling rights and allowing research after their death.

Most of us don’t need an elaborate trust to guard our posthumous literary interests. But as someone left behind, sorting through grief and papers while guessing what your dead person wanted sucks.

Who is going to deal with your literary legacy, and what do you want done?

  • Journals. Do you want them read? Burned? Photocopied and passed around the family? Placed in an archive?
  • Family photos and genealogical research for your memoir. Are they labeled, or at least in a labeled folder or envelope? Will anyone else know who these people are? Does anyone want to store physical papers?
  • Story notes. Manuscripts. Half-finished drafts. Should anyone try to finish them? Should anyone even read them?
  • Published work. Who do you want to have the copyrights? What do you want them to do with them? Do you want any royalty income to go to charity? Should the same person get the rights and the money?
  • Not technically literary, but treasured mementos from previous generations have the same problem as writing notes and unpublished work. Those left behind don’t know how to value them. If you have knickknacks, jewelry, scrapbooks, have you explained their meaning to your heirs? (If you haven’t, are they really worth keeping? Because someone has to agonize over your grandparents’ 50th anniversary album while standing over a garbage can. Just sayin’.)
  • Do you want your social media wiped or memorialized? Have you listed a legacy contact on Facebook? Any online-only friends who should be notified of your death?
  • What passwords and account numbers will someone need to wrap up your affairs?
  • Speaking of affairs, what should be deleted before your child or significant other finds it? The essay you didn’t publish to avoid hurting feelings? That chapter you decided was too personal to share? Who should go through your devices and do that?

You have the right to privacy after death. But unless you’re specific about what’s private, someone else will make those choices for you. Even if you don’t formally appoint a literary executor, write your wishes down. Use this simple writer’s will form from Neil Gaiman as a guide. Here’s more information about literary estate planning.

Share your feelings with whoever will likely clean out your stuff (and one other person in case you’re both hit by the same bus). If you want your devices wiped, say so. If you want your electronics explored, share the passwords with a trusted friend who doesn’t have physical access to your computer. If you don’t have a friend you trust that much, split it up: one friend gets the first half of each password and another friend gets the second half.

I’m still digging through my friend’s stuff. At the funeral, a woman I’d never met gave me a key to my friend’s safety-deposit box I hadn’t known existed. I’m waiting for paperwork from AOL to take over her email so I can get into her phone. Maybe there’s a letter or important bank information on her new laptop, maybe I’m supposed to figure it out like a puzzle. Maybe it would have been better to reformat and donate the electronics to needy children.

I don’t know. She didn’t tell me. So curiosity wins.

I hope I’m doing what’s right. But it is comforting to read her words. As it happens, I like one of her story outlines a lot, and maybe I’ll turn it into a book.

That, I know for sure she’d like. Because we talked about it.

_____________________________________________________

Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor. She’ll be teaching Instagram: Improve Your Craft, Grow Your Readership as a live webinar for Hidden Timber Press on June 15th. Sign up here!

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Writing and the Internet category at BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog.

%d bloggers like this: