Saturday, May 29, 2010

Writing First, Then Community

For all that I am someone who doesn't allow comments on her website and blog, I am a big believer in writing communities and I spend time participating in them.

And--I am pleased to be able to say--I also spend a lot of time writing, if in "writing" you count revising and submitting. I do define this carefully.

Freewriting and mind-mapping to figure out what the hell I really am trying to say in this essay: counts. Mowing the lawn while stewing over why the essay doesn't work: doesn't count.

Writing a cover letter and formatting a short story for a particular market: counts. Surfing around online, occasionally hitting websites I could conceivably submit to: doesn't count.

Not that the stewing while lawn-mowing or vacuuming or scone-baking (or even the surfing around) isn't useful. Sometimes it is. Sometimes I think "why don't I just say what I want to say?" But it doesn't really count as writing until I sit down and try it. And finding one "publication" that might be a target doesn't justify two hours of clicking, interspersed with games of spider solitaire (even when I win).

Same with participating in writing communities. It's extremely helpful to get feedback on specific pieces from readers. Especially when I know where those readers are "coming from," as we would say in the '70s. Every reader has preferences and limits, and I need to know those as I weigh their responses. An easy way to determine the value of a reader's response to my writing is by reading what they write. So a critique group is a useful thing. Mostly. But it's NOT WRITING until I come back to the piece, evaluate their suggestions, and start fiddling.

I am involved locally in a couple of professional organizations that have given me opportunities to raise my visibility, commiserate with other writers about recalcitrant characters, network with writers who are doing interesting things that make me think "hey I could do that, too," interact with writers who exemplify "beginner's mind" in a good way, and broaden my own skill set. I've even shared some of what I know for money and landed a couple of non-creative-writing gigs through those connections (though I am not in those groups for that purpose).

It's important and useful to do these things. But that's all NOT WRITING.

As long as I am writing TOO, actually PRODUCING SOMETHING, doing all that community stuff is great. Even introverted me enjoys it (to a point). I enjoy it a lot less when I'm not writing, and I take that as a good sign: at some level, I know the difference between writing and pretending to be a writer. I don't like hanging with people who are doing what I know I am meant to be doing (doo bee doo bee doo).

But always, always: what I do that is NOT WRITING is my choice. I'm not a victim, I'm a volunteer. I have the power to DO THE WRITING first and follow up with other responsibilities.

In this morning's surfing session, I found two blog posts that address these essential issues.

One, by Chris Brogan, outlines how he uses (and suggests others use) social media to support his efforts as an author. A sampling: get a website for the book, start a blog that doesn't exist solely to promote your book but instead builds a community, become known in your subject area beyond the book(s) you're promoting. He may be addressing mostly nonfiction writers and writers aiming toward mass market, but still--it's useful advice, all in one place, and it is easily adaptable to anyone with creative goals.

The other, by Seth Godin, describes how social media (marketing in general, really) can become demands (real demands, mind, attached to real people you may even care about) that distract you from doing your real work. His example: if you're uploading pictures from last night's party and miss a sales call, your priorities might be backward. Busyness not being equal to productivity and all.

But here's the interesting thing to me, today: both marketing guru dudes assume you have a product you're selling. An actual thing, whether it's knowledge or an e-book--or even a manuscript or book proposal. They start from the perspective that you're DOING THE WRITING.

So you know what that means. Time for me to head upstairs with another cup of coffee and face down that essay or, to avoid the tears of frustration, get back to that story draft that's coming out one. word. at. a. freaking. time. Go thou and do likewise. Our to-do lists will be there waiting when have done our day's work.