How We Write Wednesday: Putting the Writing First…

I’ve been asked to HoWW blog more about putting the writing first…even when we’re being told (and seeing)  EVERYthing else in the business is more important. Especially the insanity we call social media (yesterday’s topic, where I ranted about writing first, because who knows what’s really making a difference on Facebook and Twitter anyway, no matter what the “experts” say).

Social media Insanity

It’s funny, when you think about it. Blogging about not blogging or tweeting or FB statusing so much that you never groove on your craft. Your art. Your purpose to begin with for dipping your toe in the Internet mustof “connecting.” We try to carve out niche in this great beyond. #weWRITE is a great example, which Jen Talty and I started after a few months of HoWW blog posts, to get writers talking about writing alone on Twitter, not just pimping their books or blogs or promo platforms.

We work to be relevant and plugged in and visible. But why? To support our writing, yes. But we do that best BY writing. To support our career? Better. But many of the folks doing the social media thing most fervently don’t have creative writing careers yet. They’re following the advice of social medial gurus telling them that building a following and pseudo platform (before there’s anything to sell from said stage) is more important to publishers these days than the product of the hard, daily, grinding writing work they’ve yet to do long enough to publish. To connect? That’s more to the point, I think.

We write alone, as I said yesterday, most of the time. And social media is a great way to connect with other writers, those we admire in the business, and, yes, those we trust to advise us about our journey. But it’s the massive scope of that very content we’re daily struglling to take in that, in my opinion, begins to overtake the writing itself, unless we’re very careful.

Because here’s the thing for me–anyone, ANYone, telling you to spend any significant portion of your day doing anything BUT writing, is doing damage to your chances of publishing. Unless you’re wanting a job in PR or advertising or as a social medial consultant, your job as a writer is NOT to build a social media empire. It’s to write. Write a lot. Every day. Finish scenes, then chapters, then books. Then more scenes and chapters and books. And as you have several of them up for sale (either traditionally or independently or self-published), yes the hard work of promoting and building a solid following will consume more and more of your time. But even then, your primary job HAS to remain the writing. A lot. Every day.

You can’t know how hard it is to promote one book, draft another, edit yet another, and work on proposals for another, all at the same time, unless you’ve been in that crazy place.I have. With a traditional publisher, at a time when social medial hadn’t sunk its teeth into all of us yet. It’s a difficult place for the creative person. It’s a mind (s)uck (consonant redacted and replaced to keep blog post G-rated). It WILL burn you out, if you’re not very careful.

treadmill

Why would we do this kind of thing to ourselves, running a pointless treadmill of social media that has no real hope of going anywhere (because there’s no publishing substance behind it yet), BEFORE we get our books completed and on the market?

Because someone tells us it’s the only way?

Because it seems like a short cut?

Because we’re desperate, and it seems easier than actually writing???

Ah.

Me thinks this smacks closer to the truth for many of us. A kind of, “if I can’t sell on content alone, this will give me a leg up and maybe someone will notice me…” And I’m hear to say that social media, while a tool, is NOT THE WAY to get published. Getting better, every day, at your writing, at your craft and creativity and expression and emotion and characters, is the only way you’re going to make your mark.

Remember. All these writers using social media successfully (well most of them, because there are always the excepts who write dreck and make millions regardless because of their notoriety or celebrity) first wrote some amazing books, THEN connected with readers who dig what they create. You have to protect the writing, while you learn about the social aspects of this business that will help you promote and sell it. You have to write every day, even if that means not blogging or tweeting or whatever as much. And your writing communities will understand and welcome you back when you return.

At least the writing communities that are about the cultivation of your writing, not just your social presence. Not your daily word count, so everyone can seeyou working hard. Or your skill at blasting the world with your views on publishing or craft or your personal life. Not the slew of successful blogs you scan and comment on every day to be visible or the tweeters you religiously retweet or the FB statuses you like, because it’s important to like something (either meaningful or trendy) that others can see you liking.

Yes, these are all good techniques for establishing a social media presence, but they’re not necessarily building you a writing community that will get you and your writing through the dry spells and the depression over being blocked and the frustration over the inherent slowness of this lonely business. In other words, focus your social media time on building community with what feeds your writing (even “fan” things that have nothing to do with writing and everything to do with inspiration) rather than spending all your time worrying about selling yourself and the writing you haven’t yet completed.

That said, here it is, my very simple HoWW advice for staying focused on writing:

  • Write first. Every day.
  • Then work social media angles with other writers who are writing consistently. Surround yourself with those focused on what you want to stay focused on day in and day out. Not the business of selling and promoting. The business of creating.
  • Then be a fan of the types of things you like to write about. Build community with what inspires you (that’s why I talk and comment so much about Dream Theory and the Psychic Realm and teenagers and shoes and such…because that’s what feeds my creativity). Spend some of your precious social media time actually indulging in these areas, and who knows what can become of it…
  • THEN, once you’re firmly grounded in all the rest, begin to lay tracks in the promotion side of the business you want to succeed in.

Not what most of the social media experts will tell you. Then again, experts, in my experience, are better at giving advice than actually carrying it out and producing any kind of sustainable results themselves.

Yes, we must all be our own best advocates. But social media promotion isn’t its own end game. It’s simply not. If you make it the point of all this, you’re missing the point. You’re believing the reality TV mantra that what others see is your real substance, not what you do when the world isn’t watching.

Success in this business begins and ends with what you do, my friends, when it’s just you and your keyboard or notepad or scrap of paper while you’re sitting, writing poetry, on a boulder by the ocean (as I did this past week).

It’s about the writing.

Period.

Don’t forget that.

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15 Responses to “How We Write Wednesday: Putting the Writing First…”

  1. Amy Pfaff says:

    This really hit home for me. I’ve put off doing a lot of social media because I have a limited time to write. I also have a need to write. I must write… no choice.

    Thanks for helping me confirm that my creativity comes first before the social media whirl.

    Amy

    • Anna says:

      We’re writers. When we don’t write, something falls away. The light within dims. We begin to doubt the gift we don’t ever really understand.

      I’m so glad you’re staying true to yours, Amy!

  2. Sarah Duncan says:

    Hi Anna

    This is so true. I was told 18 months ago by my publisher that I ‘had’ to blog/Twitter/Facebook/Myspace and being an obedient author I did just that – and my productivity went down. It’s addictive! An agent here in the UK estimated that 60% of his authors were delivering late due to Twitter etc.

    At the beginning of this year I was reading so many blogs about what I ought to be doing in Social Media, so many articles about the fall of traditional publishing/rise of the self-published e-book that my productivity fell to the lowest ever. Plus I was starting to have difficulties sleeping as I fretted over what I should do next.

    Luckily I came to the same conclusion you’ve come to in this post and around April went on a Social Media diet. I still blog and go on Twitter, but AFTER I’ve done my writing quota. And I’ve stopped reading all those posts from experts telling me what I ought to be doing/publishing is in melt-down/someone else just sold zillions of e-books. Hey, my books have sold to 14 countries so I have to be doing something right – and that’s all about the writing.

    • Anna says:

      I really think social media can help a prolific, healthy writing career. But too often, I see it being offered up as the solution to one that’s perceived as not going in the right direction. As if “just do this, this and this, and you’re on your way.”

      When we flounder as writers, more often than not it’s the writing and how we approach it and nothing else. When we flounder as promotional experts (which most of us aren’t), then, yes, it’s great to have this amazing way to connect with readers and the industry.

      But only after we’ve helped ourselves and our fellow writers figure out the writing.

      We owe our community the chance to stay focused (and refocus) on the reason we all started doing this in the first place!

  3. Sara York says:

    Blogging, FB, and all that other stuff is done in my spare time. Writing always has to come first. Right now I’m doing a ton of editing since I just got my rights back on a few books and will be putting them up on Amazon to build my back list on my own terms. Good luck writing.

  4. I’ve recently (as recent as last week LOL!)decided to limit my time on twitter and facebook. The result? What a huge weight off my shoulders. I spend more time writing and less time trying to increase my numbers. I now join in to share and contribute and hopefully, make a few friends along the way. Social media is great but for me, your approach is a more holistic and enjoyable method of accomplishing the goal of connecting with others.

    Thanks for the wonderful post!

    • Anna says:

      I think when we stay focused on our craft and participate in social media when we have the time (instead of the other way around), it helps us zero in on what inspires and interests us most when we do Twitter and FB. Which, by the way, is EXACTLY what the reader’s looking for–a connection to who we really are and what we like and the life we’re living off the pages.

  5. Kathy Holmes says:

    Absolutely! I’ve been saying the same thing – so glad you wrote it. I really don’t think that my social media participation is what sells my books – it’s the books feeding off of each other.

    • Anna says:

      I do think there’s something to be said, Kathy, for the momentum of having multiple titles out there, tempting readers to dip their toes in, then come back for more. The synergy of having a lot of great content online (and in stores) for fans to find, mixed with a consistent social media presence is a GREAT dynamic.

      Which, again, means the writing has to come first–a lot of it–BEFORE you start selling/networking your heart out.

  6. Kristen Lamb says:

    Boy I hear you on this! I never set out to be a social media expert, but I kept seeing all of these social media experts, gurus and firms teaching methods that would wear any writer out. Come on! LinkedIn, Tumbler, Facebook, Goodreads, give-aways, blog tours, groups, vlogs, Internet radio, Kindle threads, Nook threads, AAAAAAGH!!!! It all makes my head spin. I see so many writers wearing themselves out marketing non-stop and missing the entire point of social media.

    Just like you said, it is a tool to (eventually) promote WRITING. We need finished books and great books need to come first.

    I will disagree on one small point. I think new writers with no book yet to sell have a great advantage starting on social media early and beginning the foundation of their platforms. New writers can make friends, connect with other writers, follow agents, and even get the skinny on the best craft blogs. Also, befriending people early is easier because we don’t have a product to sell yet, so it is more genuine. People get time to know us and like us and grow to become that community that will be vested in our success once we DO have a finished product.

    Jody Hedlund is a great example. She debuted at #16 in Christian romance because of her platform. Tawna Fenske is an amazing person and writer and I have followed and promoted her blog for a year. I am eager to see how her debut book will do in August. I know she has a lot of people who will be there to spread the word, including me.

    Yet, both these ladies (to my knowledge) stick to Twitter, FB and a blog. Basic stuff, which is what I recommend. Less is more.These ladies focused on the writing.

    I think building that platform early makes it less stressful. We are putting in a few planks a day instead of rushing to erect an author platform out of the ether. We are also becoming part of a community and a team that will be there for us during the tough times, like you said.

    Anyway, I feel your pain on all the social media craze. As an “expert” I often feel lacking because I don’t know how to vlog and couldn’t navigate Google + if my life depended on it. There is a sort of liberty in teaching social media for writers. I have a paramount responsibility to keep social media as simple and effective as possible to leave time to write more books.

    Thanks for the post!

  7. Piper Bayard says:

    Hi Anna. *waves*

    I think that, with so many social media avenues and so many different writers out there, there’s more than one way to finish this race, but, then, I’m admittedly new at all of this. The only thing I can say for sure is that I’ve been Kristen’s guinea pig for a year now. I didn’t even know what social media was when I met her in April 2010. Since then, I’ve grown a blog with daily hits in the hundreds and have tweeps in the thousands. A couple of those tweeps have hundreds of thousands of followers and have voluntarily pledged their support for anything I publish. I’ve also befriended bestselling authors, agents, and editors who have also pledged their support. I have an amazingly supportive writing community in Warrior Writer Boot Camp, and I’ve done hundreds of pages of character outlines and plots and gotten half way through the prose of a solid novel. And I still haven’t torn out my hair. So I will never know the approach you’re suggesting, but this one seems to be working for me so far.

    I absolutely appreciate your advice about putting the writing first. I find it’s essential for me to work on my WIP first thing in the morning. After 4-6 hours with a short Twitter break here and there, I hang out with my family and prepare the next day’s blog. But if I don’t work on the WIP before anything else, the social media can eat it up. It does take serious discipline to balance it all, that’s for sure.

    Thank you so much for your experienced perspective. It’s so important for us noobs to hear what accomplished authors have to say. All the best.

  8. Writers are being asked to do more and more to promote themselves, their books, even their publisher. I’ve seen websites of major publishing houses asking, on their submissions page, for a marketing plan. Excuse me? That’s not my forte. Isn’t that what the publisher is supposed to do? I write. Publishers publish. You do what you do well and let me do what I do well. Frankly, I think they’re looking for a scapegoat so that, if the book doesn’t do well, they can blame the author. Just my two cents, which ain’t worth a plugged nickel.

  9. Anna says:

    As always, there are many roads to OZ. But as a writer who was in this business, and published extensively, long before there was social media, I’ll continue to caution new writers to focus on that as their business. The words. The ideas. The characters. The reader’s experience as they read the book.

    It’s also my advice to those like me who are trying to successfully use social media to extend and build their author platforms and careers. I get that those who make a career out of consulting and teaching social media see that as the key. I get that it’s worked that way for some (or at least, that’s what we’re told has made the success of those touted authors more successful). And I have personally seen the work I’ve put into online promotion make a very real difference in my following. However…

    No one can tell me with a straight face that all of this isn’t a very real source of distraction. Or that publishers and others who consider themselves an expert in what writers need to do who don’t write fiction, and write it consistently year in and year out and go through the complications that come with publishing while they keep up with the scope of what effective social media requires, understand the harmful side effects of putting too much creative energy into something that doesn’t get the world of the book written.

    Social media is community building–the community of the writer in this case. But it’s not writing. It works, but only if done properly. And what we’re told amounts to “properly” changes daily, monthly, and for sure annually. Experts try what they think works, preach that, then move on when something new seems to work better.

    As I say in my post. Do it. Connect. Be consistent. All the buzz words. But connect with the writing community and those who support the hard craft work you do first. Connect with those who feed your muse and like what you like next–as a person. THEN worry about your platform and how to convince everyone out there that you really are what you say you are, and the book that you haven’t even finished yet really is what you say it is. I propose that being what you say you are first is more important that acting the part for a while, so you don’t have to do so much work once you’ve actually completed your manuscript.

    The success you want to achieve is finishing the book and finding a home for it with publishers and/or readers. NOT telling everyone they should buy it over and over again because you’re entertaining. If that’s the job you want, sales and PR and maybe even acting might be your strengths. And that’s cool. And I believe there are writers out there who can wear both hats. But that’s not most of us.

    Most of us need to make the work the priority, then do the promotional netoworking once the writing’s on the right path. Many of us can’t get the writing there while constantly trying to sell it before there’s anything finished to sell. In fact, many writers won’t finish something that’s sellable if all their energy’s being expended online doing FB and Twitter.

    And I don’t believe that those writers who put the writing first, to the exclusion of the rest if needed until the writing’s done, are any less likely to sell their novels than those who can run the social media race from the get go. I fact, I believe it gives them a leg up. And it kind of gets old, listening to social media experts say doing it this way is bad or unproductive or dooming the writer and his/her books to obscurity. That’s simply not true.

    Because in the end, publishers (and most readers) buy based on the quality and sellability of the book itself. Yes, it helps if the writer is social and entertaining as well. But if the story’s not there, it’ll be passed by. So do whatever you have to do, even turning Twitter and the experts off, to make the story the best it can be.

    As I say.

    Many roads to OZ.

    Find yours. Write your books. Then sell like the wind!

  10. Bob Mayer says:

    Overall, my take is 95% of writers are spending too much time on social media instead of focusing on building their craft and writing more. The best promotion tools are:
    1. Good books.
    2. More books.

  11. Jen Talty says:

    I have a unique perspective on all this because of the work I do for Who Dares Wins Publishing and my years working in Marketing and Sales.

    Social media is a tool and it can be a very effective one. But I spend at least 10% of my work day tracking all the different things Bob and our other authors do and try to see what might have generated a tip in sales. Talk about insanity. These are really things you can’t measure.

    You have to use these tools. They do help create a circle of like minded people, but again, its one of many tools.

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