My way, and not a shy way

This post could’ve been called “10 ways to blow it with the social media and still get published,” but I didn’t want to mislead you. I have been published – in books with covers and everything! – but that was back in the dawn of time, when dinosaurs walked the earth and Mark Zuckerberg was still in high school.

Back then there wasn’t much help for the tyro writer. No online community would tell you to eschew uncommon words like “tyro” or for that matter, “eschew.” If you didn’t know how to create suspense or handle an omniscient narrator, there was no one to say, “Hey, bozo, you’re doing it wrong.”

Poets’ Corner: no worries here about SM

And then came the Social Media. Is it just a coincidence, do you think, that the initials “SM” are also short for “sado-masochism”?

Within a few months of joining Twitter, I’d collected six pages of links to articles like “What NOT to put in your query letter,” “Why you shouldn’t use semicolons,” and “How to have an online presence.” To that last one I appended the note: “Not scary.”

But I was scared. Suddenly the world seemed full of stuff I might not know about writing, the one thing I thought I had a handle on. (The handles kept falling off things like cooking well and getting aerobic exercise.)

And the things I don’t know about “building an online presence”? Legion. Even my off line presence is more of an absence: being a writer, I tend to stay indoors, writing things. “Enigmatic” and “elusive” are words that my neighbors have applied to me. (Yes, they have good vocabularies. I chose my house well.)

Forgive me, social media, for I have sinned

Let me count the ways.

    1. 1. I have tweeted and blogged about politics. Some people (ouch) don’t like this. Some of them (yowie) are literary agents.

2. I have not found a niche and stayed there. I’ve written about Harry Potter, opera, cats, and Herman Melville using Twitter to pitch Moby Dick. Most of my blog posts aim to be funny, but sometimes I’m dead earnest.

3. My brain is full of quotations. The Beatles, Dylans Bob and Thomas, Lewis Carroll, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and slang like “wicked cool” are inscribed on my neural equivalent of Post-it notes, waiting to get used in my posts. And I don’t always attribute. For example, five paragraphs down I’m going to quote from Yeats, but it might mess with the flow to say so.

4. I’m a California girl (right on, man!) who spent several influential years in Britain. Crikey, dudes, I never know which audience I’m writing for! Later in this post, when I use the word “elevator,” I’m going to be tempted to write “lift.” Hell, maybe I will write “lift.” Wait and see.

No wonder my readers are confused – and at this point, relatively few.

See, I shouldn’t be admitting that! I shouldn’t be giving away my age! I shouldn’t be using exclamation marks! I shouldn’t …

Wait just a cotton-pickin’ minute!

I’ve been a technical writer for 30 years. When people tell me to edit user manuals and create online help systems, I jolly well have to do it. After all, they’re paying me.

More writers who had to cope without SM

And now (here comes Yeats) that I’m slouching towards retirement to be reborn, with three books written and in need of polishing, more books in my head, and a blog and Twitter to play in: once again, in the nicest possible way, people are telling me what to do.

I know they have the best interests of writers at heart. They want to help us get our blogs read, score more followers, write better, get published. But all that advice made creative writing feel like just another job.

So I’ve stopped collecting URLs. I no longer click links to “Write an elevator pitch” or “Top 10 no-no’s on Twitter.”

I accept that my tweets could twinkle more brightly, my blog posts stick to a theme, my online presence be more coherent. I get that writing about politics will turn off the people who don’t agree with me or don’t like politics. But I’m not just a writer, I’m a citizen. To paraphrase Lesley Gore, it’s my country and I’ll cry if I want to.

And write about it, and whatever else pops into my head, with exclamation marks and semicolons and quotations and “bozos” and “bollocks.”

Write on, man.

Do you worry about your online presence? Do you click the top-10 list links? Would you like my six pages of URLs? Do tell!

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One thought on “My way, and not a shy way

  1. Go, you! Ignore their advice. Darwin’s editor told him to skip that Galapagos Islands stuff and write about keeping pigeons, which was very popular among Londoners of the day. Besides, advice like that is for people who aren’t professional writers. You. Are.

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