social media

Why Writing is Like Eating (A Love Letter)

If you’ve been reading my work for any length of time, you know that I’m a big believer in doing things your own way.  In whatever way works for you.  How you want to do it. As long as you do it, the process is yours to decide. Right?  Ask any of my family and friends, and they’ll tell you I’m independent to a fault.  It’s that “to a fault” part that I want to talk about today.

Because sometimes being independent becomes the cause in and of itself, for no other reason than stubbornness. And this harms me.  Often, for instance, I won’t read a bestseller because everyone else is reading it, and I want to be independent. Then I read the book and love it. Or I’ll resist buying a Mac because I don’t want to be part of the cult of Apple worshippers. Then I buy one and love it.

I see this manifest in other writers, my students and clients, all the time. After all, we creative types tend toward the fringes of society, the edges where the independents reside.  And so we don’t like it when people tell us we have to do something. Like revise our first draft, written in glorious wild independence without thought of grammar or structure or rules. Or work on our writer platforms.  Who, me, stoop to marketing? Uh-uh.  I’m too busy writing with fierce abandon.

A friend of mine took her book proposal to a conference to pitch it. The multiple agents she met with told her it was one of the best proposals they’d ever seen—but to contact them in a year when she’d developed some kind of platform. Because she had nada—not even a website—because she’d been too busy writing. And being independent.  But publishers wouldn’t even look at her work without some kind of social media presence.  Despite how good the proposal was.

I tell variations on this to my people all the time—how they need to establish a platform, build a list, write a blog, do social media.  Market themselves.  And they ignore me.  “I’m too busy writing,” they tell me.   Or, “I’ll do it when I get a contract.” (Reread the previous paragraph please.) Or, “I don’t know how.”

Well, learn it.  There’s a million tutorials out there, many of them free. Because unless you are Stephen King or Danielle Steele, you’re going to have to do some marketing.  And it is not just for the indies out there.  Major publishers expect you to do much of the heavy lifting when it comes to marketing.

But this is not a love letter about marketing. It is about doing those things you don’t want to do, even though you are a fiercely independent wild creative type. Like me.  And here comes the part where I compare your writing career to eating.  When it comes to food, we have to face the fact that we cannot eat everything (like sweets and junk food) we want all the time and maintain any kind of health.

I really am sorry to tell you this. I wish I could eat French fries and cheeseburgers followed by a tubful of macarons every night but, um, no. Maybe you’ve been blessed with an amazing metabolism that allows you to do this, but I am not.  Same goes for writing.  I’m not Danielle Steele so I have to do my own marketing. And yeah, I have to revise those wild and crazy first drafts, too. (At the rate she pumps out books I’m pretty sure she has somebody to do that for you.)

So here’s what I hope you take away from this rant love letter.  In everyone’s writing career, you’re going to have to do some things that are not quite as much fun as writing.  But who says you can’t make them fun?  Like the old saying, eat dessert first.  Writing is my dessert, and marketing is all the rest of it—like vegetables and protein.  But here’s the deal: I’ve grown to love vegetables as much or more as I love dessert.  Maybe you learn to love the parts of your writing career you now hate, too.

Please do hit leave a comment and tell me what you love—and hate—about your writing.

Guest Post and Giveaway: Tamara Holland

Update, Winner Announced:  The winner of Tam's book is…..Alexia Stevens!  Alexia, I will give your name to Tam and she will make arrangements to get you the book!

It is my privilege to introduce you to my wonderful cyber-friend Tam Holland!  She and I met on Twitter over a conversation about raisins.  Yes, raisins.  Rumor had it that eating raisins before bed prevented trips to the bathroom.  Anyway, we've been buds ever since we debated that notion (I still claim it works).  And once we discovered we each had a granddaughter about the same age, our friendship was sealed.  And here's the exciting part–she has a new book out!  It is historical fiction of the sort you've likely never read before and is already getting rave reviews. And…..drum roll….we have us a giveaway!  Tam has agreed to give a copy of the Ebook to one lucky reader.   So read her brilliant thoughts on Twitter and I'll give you details of the giveaway at the end. 6 Reasons Writers Need Twitter TamHolland

by Tamara Holland

I got on Twitter in 2011. Reluctantly.  Up til then, I'd been looking cynically, judgmentally, unfavorably upon all of social media.

Since then?

I've sent nearly 60,000 tweets.


Because Twitter rocks for writers.  Here are six big ways it does.

1.  Immediate support, instead of delayed rejection.

This is the thing that grabbed me first and hooked me instantly. Twitter is responsive, immediate, interactive.  How much better does that feel to writers than what we've done traditionally: toiled away alone on a piece, sent it somewhere to see if someone liked it enough to publish  it, waited forever to hear back . . . and then usually heard, "Sorry."

You know how much better instant positive feedback feels? Tons better. Life-saving, spirit-saving, enthusiasm-producing tons better.

On Twitter, when you follow and are followed by cool and supportive people, you will get immediate responses to the 140-character missives and questions that you send out. This feels wonderful. It feels like someone is listening. Like someone cares. Which can make all the motivational difference in the world to a writer.

 2.  Tribemates

I believe whole-heartedly that when you tweet authentically (as in, not just canned/automated tweets about your book-for-sale, and not in some "branded" form that does not really express who you are and what you're actually dealing with), you end up communicating on Twitter with wonderful, like-minded folks who become your tribemates. The people who say, "It's okay, I've been there, too," about the hard parts. Who say, "Want to meet for coffee?!?!?!" when they read you've just tweeted about landing in their city.  (This has even happened to me at the Copenhagen airport during a lay-over on a flight from New York to Rome!) Who say, "I would LOVE to review an advance copy of your book, if you'd be willing to send me one." Who, like Charlotte, say, "I'd like to feature you on my blog." Folks with whom you become fast friends and meet in real life when you can. Folks who  know you for how you tweet about your life, and like you for it.  And you, them.

 3.  Creative play

Twitter was made for writers. Tweets are 140-character bits of writing.  Over and over and over again. You can do all kinds of things with them. The possibilities are endless. Communicate with your friends in little "walkie-talkie" tweets back and forth. Or blast out your take on how things are going in any particular situation. Dream out loud. Send people inspiring messages.  Chronicle something cool or interesting or frustrating.  Participate in any number of "microfiction" groups — like when I play along on Fridays with "Friday Phrases," using the #fp hashtag.

Aside from being fun as hell, what's also great here is that they are all easy, low-stakes, fast-paced ways to keep practicing and practicing and practicing the art of writing. And, because the character -length of tweets is relatively short, they are especially great brevity-training exercises.

 4. Business opportunities

It's on Twitter where I've bonded with several fellow authors who publish serialized fiction at the very cool (Check it out . . . vetted fiction of many different genres, which readers access for free and support with their votes.) JukePop itself has a strong, author-supporting Twitter presence, which is still relatively rare in the Old World publishing houses. Even better, many JukePop authors are also big tweeters, and support each other . . . offering words of encouragement, passing along news about your writing in their own tweets, and becoming "behind the scenes" friends who do even nicer things like reviewing and writing blurbs for your books and pulling for each other in life-outside-the-fiction activities.

 5. Style liberation Photo (37)

For the three years before I began drafting  The Road Presents Itself, I read about life in ancient Rome. Visual snippets of scenes would pop into my brain. I had a sense of many of the characters, and a bit of the plot.

But I had absolutely no idea about how the story was going to tell itself.  

On the plane to the writing workshop where I was going to do drafting, I got the sense it was going to be the protagonist talking. He did. When Tiberius started talking through me as I wrote, he talked like a 21st century guy. And in the present tense. And often in sentence fragments. In a story that ripped along.

 I'm pretty sure Twitter hatched that.

Because I think that two years of reading and tweeting tens of thousands of tweets changed the way my brain's neural pathways  hear, process, and expect narrative.

I no longer care for, or even "trust," most third-person narratives.  I just don't.  Because so much of my writing and reading is social media-based — where we read and write in the "I" — my brain now resonates to "I," instead of to the removed "he" or "she" or "they" in older narratives. Now when I read most third-person fiction, I feel an impatience.  (There are exceptions, of course.)  But usually, I feel irritated that I don't know the imaginary person, the omniscient third, who's telling the story. We don't know THEIR backstory, their predilections, etc.  They are god-like. Removed. They make choices about  how the story goes, without us having access to knowing why. Which at this point in my life and writing career seems to bug the heck out of me. I'm looking for more transparency.  When a first-person narrator is telling you the story, you are also knowing them through what they are doing themselves in the tale. This is what feels comfortable and right in narration to me now.

And there's more.

I no longer want to put up with being explained in too much detail what happened. That's right — happened. As in, in the past. Already occurred. Which is what past-tense is. And, unfortunately, most fiction (especially historical) has too much detail for my mystery-based, thriller-based brain. What I want is characters I love, and a story that moves. That's it. The very fact that something's told in the past tense builds in a distance, a layer of removed-ness, that makes it feel far away . . . which makes me feel like I'm missing something. It's not happening now.  It already happened. And inside, my brain asks, "SO?"

In short, writing in first-person present tense is the way fiction feels right to me now. It never would have, before. And that is because of Twitter.  

 6. The "traditional" business model

 "Tradition" is in quotes here because selling your fiction via social media is still, of course, very new compared to the Old World models of publishing and publicizing.  Still and all, there are already experts and ("experts") who will be happy to tell you the "ways you must" (read: traditionally) market your fiction on Twitter.  With certain hashtags. Through certain groups. At certain times. With certain kinds of tweets. Etc. But because I am more of a "make up your own rules" writing and marketing gal, I'll  leave  that to them, and to you to find in ways that help you best.

You can follow me on Twitter @tamholland. I'd love to follow you back!

Tamara Holland is a writer, mixed-media collage artist, bartender and former post-conviction death penalty attorney. Her previously-published books include two non-fiction books about the art business, and a children’s book. For the past six years, her art company Bean Up The Nose Art has been where she’s played and marketed six greeting card lines as her own distributor and with national licensing deals. She tweets almost non-stop as @tamholland, and posts on Instagram as @tamholland123 and @tiberiusroad. She's the happy mother of two now-grown-up married people, and grandma of Zoe Rose. 

And now, for the giveaway.  All you have to do is leave a comment, answering the following: what's your favorite social media site?  Add a few words about why if you like.  We'll give you until next Monday, December 8th, to enter.  I'll draw a name that day and let Tam know the winner!

Social Media for (Clueless) Writers

AxobIjdCAAAogDx.png-largeI don’t write a lot about social media, but I’m on it all the time and I’m a big believer in its importance to us as writers.  It is good for your platform, good for networking, and it is also a lot of fun, too.  I can hear you all groaning, but stop, I’m serious–it is fun.  The reason people (i.e. writers) shy away from it is because they over think it.  They take it way too seriously and think it takes way too much time.  

But, guess what?  Social media is a fact of life and it is not going anywhere so one way or another you need to make your peace with it. And the time to do it is now–no matter where you are in your writing career, just starting out, almost published, or published.  

Here’s my best advice on social media: do what you love.  For instance, you won’t find me on Facebook much, because, well, I don’t like it.  But I’m on Twitter and other sites all day long.  Over and over again I hear that everyone needs a Facebook presence and I make another lame go at it and then I give up.  

I think the best way to approach social media is to find one channel you enjoy, get comfortable with it, and then choose another one.  To that end, I’ve listed the sites I like best below, along with what I like about them and how you can connect with me there.  

Blog.  You must have a presence on the web, and a blog is far and away the easiest way to do that. The average person surfing the internet doesn’t understand the difference between a blog and a website, and honestly, these days there isn’t a lot.  The standard advice you’ll hear is to get thyself a WordPress blog, but I started blogging before WordPress was even a thing, so I went with Typepad and I remain loyal because I like it.  The site is easy to use, looks great ( a lot of designer types use it) and best of all, if you get stuck, you can ask them for help and they respond quickly. So I’m staying here.  

One of the things I always tell people who are afraid to start blogging is to just dive in. It’s good to remember that the genesis of what we now know as blogs started as web logs, i.e., online journals.  A blog is, by its nature, an ongoing record of what’s going on.  And so here me now: it does not have to be perfect.  I have over 1,000 posts on this site, and some of them quite frankly, are crap.  But a lot of them are pretty good.  If I worried about perfection none of the posts would exist.

Twitter.  My favorite.  I’ve been on it since a short time after it debuted, and I love it. Twitter is easy, direct, and fun.  If you tweet something, it stays up and all your followers will see it (unlike Facebook), although the Twitter stream does move fast. You can easily connect with other writers, authors, agents, editors, indie publishing folks–you name it. You can search with hashtags (#amwriting is a great one) and find like-minded people.  I’ve made some great friends through the site–I love my Twitter peeps!  Again, don’t over think it, don’t worry about it, just jump in and see what happens.  You really can’t do it wrong, unless you spam people. And one piece of advice: put an icon up right away or people will shy away from following you, thinking you’re a bot.

Connect with me on Twitter here.

Google +.  I’ve been fooling around with the Google’s social media site for a simple reason which I will share with you: because its crazy good for your search engine rankings.  The more you’re on Google +, the higher you’re going to show up on searches.  I experimented with this myself, with astounding results–my own posts or Google + posts rising to the top of very popular searches.  (Let me also point out that Google likes me a lot already, thanks to the afore-mentioned 1,000 posts. Nothing the Goog likes better than fresh content.) I’ve also heard that Google is getting quite overt about Google+, and that it would behoove you to at least go fill out a profile there–or you won’t show up on searches at all.  Google+ is good for when you want to write something longer than Twitter, or share a link with a bit more supporting information.  I’ve not yet found a lot of traction in terms of community, but I think that will change the more I’m on it.

You can connect with on Google+ here. 

Pinterest.  Oh, let me count the ways I can get obsessed with Pinterest.  Like, losing two hours on a Sunday afternoon to it.  Which is why I stopped using it much for about a year.  Pretty and fun as it was, I never saw much traffic from it, or felt like I engaged with others there.  Until a couple of weeks ago, when I started noticing that I was getting a lot of traffic from the site.  Consistently.  So I decided to update my presence.  And, yeah.  Spent an hour on it yesterday when I should have been doing something else.  But there is a lot of good stuff for writers on it–and a ton of beautiful images as well. It is probably the easiest of all the sites to figure out–just create a board and start adding pictures to it.  (Yesterday I also discovered the Pinterest mobile app.  Talk about something to do while you’re sitting in a bar at the airport lounge alone–you can pin to your heart’s content.)

You can connect with me on Pinterest here.

Instagram.  No, I take that back–Instagram is may be the most user friendly.  Just open an account, start taking pictures and post them.  You can add all kinds of fun effects to your photos as well. Apparently, hashtags are the thing on Instagram–the more the merrier.  But I don’t generally worry about that too much.  I hate seeing a post with a bunch of hashtags cluttering it up and I get bored feeding the in.  So I do a couple and then skip it.  I’m a sporadic Instagram user, tending to take a lot of photos when I’m traveling (I initially downloaded it when I went to France last year), the daily life of a writer not being all that photogenic (unless you like images of me in my jammies).  It’s also a great time waster when you find yourself waiting for someone or something.  (I do so miss the days when we used to read, or knit when we had spare moments.)

You can connect with me on Instagram here.

So that’s my take on social media for writers.  Oh, and by the way, speaking of blogs, next week is the seven year anniversary of this one.  I’m planning something special.  Don’t know what yet, but something.  So stay tuned. 

And comment, please–what social media sites do you use?  Feel free to share your handles for each site, too and we’ll all come follow you if we don’t already.


Three Rules

I'm reading Crush It, by Gary Vaynerchuk.  In case you haven't heard of him, he's the marketing genius Kodakz760_662439_l who built his father's liquor business from four million in sales to fifty million in sales in just eight years.  How did he do it?  Mainly through video blogging, with his show, Wine Library TV, and the use of social media.

His book is a quick read, and essential if you've not yet dabbled much in social media.  If you have, you'll probably get more in the way of inspiration than new information.  But hey, I'm all for inspiration!  And one of the things that Gary wrote about inspired this post, so there you have it.  Specifically, in chapter one, he writes about the three rules by which he lives.  His are: love your family, work super hard, live your passion.

I've been thinking about this three rule thing a lot lately. I'm really attracted to the concept of living life by a set of rules, which is odd, because in general I'm a rebellious type.  Years ago, in a critique group (which I seem to be thinking a lot about lately, since I wrote about it here, too) we talked quite a bit about characters with moral codes.  You know the kind–the detective who may, to outside appearances, seem to be completely insubordinate and anarchic, but when you dig deeper you learn he's got good motivation and a strong compass to guide him.  A current example of this on TV would be, of course, Dexter, who is a serial killer who kills serial killers.  

So, I decided to assign myself the task of coming up with three rules by which I live.  I approached this by thinking about what my absolute, bottom-line, bedrock beliefs are, and by how they get played out in my day to day life.  Oh, and by the way, you'll see that these are, because of my very nature, writing related, but as far as I'm concerned writing bleeds into life and life bleeds back into writing, so the two are inseparable.

Ready?  Here goes:

Three Rules for Living

1.  Always Connect.  In my Writing Abundance workshops, I always, always, always begin by talking about the practice of connecting.  To me, this means connecting with something bigger than you, most likely the divine, in however you view it.  Take time to meditate or pray, in whatever form this takes for you, every day.   Beyond this absolutely crucial practice, you can view this rule in other ways, too, as in connect with friends and family to get their support for your writing, connect with others via social media, connect with writers through critique groups or other networking opportunities.  Connecting is vital.

2. Give it All Up, Get it All Back.  This also translates to, put it all on the page, always.  I just wrote a whole blog post about the practice of letting go.  It is a worthy thing to aspire to in life, and it will serve you well in writing, too.  Put everything you have on the page every time you sit down to write.  Fling your whole self on the keyboard or paper.  Don't hold back, don't back off.  You can–and will–edit later. Fling yourself at life, putting everything out there, without worrying about what will happen.  Remember, we only think we know what is going to happen tomorrow.  I've learned the hard way that plans can change in an instant.  So don't waste time trying to control what you can't (and this includes reactions from agents, editors and readers).

3.  Write or Create Every Day.  I am a firm believer that writing every day is the best way to establish a prolific and prosperous writing career.  It is incredibly difficult to maintain momentum on a project when you are only giving it sporadic attention.  Yes, there is something to be said for taking breaks, and I'm a fan of downtime (I love me American Idol) and self-care, which I deem to be essential.  But there are 24 hours in a day, in case  you hadn't heard.  Couldn't you spend just 15 minutes of them with pen and paper?

So there you have them, my three rules.  Ask me about them same time next year and I might well have a new set.  But these are mine for now.  What are yours?  Do you like the idea of having rules to live by?

**Photo by DrewMeyers, used under Creative Commons 2.5 license.

Top Takeaways from the Writer’s Loft, Part Two

Yesterday, I wrote part one in this series on things I learned at the Writer's Loft last weekend, and you can read that post right here.  In it, I talked about the presentations by Jimmy Carl Harris and Kory Wells.

Today it is time to turn attention to Richard Goodman's workshop, "5 Things to Learn About Writing in 90 Minutes."  (I also wrote about Richard's book in this blog post before I left Portland.) This was a great workshop that was really inspiring to me–as was his book.  Here are my top takeaways from it:

  1. "If you can focus, you can move the world."  Richard says that focus requires time alone and I tend to agree, though sometimes I can get in the zone writing when I'm in a crowded coffee shop.
  2. Always go for the exact meaning of the word you are using.  Richard talks a lot about finding le mot Juste, about checking the etymology of a word, and about looking up the definition of the word, even when you think you know it.  Because, you probably don't.  And the true definition can be a delightful surprise.
  3. To make yourself appealing as a narrator, share a fault.  (Some of the most entertaining pieces of the day came out of this exercise.)
  4. "At least 40% of really good writing is written by the reader."  Gotta admit, I'm still pondering this one. 
  5. Titles are under-rated.  They are where the book actually begins, how the essence of the book is communicated.
  6. The music of prose is the sound a writer makes on the page.

So, there you have it, good advice all.

Next up is a brief rundown of a talk by David Pierce.  Brief because he came at the end of the day and I was again, doing admin stuff.  However, it will be brief but powerful, I promise!

Top Takeaways from the Writer’s Loft, Part One

The Writer's Loft orientation weekend is over and here's a news flash for you:

I survived.

Actually, I thrived.

It was a wonderful, informative and inspiring weekend for writers, if a bit exhausting.  I've been laying somewhat low processing what I heard so that I can share it with you.   Turns out I heard a lot, and that was even with me missing some of the presentations while running around doing admin stuff.

So I'm doing the posts in three parts.  Here we go.


Jimmy Carl Harris started us off with a presentation on structure in short story.  Jimmy Carl is a former Marine, and great with structure.  But I didn't get to sit in much on this workshop, alas.  It was the start of the weekend, and Terry and I had things to do.  However, I do have one great takeaway quote for you:

"There are good stories.  There are safe stories.  There are no good safe stories."

Nifty, huh?  And very true, too.

After lunch, it was my turn.  I did a workshop on Writing Abundance: the Seven Practices of the Prolific and Prosperous Writer, which you can read more about on the Writing Abundance page.  At the Friday night reception, our wonderful student Alberta Tolbert graduated, yay! except we'll miss her.  Except we know she'll be around because all our loyal alumni come around as much as possible.  That night also, Kory Wells read her poetry, accompanied by her daughter Kelsey, who played the banjo.  Great show.  More about Kory in a minute.  Finally, Richard Goodman read from his book, French Dirt, and his soon-to-be-published New York Memoir.  More about him in the next post.

Saturday Morning

Okay, so here's the deal.  First thing Saturday morning, I did a Q and A with Richard Goodman about his books and writing.  It was awesome, and I mean that in the full sense of the word.  All I had to do was toss Richard the merest tidbit of a question and he was off and running.  Very inspiring.  I recorded the whole thing on my new digital voice recorder and planned to post it on this blog and also offer it to Richard for him to put on his website.

Alas, it was not to be.  You'll never in a million years guess why.

Because the dog ate my recorder.  Yes, indeed, it is true.  I'm housesitting at my home away from home, my dear friends' Sue and Walt's house and their newish dog, Gugi, a rescue from Emmylou Harris's pet rescue operation, ate my recorder.  She is such a sweetheart I couldn't even get mad at her.  I keep waiting for her to regurgitate some words of wisdom, but that hasn't happened yet.

So even though I don't have Richard on tape for you, I do have some nuggets from Kory Wells' talk on social media.  Kory is one of those rare birds who seems to be equally right-brained and left-brained.  She is at home in the techy world, which is where she works during the day, and an accomplished poet as well, with a fairly new volume of poems out called Heaven Was the Moon.  The perfect choice to demystify social media for writers.

Here are my takeaways:

  • You control the conversation online and you get to brand yourself.  Because of this, it is vital to pay attention to the profiles you set up on various social media, and the keywords you use.
  • Learn what people are saying about you online by signing up for Google alerts.  I used to do this; got tired of the volume of emails and un-signed up.   Let me make it clear that the volume of emails came from poorly defined search words rather than the fact that a lot of people are talking about me.  At any rate, yesterday I signed up again and it has already paid off.  I've discovered mentions of myself that I otherwise would not know about.
  • Find keywords to use to bring people to your site or blog by checking which words come up when you Google yourself.
  • Many connections can be made through "charming notes."  This is a concept Carolyn See promotes in her book, "Making a Literary Life."  She urges writers to write notes (notes, not emails) to people they admire.  Furthermore, she says to write one note a day.  Arrrhhgggg!  But I think we can pull this practice into the new decade and go for emails, don't you?  Kory told a story about how she found the artist for the cover of her book through a charming email.  So that works for me.

I'm currently trying to learn as much as possible about social media, and Kory's presentation was really helpful.

Tomorrow (or as soon as I have time to write another post) I'll cover tidbits from Richard Goodman's lecture, "5 Things to Learn About Writing in 90 Minutes."