Social Media For The Anxious & New, part 1

Good morning. Welcome back to the blog. (I’m saying that as much for myself as for you)

As promised on Twitter, today we start a new series: Social Media for the Anxious & New, where we’re going to talk about how authors can use social media in productive proactive ways without sinking hours they may or may not have into it. We’ll also look at some pitfalls and strategies for avoiding them.

Now this post came about in the wake of the ‘Getting Rejected’ series, and was further germinated by my week at GenCon, where I talked to rooms full of writers who thought social media was about as easy to do or as necessary as brain surgery in the dark with your eyes closed.

Previously, I’ve talked a bit about social media, but it was brought to my attention that in that discussion I forgot a significant element – that people aren’t as ready to go running out into oncoming verbal traffic and build their own place to work from. I will admit now that I usually make a conscious effort to look past that part, because getting wrapped up in the assumption that people won’t easily take to a new tool in their writer toolbox is a great way to kill creative inertia and get aimless really fast.

I don’t want people to feel overwhelmed, but that does not mean the only prevention means the tiniest of baby steps. That’s a gross simplification and misjudgment of people’s talents, and I just won’t do it. So, here, writers, this is what I’m saying:

You can do this. You can get better at it if you’re doing it already. You can start if you haven’t already. Yes, it’s important. Yes, you should be doing this. Let’s talk about how to do this.

Take a deep breath, and we’ll get into the first part of this.

Item 1 – Making Mistakes

The first thing we’re going to talk about can be summed up with this image:

LEARNMISTAKESPNG

I bet you didn’t know I had access to outdated Adobe products.

There’s no shame in making mistakes. We talk about this up front, because a lot of writers assume that when they do something involving social media, because of that pesky word ‘social’, that whatever they do has to be PERFECT. Like flawless. Like it should be a model for all future generations and species.

It doesn’t. It can’t. Do not pressure yourself by thinking that every missive is the perfect embodiment of information. You’re not perfect. It’s not perfect. There is no perfect.

What you’re doing instead is communicating. Openly. Messily. Honestly. Imperfectly.

And because it’s imperfect, there are going to be mistakes. You’ll have a typo. You’ll skip a word in a sentence because you’re typing too quickly. Autocorrect will turn your statement into some bizarre mention of camels (or something).

But mistakes are not where we stop and give. They’re where we stop, regroup, repair, and try again.

Item 2 – Being A Person

I don’t know how to explain this to you, but if you want to make the most of your social media experience, you need to be a person. I mean, you need to share your human experience with other humans, and not just spit out “Buy my book” every 8 hours as automated by some scheduler.

We’re all tired of reading spam, we are all annoyed by bots and form letters, so why would you resort to those tactics to get attention?

rock-1996-movie-review-nicolas-cage-goodspeed-flares-ending

Yeah, I know, it can feel like this.

Before I try and tell you that you’re going to get something something flies and honey, let me point out that it’s not a fast process. You have to know this going in. It’s going to take time. I’ve got 1667 followers, and I’m far from a celebrity or even a “known” commodity in writing. I do what I do in a little corner of the internet, and I am always thankful when someone likes it or shares it or replies to it.

That encourages me to keep doing what I do, which I can summarize the following way:

a) Share my life, however imperfect, even when it’s not just about editing or coaching or publishing
b) Make sure that the words sound like me. No fancy polish. No trying too hard to be anything other than me.
c) Use social media often (and yes there are times when I’m more comfortable with it than in conversation, and no I don’t think that’s inherently a sign of the end times)

My challenge to you is commit thirty days to social media, and I’m going to put together this series of posts on how you can punch, strangle, and chase off the anxiety and put a really strong and versatile tool in your writing toolbox.

See you next week. Enjoy your weekend. Happy writing.

Stop Aspiring, Start Doing

I’m an aspiring author.”

I hear those words a lot. I read them a lot in tweets and emails. And we’re going to talk about them this morning.

Good morning, welcome to Friday, good job getting through another week. Got any good weekend plans? I’ll be playing video games and editing manuscripts, which is a pretty good time. Oh, and I might treat myself to a steak.

Today we’re going to talk about aspiring, and why that word isn’t doing what you think it does. Because I don’t want you to be aspiring, I want you to be doing. Doing what? Doing whatever it is you do creatively.

So many people talk about aspiring, so let’s look at the definition first. Here:
Aspire1Aspire2Aspire3

Aspiring, from what I get in these 3 definitions, is wanting to do a thing or having a plan to do a thing. I don’t see in these definitions the actual effort, just the preparations.

There’s nothing wrong with preparation, it’s how we improve and effort towards success. But preparing to do X isn’t actually doing X, and that’s the important point.


I want to take a second to point out that moving forward from aspiring to doing can bring a lot of people and their opinions into whatever you’re doing. They may say things like “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” or “Are you sure you want to do X that way?” or they become some sort of oracle when previously they had just been critical. Take their feedback with a few handfuls of salt. Critics are not the boss of you. It’s okay to move forward and do the best job you can, even if that job requires time, patience or learning some new stuff. You’re allowed to make mistakes, and you’re allowed to get better. Okay, sidebar over.


We use aspiring to talk about stuff that hasn’t happened yet, but we’d really like it to happen. As if we’ve placed the order with a server, and we’re waiting on our entrees. This suggests that what we want is subject to external forces, and while that is partially true depending on circumstance (selling a million books means a million books need to be produced), the bulk of what we aspire to do is within our ability.

Maybe it’s not automatic. Maybe we’ll need to raise money, get training, change a habit, start a new habit, talk to some people, take a risk, fill out a form, get on a plane, write an email, or whatever. But we can still do those things. We’re not wholly incapable of performing the task, it’s that we’ve mentally resigned ourselves to a position where we think we can’t accomplish the task.

It would be expensive to travel. Equipment to do that thing is expensive. Getting something done takes time. You don’t know who to talk to. What if people laugh at you? What if other people, society, the universe, determines you’re awful? Note: It’s been pointed out to me that awful people can run for President and get their party’s endorsement, so don’t give up hope.

We imprison ourselves in a little comfortable low-risk cage, with shackles made of fear and excuses and projection. We could be doing stuff, but “our place” is over here where we don’t let ourselves take whatever steps necessary, or even take the steps beyond those. Because we might fail. Because we might be rejected. Because we might find out we’ve wasted time or money.

Says who?

Who’s going to laugh at you for taking that vacation? Who’s going to think you’re a failure because you’re taking noticeable steps towards your goal? How is making an effort the same as failing?

It’s time to stop aspiring, and start doing. This is how we got to the moon, landed a dishwasher on a comet and know what DNA looks like. This is how we created national parks, got a black guy elected, and learned that graham crackers get even better with chocolate and marshmallow.

But how? How can we excise this word and this idea out of our heads when we see it repeated over and over?

We prove it wrong. We prove it to be an inadequate descriptor of what we’re doing.

We’re not just people staring out the window, diddling around, with big hopes and blank spaces. We’re creatives. We make stuff. We tell stories. We make art out of cheese. We shake our moneymakers. We hammer metal into shapes. We do stuff, sometimes with pants on.

Every day, every chance you get, not just when convenient, not just when you remember to, do something substantive that gets you towards your goal.

A writer? Get more than 1 word on the page. Aim for multiple sentences. Not revising them. Fresh ones.

A maker of stuff? Sketch, prototype, develop.

What I’m saying is do more than just think about it. Do more than fire up the imagination and wouldn’t-it-be-nice engines. You can make this stuff happen.

No, not right away, nothing happens right away. It’ll take time. But you have time, more than you realize. And you’ll accomplish the goal, you’ll get where you want to be, you just need to make progress.

No, it won’t always be easy. Some days you’re not gonna wanna do anything. Some days you’ll feel like you haven’t done nearly enough. The goal is going to look a million billion miles away.

But that’s when you look at the work you’ve done. The actual work, not just the time spent thinking or staring out the window watching the neighborhood pass you by. See the words on the page? They weren’t there before. See the sketches? They didn’t poof into existence. You did that. You took a step forward. Good job.

And celebrate when you take that step forward. I know, it’s not the goal, but if goals were only one step away, you probably wouldn’t be lamenting them not happening, would you?

This is all predicated though on taking your goal and breaking it into reasonable steps. And the key there is “reasonable.” Reasonable means not only a manageable size given the current time frame and all the other stuff you have going on, but it also doesn’t require extraordinary intervention. Winning the lottery so you can pay off your crushing student debt is not as reasonable as say, having 2 and not 3 drinks when you go out, so that eleven dollars doesn’t leave your checking account is reasonable.

Your goal shouldn’t always means an end to your life as you know it. Sometimes, yes, it can, if you wanted to become a monk and live in a cave, you probably don’t want to living in downtown Seattle going out to microbreweries every night. But on the whole, you can develop incremental steps towards your goal (those steps are goals themselves, don’t forget), where the rest of your life doesn’t detour.

My point is, you don’t have to keep aspiring. You can go do it. One step at a time. Set up your own steps, and make your goal happen. I believe in you, even if I’m just a guy on the internet blogging three times a week and tweeting a lot.

 

Have a great weekend, happy writing, I’ll see you back here Monday.

Rough Days & Battle Plans

Here’s what happened this morning. Let’s play a fun game of John’s Morning Routine.

Wake up at 7:30. Take a lightning-quick shower, since there’s an 8am call with a client, and there are pills to take and food to inhale before then. 

Call the client. Do some half-awake work. Finally come more fully to your senses about 85% into the call. 

Go about the morning routine. Check Twitter for relevant mentions and critical links. Check blogs for updates. Organize and prioritize the events for the day. Answer emails.

Oh Facebook, there you are, hanging all the way on the rightmost tab in Chrome. Sure, let me just look and see what meme people have posted or what faith-based quote people are spreading around, either in or out of context. Hey there reminders in the right margin of Facebook. Sure I’ll click you.

BANG. THUD. There goes my Tuesday, crumpled on the floor like a gutshot pimp

Thankfully I have a safety net. There are things I can do to reframe this and keep things intact. Write emails to people, stat. Start talking. Start expressing. Nuke the wallow before it happens. 

Now look at me. Did I do it, did I get past it? Did I just switch perspectives in this blog post? 

I can’t make it not be Tuesday. I can’t make it not be September 3rd. I can’t make it not be whatever this day means for you. I don’t know if this day hurts you, or pleases you or it’s just another day in the string of days. Maybe today’s a great day because you woke up and told people you loved them, and because you got time already to create something special and you had your favorite Tuesday breakfast (that’s a thing, right? I’m not the only one who has a Tuesday breakfast, right). Maybe it’s your birthday or your anniversary or your kid’s birthday. Maybe today’s the day you get promoted at work. Or you have a date planned. If today’s a good one, I want you to embrace the ever-loving shit out of it. Rock its face off. 

But maybe your today is a bag of weasels on fire. Maybe today’s the anniversary of when that job ended, or that person left, or something far more intense. Maybe today’s the fiftieth day you’ve been without work. Maybe today’s the day you have to have a tough conversation with someone. Maybe today can just go eat a whole buffet of sewage and rotten meat. 

If it’s a rough day, I still want you to embrace the day. Embrace it in a chokehold and make it cry uncle. Or aunt. (Let’s not be exclusionary in our playground language). Beat the bad day down with a battle plan. 

A battle plan is a set of strategies that you can employ when you need to steer the day back onto the road, and avoid the ditches of shitty thinking, paralysis by way of emotional pain and the hydra of “Fuck It All”. 

This is how I learned to build my own. 

1. Identify up to / at least 3 things you can do in the first 90 seconds that will keep you moving. Then do them. I don’t mean literally moving, although that might help depending on context. If you read something suck-tastic, can you go read something else? Can you get up out of that chair and go get something to drink? Maybe turn up the music? 

It’s harder to hit a moving target, and shockingly, a bad mood/bad day/self doubt has HORRENDOUS aim on a second shot. Doing something that isn’t sitting-there-and-staring-at-the-bad-triggering-thing-head-on is going to keep you from getting sniped and falling into wallowing pit. 

2. Put some distance between you and the bad thing. I learned this as, “When you walk into a minefield, walk out, not through.” Yes, there’s that great quote about going through Hell when you find yourself there, and there is a time and place for that quote, but this isn’t it. 

Walking through, suffering landmine after landmine, is just going to be an admission that yeah, you’re letting today go. Which might be a fantastic option for you, if the bad thing you’ve encountered is really very bad. Maybe a do-over is exactly the remedy. But for a lot of us, we can’t get a do-over. We’re in offices and away from our homes or beds or loved ones or the comfort food we’ve hidden in the third drawer in the kitchen. So what’s the move? Get some distance. 

Close the tab. Unless that email requires or demands a response, do you need to keep it? Hang up the phone. Don’t respond to the text messages that jerk is writing you. Excuse yourself from the uncomfortable conversation. You don’t have to stay in that space, mentally, emotionally or physically. 

3. Find positive buoys and swim to them. For me, that’s emailing some really supportive friends, Spotify playlists, getting proactive and vocal on social media (except Facebook, because shit, that’s where the bad news came from). When I was searching for these buoys, I made a list and crossed off prospective positives when they didn’t pan out. The ones that did work, I keep around. And go to them when I need them. 

4. Do something. Nothing takes your spoons unless you give them. There’s a decision at some point to raise the white flag. You might not feel like you’re in charge of that decision, but … you’re the one who raises the flag, so it’s totally your decision. You are in charge of you. And you don’t have to give up. I mean, you can, and if you do, it’s okay and no one truly awesome in your life is going to judge you for doing that, but giving up should not be your default move. It’s like always resigning from the chess match once you lose your first piece. Or throwing your Final Fantasy cartridge across the room when you lose a boss fight. (I may have said too much … )

There’s this great clip from Band of Brothers I would link to, but I couldn’t find it exactly and didn’t want to make you wade through a big thing to get to the meat. There’s a soldier who is overwhelmed by battle and goes blind, in this defensive action. He just curls up in a ball and gives up. (This is as close as I can find, but there’s a Nickelback song attached to it, so maybe watch this on mute)

But there’s a moment, when he’s able to see again, and the unit gets into this firefight. And in the thick of things, he freezes up again. But then, he doesn’t. Well, to be fair, his CO yells at him, but he still stands up, grabs his rifle and throws some serious lead at ze Germans. 

I like that clip because the CO has this one line, “That’s it Blythe, pour it on, let ’em have it.” 

We’re all Blythe at some point. We’re all going to be momentarily overwhelmed and go a little blind. We’re all going to just get knocked around by circumstances. But when we get a little bit of our senses back, and we find ourselves facing our opposition, sure we might freeze, but eventually, we need to stand up and fire back. 

Let ’em have it. 

It’s 9:30, and about an hour or so has passed since I got sucker punched. I went immediately to my support structure, fired up my battle plan and I’m pretty sure what could have been a dominating, crushing, overwhelming thought is now a pretty clingy nuisance, like running through mental thorns. (Actually I’m more conscious now that I chugged a can of Coke at 8:10 this morning than anything else. Seriously, I know better.)

Have a great day, you’re awesome. You’re in charge of you. I believe in you. I got your back. Let’s all have each others’ backs today. 

Happy writing.