Monday, August 8, 2011

Part I Question 4 of Interview Series on Non-Fiction Markets With Writer Noelle Sterne, Ph.D.

Feelings and Experiences With Social Media

4. What are some of your feelings on and experiences with social media?

The minimal mention of social media in my responses to the previous question (Part 1 Question 3,: PR Strategies for New Audiences and Regular Readership) was all too blazing (don’t pretend you didn’t notice). I have long been a social media-phobe: wary, avoidant, even cringing. Protective of my writing time—not counting browsing the home-page headlines and clicking through thumbnails of the celeb red-carpet gowns—I’ve loathed to set foot into a face, tweet, or blog of my own. But, with the publication of my book Trust Your Life (pardon the plug), I’ve had to reconsider. So now I’m sidling near the water’s edge, if not holding my nose and jumping in.

The Time Eater

Call me recalcitrant, reactionary, antediluvian, scared—you’re right. The main fear, and danger, is that all this e-media and blogging, like previous impulsive volunteering to cook casseroles for the entire firehouse crew or help rebuild a buddy’s transmission, will devour writing juice and energy. Most of us whittle out precious writing time, and I, for one, have to “warm up,” whether it’s with the above small secret pleasures, a few (writing-related) emails, or quick notes for one of my novels always in development.

The allure of social media devours your time. Never mind the inexplicable fascination to keep reading and clicking on the endless links of another’s site. And read the comments. And respond to the comments. And respond to the comments on the comments. And then, with your writing allocation almost evaporated, realize you haven’t even done your own biweekly blog entry . . . 

Jane Friedman, a writer, editor, speaker, and blogger I much admire and have referred to earlier, is a master of social media. In her blog, provocatively titled “There Are No Rules”
(, Friedman always shares sane and sound advice. Her June 13, 2011, entry relates highlights of the recent Writers League of Texas Agents conference. Friedman quotes one of the speakers, Rusty Shelton of Shelton Interactive, in the race to tweet and re-tweet and writers’ use of social media:

Don't start everywhere at once. Start with what you truly enjoy. Pick one thing and try it for a little while, and if you're not really enjoying it, look to something different. Otherwise, you won't find time (it'll feel like work).

In other words, you don’t have to scoop up the whole smorgasbord in one huge mouthful. You don’t have to force yourself to continue. You won’t get left behind. Social media sites, and their ever-increasing spawn (delicious, Digg, Dribble, Fubar, StumbleUpon, Twitpic, Quechup, DailyMotion, Flixter, Kaboodle, LiveJournal, Twuffer, LinkedIn, Myspace, Zooppa, YourSpace, GimmeSpace, GetOutaThisSpace . . . and I made up only the last three), will continue to multiply like progeny of Dr. Seuss.

If you do indulge, get very clear on why you’re contemplating or running full tilt into social media. What do you want to gain? And give? As you probably already know, the sites range from those who crave to feel loved and surrounded by 14,739,265 “friends” to those promoting products. Writers, I’ve noticed, generally want to (a) connect with other writers; (b) find writing camaraderie and support; (c) share what we’ve learned with other writers; (d) learn of developments, news, and leads in the field; (e) help and encourage other writers, (f) give our work readership; (g) have our work critiqued, honestly and gently; (h) critique others’ work, hopefully the same; and (i), or maybe (a), attract agents, publishers, and buyers of our work.

All fine. No justification needed. Just clarify your purpose(s) and decide, per Shelton’s advice, which media to use for different reasons. See also Patricia Fry’s extensive and level-headed suggestions for writers on real-world and virtual promotion of all kinds in her own blog (

Another great guide is the article I referred to in the last post, Christina Katz’s “50 Simple Ways to Build Your Platform in 5 Minutes a Day” (Writer’s Digest, March/April 2011). As her title indicates, so you don’t contract SMO, Social Media Overwhelm, mark out a few minutes a day, a plank at a time. But be careful—even in the 140 characters on your Twitter page, slightly spiteful gossip about an agent who rejected you may backfire when you send your proposal to another agent who’s a friend of the first and happened to peek at your acid tweets.

My Swerves Through Social Media

I’ve tiptoed into social media. Cautious exploration of sites, to my shock, reveals that not all chronicle the steps in making today’s tuna sandwich with yesterday’s pickles or blab about Lady BlaBla—er--Gaga. To my surprised chagrin, I’ve found not only the dreadlocked drummer on Facebook and Twitter but also the Chinese silk painting restorer and Stradivarius aficionado. Many of these sites, to my additional shock, are constructive, informative, and downright inspiring, such as those of The Write Place At the Write Time (the literary journal's official facebook page with over 875 fans, Twitter account @writeplcwritetm and the Inscribing Industry blog) and various individuals (see, for example, Tama Kieves’ or Tom Zender’s).

But on the Facebook and Twitter types of media, I rebel at the easy “friends.” The camaraderie may be warming, mutuality soothing, and connections, well, connecting. But are the clicked-on “friends” really friends? Are you expected to send 58,436 birthday gifts or Smashbox cards to your FB friends? Or receive them?

Who needs, or wants, so many friends? Writers, blatant introverts (if that’s not an oxymoron), usually don’t. We’re an odd breed, living in a world outside (or inside) the physical, and relatively self-sustaining. Sure, we need companionship every so often—but for me my significant other provides almost all I need, supplemented occasionally by the local Starbucks barista.

If you haven’t already discovered, or admitted, your true reclusive nature, look up the hilarious and squirmingly true essay by Jonathan Rauch, “Caring for Your Introvert”
( Recognize anyone? (You may want to slip a printout under the pillow of your own significant other.)

Reflecting here, I see that virtual socializing, after all, may present us introverts the best of both worlds. To “interact” or “visit,” we don’t need to get cleaned up, find an unwrinkled shirt, or remember to chew with our mouths closed. We can end the assignation with a click of the mouse instead of a tip to the parking attendant or a lame excuse about having to rush home to feed our pet squirrel.

Quality Blogging

A friend whose views I generally admire has no use at all for blogs and steadfastly maintains that they’re universally inane or downright stupid time-wasters and written only by low-self-worth fame-cravers. But reluctantly reversing my own former aversion, I’ve found that certain blog sites, like certain FB and TW sites, can be highly nourishing—such as this one, those of spiritual teachers (like Wayne Dyer) and of the New Yorker staff. These are the models I cling to.

I branched out and read a writer’s blog the other day, by the multifaceted novelist Jacquelyn Mitchard. Her bestsellers include books for adults, young adults, and children, and her blogs are excruciatingly touching, wry, and honest. I had to admit, with more than slight jealousy, that these blogs were little gems.

Mitchard’s blogging, I realized, is the form at its best—a window into a creative life, its perils and struggles, the dark side of fame, the wrestlings with relationships, and humanity to which we can all relate. The blog is part catharsis, part letter to a best friend, part journal, part memoir, part essay. Mitchard’s, whatever it does for her, also teaches and moves us.

I don’t know how much time she spends at it. But I do know that a quality blog cannot help but take time—like any good piece of writing. Others may not agree. In an article touting the benefits of blogging for promotion, the writer confided he spent only a half-hour on his blogs twice a week, and they were rarely more than 50 words.

Does he stick to that? Does it do his thoughts justice? Could I live with such slapdash entries? Not likely. I take seriously everything I write (even non-Hallmark birthday greetings), and the demands of social media dictate attention and focus, just like any other piece of writing. I cannot (or will not) give less than my best and heed Shelton’s admonition to do what feels good.

So I hesitate to blog and enter the other social media. And yet, I cannot deny the truth of what so many articles point out: this is a great way to connect with colleagues and readers, to publicize your wares and services. Never in the history of communication, publishing, or promotion have such avenues existed, and they will only proliferate. No need to prove it—plenty of support can be found in the ever-more-outrageous site names; almost any issue of any writers’ magazine, newsletter, and blog (ahem); and the increasingly specialized books (see Fry, for example: Promote Your Book: Over 250 Proven, Low-Cost Tips and Techniques for the Enterprising Author, Allworth, 2011; and Penny Sansevieri, Red Hot Internet Publicity: An Insider's Guide to Promoting Your Book on the Internet, Cosimo, 2009).

Lifting the Blog Fog

Tiptoeing closer, I’m still shy of FB and TW and have accepted colleagues’ kind cross-promotion offers to announce my book and appearances on their pages (I return the favor in reviews and mention of their works). Next, though, in the slip stream of the brave leap of Ms. Write and this blogsite, is my own blog. Among the 417 projects in every stage of development, I’m nevertheless bent on blogging only as an equally serious writing endeavor, not a rote assignment of 50-100-142 dribbling words to fill the virtual page. Rather, like Mitchard, I aim to produce little gems.

Not easy, granted. But the consolations are many. First, our conviction produces commitment to quality in our writing, whether blog or novel for submission to the National Endowment for the Arts fellowship program. Second, we reap that incomparable feeling that we’ve done our best. Third, our depth of writing almost guarantees that we’ll doubtless touch many who read our blogs. Fourth, we practice the undeniable discipline of the recommended minimums for effectiveness, from two to three times a week and at least 500 words. And fifth, more practically, we can metamorphose our blogs, with only a little coaxing, into full-fledged articles (one of Mitchard’s blogs I loved appeared as an article in Spirituality & Health; Fry has converted many blogs into articles).

Notwithstanding all these perks, I must admit that the promised regularity alarms me. But, hell, I did Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages daily (okay, mostly nightly) for seven years, produced 1200-1500-word columns monthly for three publications (each column took two weeks from first note to final draft). And for over three years have shown up almost on time for my twice-weekly gym workouts.

Writer’s Blog

So, I have come to see the blog as an intelligent conversation between and among writers and other creatives, as Cameron calls us. This perspective makes the blog nothing less than—pardon the gravitas—a trust. It’s a pledge between writer-blogger and writer-reader to speak honestly and helpfully, to exchange empathically, and to respond thoughtfully and (one hopes) eloquently.

The blog, then, is not a dashing-off but a sinking-in, a diving-in with the same grateful fullness we bring to our poems-in-draft and novels-in-progress. To write with such understanding and acceptance, whether in many or few words, phrases, or characters, we raise the standards of social media. We honor our profession, dedication, and talent. And we honor our readers and fellow writers by blogging to our best.

© 2011 Noelle Sterne

Bio: Author, editor, writing coach, and spiritual counselor, Noelle Sterne has published over 250 articles, essays, stories, and poems in print and online venues, including The Writer, Writer’s Digest, Writers’ Journal, 11.11, Soulful Living, and Unity Magazine. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, Noelle for over 28 years has helped doctoral candidates complete their dissertations (finally). In her new book, Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books), she uses “practical spirituality” and examples from her consulting practice and other aspects of life to help readers let go of regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. She will be speaking about her book and responding to callers’ questions August 15, 2011, at 2:00pm Central time on Unity Online Radio’s Village Events and Voices, hosted by Dean Ted Collins

Visit Noelle’s website at

An essay on Noelle’s own recognition and reframing of the past appears in The Moment I Knew: Reflections from Women on Life's Defining Moments (Sugati Publications, August 2011). On August 28, 2011, from 5:00pm to 7:00pm Eastern time, Noelle will moderate a national book salon of authors in this volume discussing their work and women writing. The discussion is on Firedoglake: Readers are invited to participate.

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