A Case of the Not Enoughs

I’m constantly worried I’m not working hard enough on my writing. That I’m not writing enough. That I haven’t had enough life experience to write anything worthwhile. I’m already pretty sure I haven’t read widely enough even though it seems I’m always reading when I’m not writing. And I suspect I’m not revising enough, even though I’m not sure how I should approach that process differently.

Bottom line, I fear my attempts to better my craft just aren’t good enough.

It’s a debilitating spiral of negativity to be caught up in. But consider:

It is no longer enough to have a webpage. Writers must blog, tweet, share on Facebook. And the list of Thou Shalts keeps getting longer when it comes to social media. (On a side note, Paulo Campos over at yingle yangle has a great post on how social media affects people’s perception of writing success.)

It is no longer enough to land an agent. While agents are still a writer’s number one advocate in the publishing world, the writer still has the ultimate responsibility for selling, positioning, and managing their work. Now, this is nothing new. With so many aspiring writers out there, armed with record levels of literary, the market will favor those writers who can seemingly do it all.

Am I one of them? I don’t know yet as I’m still struggling with this notion: It is no longer enough to write a book.

I’ve written a book (and completed a number of solid drafts for other projects). One that I’m proud of. But is that enough in today’s marketplace? NO. I need to ensure both my idea and story execution are marketable. Competitive. The best I can make it and then some.

This means it is not enough to write for yourself. You must look past your own narrow view of the world. You must know your audience (Found in Translation by Michael Cunningham provides a fascinating take on how to envision the audience for your work). Ultimately you must have a built-in market if your book will win the struggle to stay relevant in our evolving digital culture.

When making the leap from writing for myself to writing for publication, aspects of my work that didn’t bother me before were thrown into sharp relief. I had to ask myself if my work was still good enough for a wider audience. And I didn’t like the answer.

It’s hard enough to write a book from start to finish. I don’t mean you have to write in a linear fashion, but that you actually complete the project (tinkering aside). When you hit that point, it can be a tremendous relief. After all, how many other people have great book ideas but get stymied by the execution? But then the real hard work looms ahead of you. Revision. After too many passes to count, you have a polished book, sure, but is it one people want to read? One you can market to publishing houses? One that people will plunk down money for?

Is it that good?

This is where I stumble every time. I just don’t know. I think my work is good. My few readers think so too. But is it good enough? Have I done enough? And if I haven’t, how do I take my work to the next level?

Am I overstating things here a bit? Probably. Am I so discouraged that I will stop linking words, creating dizzying chains of sentences that when fused together make for some awesome storytelling? Hell no. I started writing because I loved it. I won’t stop now. But I still think I haven’t done enough to get things right. I haven’t learned enough. But as always, I’m willing to try.

If this post is a little too grim for you, take a gander at the Agency Gatekeeper’s take on debut novelists and what they need to beat the odds:

What do you need? The ability to write really, really, really well. And a great query, a great first page, and The Jeff Herman Guide. Or another  method of finding agents who are likely to be a good fit.

 Until next week.
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Slow Blogging

Lots of theories abound when it comes to social media and how blogging should be utilized:

  • Post every day.
  • Respond to each and every comment.
  • Read and comment on other blogs indiscriminately.
  • Flaunt yourself as much as possible.

Trouble is, I’ve never been much of an exhibitionist. Admittedly, blogging is a bit of a contradiction for me. Every time I post, I put myself out there in the ether for public consideration – except I do this under an alias because I’m not ready to own up to being a wannabe writer unless I make it. So why do I do it? Because the benefits of writing practice and engagement with the larger writing community far outweigh the nuisances of blogging.

That said, I’d rather be working on my WIPs instead of putting together my next blog post. But when I do blog, I want my posts to be as strong as possible. I’ll revise, research, and let them sit until they’re ready. This takes time. I guess I’ve always preferred quality over quantity.

When it comes to commenting and interacting with others, it’s all about the content for me. Not the brown nosing, the contests, the polls. If I feel I can’t add to the discussion on someone else’s blog, I don’t bother to comment. Blasphemy, I know. I’m just not comfortable saying something for the sake of saying something. I like to think about things, and I don’t want to rattle off the first thing that comes to mind. Especially when it is so easy to follow things back to the source. I don’t want to be haunted by half-assed comments years from now.

So when I heard about the notion of slow blogging, I felt relieved that it wasn’t just me who took issue with the time pressure of producing content and interacting with others. The concept has been around for awhile now. Anne R. Allen provides a great overview of the movement with respect to writers, which I stumbled upon thanks to a post by Elizabeth Craig. If you want to know more, you can read the Slow Blogging Manifesto and a New York Times article on the movement.

So from here on forward, I will aim to post once a week – usually on Wednesdays.

Before, I loosely coupled my posting schedule to the number of trips I took to the coffee shop to write – roughly two times a week. It was an informal schedule at the best of times before it was utterly destroyed during the big move and subsequent babysitting of contractors over the last two months. But weekly blog posts? That I can get behind. People have talked about the benefits of having a posting schedule before (Elizabeth Craig again comes to mind), so we’ll see how it goes.

I see this move to slow(er) blogging as:

  • a way to help me handle the time pressure of blogging,
  • a justification of the pace of posting I’ve already unconsciously set,
  • a way to reinforce the quality over quantity criterion I’ve always valued,
  • a formal acknowledgement of my accountability to myself and my readers, and
  • a way to ensures I have time to do justice to the topics I post about.

Hurrah.

And if this builds in extra time for writing, who am I to complain?

I’ll also be tinkering with some of the labels and tags this week, so apologies for any inconsistencies on that front.
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Assessing My Blog’s Impact

Today is a special day. This is my 28th post, and if you look on the sidebar, as of this writing, I have 28 followers. One follower for every post I’ve written. That’s pretty cool for someone going into this whole blogging thing without many expectations.

I started this blog in late February 2010 and it’s now mid-May. And as you can see from the picture below, interest is taking off. Relatively speaking, of course.

Something that is both frightening and heartening at the same time. So I’m trying to make sense of where I’m at, where I’m going, and who I’m indebted to for making my little blog more visible.

To begin with, here are my top five posts overall:

Top Posts (in pageviews)

415   Coffee Shop Etiquette
244   Lessons Learned – My First Writing Conference
132   A Tale of Two Writing Groups
84     Resource Roundup Part 1 – Finding the Right Word
46     Anatomy of a Story

Total page views: 4,528

The first three I tweeted (via @bluemaven) and were picked up by some Influentials and their followers. The last two I tweeted and were picked up by others in the twitterverse, but not to the same extent as the top three.

@elizabethscraig has picked up a lot of my posts and retweeted them, and I credit a lot of my traffic to her. (You should be following her!) She scours the web on a daily basis and posts the best finds over the course of the day. And I know if something I post and tweet about doesn’t get picked up by her, then I just need to work harder on my next post. Kind of a built-in quality detector.

So what is immediately apparent, Twitter is my friend. This is confirmed when I take a look at my top 10 sources of traffic for my blog:

Traffic Sources (accounting for 791 of 854 unique visits or 92.6%)

178   Direct Link
156   Twitter.com
132   Inkygirl.com
103   Blogger.com
62     Lauramarcella.blogspot.com
51     Google.com
45     Stumbleupon.com
35     Blog.writersdigest.com
18     Hootsuite.com
11     Childrenspublishing.blogspot.com

Number 3 on the list, Inkygirl.com, featured Lessons Learned: My First Writing Conference on the website and it was tweeted widely by @inkyelbows and her twitter minions (you should be following her, if you aren’t already). Thanks to her influence, that post was featured by Writer’s Digest’s weekly blog feature Best Tweets for Writers, which sent an addition 35 people to my blog (source number 8 on the list). If this isn’t a convincing enough demonstration of how getting the attention of the Twitter Influentials can work for you, I don’t know what is.

Another big surprise was how much traffic Laura Marcella’s blog Wavy Lines generated for me. Laura’s been a great blogging buddy in terms of passing along awards and commenting on a regular basis. (Thanks again, Laura!) She has all the blogs she follows displayed on her sidebar, and I’m sure that has helped send some of her readers my way since her blog has really taken off thanks to all her hard work. The blogroll feature is something I don’t have on my site just yet, but after seeing what it has done for me in terms of increasing my visibility and gaining followers, I am thinking about adding it and providing the same benefits to others. Geez, this social networking does work.

Number 10 on the list, Adventures in Children’s Publishing, surprised me as well. They’ve been great followers and commenters, and recently featured my post A Tale of Two Writing Groups on their site. That sent another 11 people my way. You hear all the time how links are the lifeblood of blog traffic yada yada yada, but this really cemented that concept for me. Thanks, ladies!

All in all, I couldn’t be happier with the reception my posts have had and the followers I’ve gained here and on Twitter, and all in less than three months.

I’m encouraged, I’m honored, I’m thankful, and now I’m even more determined to keep up the hard work!

So to recap, here’s how I attribute my blog’s success so far:

  1. Using Twitter to bring in new readers.
  2. Following Twitter Influentials and others with similar interests, and hope they’ll take note.
  3. Reciprocating in terms of comments, following, and linking.
  4. Striving for quality in every post.

PS. All the data came from Google Analytics, which is tied to this site. There are other services out there. WordPress has analytics built in, and StatCounter is another free service you can use to monitor your blog.
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Why Blog?

Building a writing platform is all the rage these days. A few google searches will reveal hordes of articles and, yes, blog posts on the subject (a good place to start is here). Bottom line is you can’t start soon enough to build an audience for your output, even if your creative works are but a twinkle in your eye. And I have reluctantly jumped on the bandwagon.

I am not necessarily happy about this, mind you. While the internet and social media afford people unprecedented ways to connect to and engage with others, I can’t quite convince myself that the whole “if you build it, they will come and buy your books” mentality is something a beginning writer should be concerned with as opposed to say developing your craft. Plus I really don’t want to see the publishing industry devolve any further, becoming a popularity contest where followers = book deal and prose becomes little more than loosely linked tweets. Right now, good writing still holds sway regardless of your stats, if you believe what the agents say. And that’s a good thing.


So where does this leave me and my blog? Well, I have no expectations of grandeur for this little endeavor. It is just one more tool in my arsenal, another line I include in my query letters (whenever I get to the point of sending them out). One thing I keep hearing over and over again is that you can’t really take shortcuts when it comes to writing. You have to do everything, including following all the trends to be competitive. And when the trends say use social media to your advantage, you blog, you tweet, you do what you can to demonstrate your commitment. Or so they say.

While I would love to see my name in print, I am far more interested in documenting my trials and tribulations, my insights and inspirations that result from my foray into creative writing. If this blog evolves into something more, all the better.
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