My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Monday, May 24, 2021

I Learned Something Last Week (Meta Lessons in Writing—And Personal Update)

I learned two good writing lessons last week that I will share with you, one very logistical and the other more strategic. And because this is Writing About Writing, and that's the way we roll, I'm going to tell you all about them. They also weave in and out of some personal updates, so I guess you have to hear a little about my life.

First, a little background. Those of you following along know most of this already, but like any good series, I need a "Previously on Writing About Writing" to bring a casual viewer sitting down for the first time up to speed. 

During the pandemic I put in around 30 hours a week on nannying. Because of who could pod with my clients and have no exposure, I was alone in getting all the nanny hours I could handle—and even a few I couldn't. Sometimes my clients were able to give me a little less, and occasionally it went over. But 30 was about the average. For context, right before the pandemic started, I was trying to nanny 8-10 hours a week so that I could focus on writing. So for 16 months, I've been working about three times more hours at my non-writing job than I've needed or even wanted to.

Okay, but the cavalry has arrived, right? All's well that ends well. Other nanny is vaccinated and now I go back to the old schedule and we get back to life in the before time, right?

~sound of record scratching~

Well…not exactly. The transition is going a little slower than a flip-switch, which is totally understandable after 15 months. The other nanny has built a life in that time that can't just be dropped all at once. ("Ope. Pandemic's over. Smell ya later!") And even though I'm definitely already noticing my schedule starting to get a little easier, there are a lot of "OMG WE CAN DO THIS AGAIN!" moments that are kind of backed up in the "queue." I wrote a whole newsletter to my patrons about how the transition might be the hardest part. If for no other reason than, if one lines from end to end all the things they absolutely have been waiting until the pandemic calms down to do, they'd be completely busy for the next two months.

Last week my clients didn't need me in my traditional capacity. I did some cleaning, but the hours were flexible and light. It should have been a great time to dive back into the writing and knock out some power sessions on all the things I've been wanting to write lately. All those unblemished hours felt like the promised land to a writer who hasn't been writing because they're too busy. 

~new sound of record scratching~

Lesson 1 (the strategic existential touchy feely one): No matter how bad you want to be writing, it's really hard to shift gears on the fly. Give yourself some time.

Day in and day out—and to the howling protests of many—I bang one drum around here more than any other. And that is that folks who want to be working writers (certainly those who want to be household names or make some serious money) need to be writing daily, or almost daily. Even if it's just an hour or a half hour or sprucing up an email with the ol' razzle-dazzle.

I hear this story—or a variant—over and over again: "I couldn't write because of my schedule. But I knew that I would be able to write because I was about to get a week/ten weeks/a year off. But then when I got the time off, I still couldn't write." 

What happened to this person? Ask them and they will tell you (with absolute sincerity) that they want to be writing more than anything. What is going on? Alien Goa'uld parasite? Deeply self-unaware personas, the lot of them? Too much cheese? 

Unfortunately, the reason they're having trouble is most likely analogous to the reason someone can't just go from totally sedentary to running marathons in one step. (That's a pretty big step! ~snicker~) There usually needs to be a Couch to 5k in there somewhere. 

Writing is hard. It takes discipline to sit down when an idea isn't fresh and kicking, or when it starts to feel like work; if someone hasn't cultivated that discipline, they might be bequeathed all the time in the WORLD, but it won't make a difference. 

I write every day, but my sessions in the pandemic have shrunk to a few hours. So when I suddenly had eight, ten, twelve hours, I no longer had the stamina to keep up with what I wanted to be writing. I quickly bit off WAY more than I could chew because I was using pre-pandemic calculations for how quickly I could write. I just didn't have a ten-hour session in me anymore. I was "out of shape."

By the end of that week, I was writing closer to six hours without much trouble, and today I'm putting in a solid eight. I'm working back up to my writing pace, but it was never going to happen all at once. 

Lesson 2: Social media is a Faustian deal. (And Facebook might suck most of all.)

Social media creates an opportunity to do the self-promotion—self-promotion that ALL WRITERS (of any professional stature) must do—without sending off a hundred submissions a week and walking around your neighborhood putting your own book on commission at your local bookstores until your feet blister. Or without going to a dozen literary events as a guest so that you can earn the right to read at one. (It's considered impossibly rude, in writing circles, to only go to events if you're reading—unless you are like a featured speaker. Only going when YOU'RE up is a good way to not be invited back.) Or without sitting at an empty table for six hours at a convention, missing panel after panel you wanted to see so that you can sell five copies of your book (three to your friends who are clearly feeling sorry for you), eight people can come up to you, fiddle with your book, and put it back down, and twenty-four folks can ask you if you know where the closest bathroom is. 

I cannot stress this enough: social media is a game changer. 

However, basing your career and readership on social media is a terrible and wonderful situation to get into. It is like riding a wild T-rex. Their ass-covering policy decisions can literally tank your career. Or they can throttle their visibility algorithm and cut your readership by 90% because they're trying to get page admins to spend more money on advertising. Or maybe they send most of their mod team home for the duration of the pandemic and give the job to bots who can't tell the difference between satire and reality, or hyperbolic fixed phrases and death threats, or a glitch and spam. All things that have happened to me. 

Last week I wrote "I would kill to see my friends" and the bots tossed me in jail for 3 days. (The one-day ban about a month prior was from directly quoting someone who had used hate speech.) Then, almost as soon as I was out, I tried to post a meme from my phone, had a little trouble with it, tried a couple of times and now my account is flagged for spamming, and I can't post. I can't get a human to see that this is clearly a mistake. I can't tell how long I'm going to be unable to post. The lightning in a bottle that got me a million FB followers is amazing, but it's not really dependable. 

This is more than a little concerning considering that 90% of my readership comes through Facebook.

You're at the mercy of their whim and whimsy, and if they shut you down or ruin your career, you're an insignificant blip compared to their quest for profits. Diversify your social media presence. Have a backup person who can post if your account gets blocked. And be prepared to lose days of writing to this nonsense JUST like you would to driving around town and putting books on consignment.

That project is still going to get done—oh yes—but I'm working up to it this week. The first part of it will go up on Friday, and my early-access Patreon tier will then have a week with the main part, which will go live the following Friday. But in the course of trying to get it done last week, I learned two important lessons, and…as you know, I'm all about sharing those as soon as I learn them myself. 

~sound of record scratching~

Oh sorry…just pushed the wrong button there.

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