12 August 2012

Part III – Managing Social Media: Val’s Tools & Hardcore Suggestions

Before I give you tips on how to:

put a few tools in your toolbox for fixing social media woes,

Do the Most Important Thing First -

Good. Now, let me clear up where I stand on social media. I am not against it. I’m on many social media sites. I’ve made some great friends there and have also kept up with writer friends who are as busy as I am. Social media is an important tool for connecting if used correctly.

For writers, however, it can be, as I’ve said before, a time suck. I hear more and more about writers and artists who can’t seem to manage their time since joining social media sites. I don’t need to say more about this. I hope, however, that the following tips and tools are helpful, and above all keep you writing. That’s my only goal here: to keep you writing.

In fact, this blog post is NOT about social media at all.

It’s about creating time to write and putting writing first.

Let’s get started with “Val’s Tool Kit”:

My Portable Office Admin Assistant
#1 Tool in Val’s Tool Kit

            Do you schedule your writing time? Why not? We schedule doctor’s appointments, kid’s after school activities, our jobs, our vacations. Do you keep that all in your head? No, you use a calendar.
            I have a calendar that I call my “Administrative Assistant.” It makes me feel as if I have a secretary and puts my writing into terms of “going to work,” making it important.
            Mine’s an old-fashioned Day Timer-type calendar with my writing time scheduled into it, weeks in advance. That prevents me from scheduling any other social events on that day. As a writer, I prefer using the old fashioned type of calendar for a number of reasons. (I love my iPhone, but its calendar is useless. I also have a house calendar for the rest of my life.)
            Check out the photo above. That’s an actual week from my calendar. I’m a visual person, so I created a simple visual method. I use a diagonal line for writing related activities. Every Monday and Friday I write at our local Barnes and Noble Café. (I’d love to work at my favorite independent bookstore, Tsunami Books, but I know too many people who come and go there and, therefore, I’d be managing the socializing aspect and I don’t want to.) B&N’s café offers me a table, and I can buy my tea and food there. Those two writing days each week are sacrosanct. The reason I don’t work at home much anymore is that my husband’s retired. ‘Nuff said.
            Tuesdays are divided up between my writing group and writing days.
            Thursday is my day to meet with best friend and creative soul mate Jan Eliot. Jan and I have been meeting for twenty-three years in order to keep our creative lives on track by talking about issues that effect us and to track yearly goals we set in January. Another diagonal line there.
            I scheduled time this week for writing my blog and social media. See separate section for this.
            For everything else, I use a vertical line to show it has nothing to do with my profession. (Notice I use the word “profession.” Start using it. That helps develop a sense of priorities. Even if you’re a lawyer by trade, writing is your profession—if you want it to be.)

My Weekly To Do List
#2 Tool in Val’s Tool Kit

            I work best with a TO-DO LIST. If I don’t write down the major needs for the week, they often don’t get done. The list is divided into major components: BIZ (this is for paying bills, communications, errands in town, returning phone calls, etc. all related to my writing profession); MY NOVEL (where I write down everything I want to accomplish that week on my writing); MY CLIENT (I always schedule Wed. for working on my client’s poetry marketing); other MAJOR PROJECTS (I’m organizing the upcoming Oregon Writers Colony Founders Day weekend this month); and last, but not least, SOCIAL MEDIA.
            My To-Do List is written on a large sticky note that fits in my calendar admin assistant.

-------   Scheduling social media   -------

            Here’s the thing—psychologically, we can fool ourselves into believing that everything we do online is related to writing. Research. Networking. Marketing. Keeping current. Checking out the competition. Finding ideas.
            We’re creative beings. We can justify any use of the internet.
            And isn’t that where we get in trouble?
            Let’s look at an example:       
            Say you’re writing a scene in your historical novel where you need to know if Boston Commons had a pond in 1854. You get online, Google the many permutations of “Boston Commons pond 1854.”
            You can’t find the answer, although some of the research points to the possibility. 
           “Wait!” you say. “I can post this to LinkedIn, Women Writing the West Yahoo Users Group, and Facebook. One of my historian friends will know.”
            You post the question.
            But as you’re posting, you see someone has posted an article on a new service for writers that grabs your attention. When you follow that, you see a YouTube video for a new novel you’ve heard about and you watch it, justifying that you, also, will need to create a trailer for your novel when it’s published. Two hours later, you’re reading a blog post about “ten fixes for your novel’s saggy middle” because you’re in the middle of your novel.
            Sound familiar?
            Yes, and you can justify all these side trips because they have something to do with writing. (From experience, I know many side trips have nothing to do with writing.)

            Bravo to those of you who have the self-discipline to stop when you’re done with your research.
            For the rest of you? Here’s what to do.
            Don’t get online.
            Do the research later during scheduled internet time.

            I can hear you now. “But I need to know that information before I can continue on with my story.”
            No, you don’t.
            Journalists write drafts all the time without stopping every paragraph to do research. They don’t interrupt the flow of their writing if they can help it. They leave the unknown fact out, replacing it with the letters tk. (tk = To Come, the phonetic abbreviation used in journalism)
            I use a highlighted tktktktkt so I can easily find it later. Later, during my scheduled time to be online, I’ll do my research.
            If your brain right now is scrambling for a reason not to do this, I can provide one: “I need to know that info for plot purposes.”
            Nah, not buying it. Sorry. Story elements can always be changed later. What you really need to do is keep writing. If there is no pond for your character to drown in, kill him another way. Besides, we usually do this type of research ahead of time while forming the plot in our head.
            My big rule for myself is “Try never to leave the page. Keep writing.”

            (I couldn’t remember what tk stood for so I looked it up after I wrote a draft of this blog and then plugged it in. Yay! I'm following my own advice!)

“But I Found this Great Article and I had to Read It”
#3 Tool in Val’s Tool Kit

            Ok, so you went online anyway, ignoring my “research later/schedule online time” advice, and you found an important article on “ten fixes for your novel’s saggy middle.” You swear you needed to read it.
            Really? Bet you didn’t need to read it at that moment. Bet you've made up a justification for the time you spent reading it. Bet you interrupted your writing flow. (Yes, I’m trying to make you feel guilty.)
            No, you didn’t need to read it right away. Be honest. You could have read it in the evening without your world falling apart. Right?
            So let’s look at the real motive for needing to read that article right then.
            Quite simply, you could have been procrastinating. More likely, you, as I always was, were afraid you’d forget it, afraid you wouldn’t get to read it because it would be hard to find again. It would bug you if you left that page. You won't bookmark it because you have a million bookmarks.

            Breathe! I have a solution.
            This is my all-time favorite tool:  Evernote
            This brilliant program saves web articles or whole html pages, Word docs, pdfs, and photos. It lets you create notebooks to file them in and then synchs them to all your other electronic devices such as your iPhone, iPad or Kindle. I have a Kindle, so I can read my saved articles on the go. Evernote is my library, and it’s super easy to use.
            File folders I created in Evernote include: NEED TO READ ASAP, Agents, Blog Ideas, Book Promo, Concept/Query/Synopsis, Craft, Editing, Inspiration, Marketing, Pinterest, Publishing, Query Letters/Samples, Quotations, Reading, Self Publishing, Social Media, Web Site, Writers Resources. I also have folders for my novels and research-related files.
            This tool is my “fantasy” admin assistant's file system. I can’t sing its praises high or loud enough.
            I also keep notes on it, like the list of hashtags I use on Twitter. If I’m in town and need to send a Tweet to a hashtag group, I can quickly look it up on my phone because Evernote synched everything, including changes I made. If I'm riding in the car and I post on my iPhone, it synchs to your computer. 

But I Want It Now!
#4 Tool in Val’s Tool Kit
            This one is so simple.
            A DO TODAY! desktop folder
            Let’s say you find an historical photo that would be great to pin to Pinterest. You’ve done really well by going online and finding a map of Boston in 1854. (You weren’t supposed to go online, but this time you did, found what you needed, and got off right away because you were afraid Val was looking over your shoulder. Bravo!)
            Should you open Pinterest and pin the photo?
            You know what happens when you do that. You get sucked into looking at other photos and another hour is kaput.
            Instead, pop that photo into the DO TODAY! folder. At the end of your writing day, during your scheduled online time, you open the folder and handle everything you put in it during the day.

The Goddess Gave Us Sticky Notes
#5 Tool in Val’s Tool Box
            Yes, Sticky Notes. Simple. Instead of going online to check a spelling of a foreign word, type in tk, write yourself a sticky note, and put it on your desk, lamp or calendar, someplace that’s not your computer where it can distract you. At the end of the day, you check your DO TODAY! folder and take care of your sticky notes.

“I Still Get Sucked In”
#6 Tool in Val’s Tool Box

            This is the simplest and most effective tool I have.
            My iPhone clock timer. 

            Any timer works. I set the timer for 30-minute increments when I’m working on my client, working on research, working online.
            Thirty-minute increments work best for me because an hour seems too long. Thirty minutes passes quickly, and I’m ready for another 30 minutes. The timer helps me stay focused. I’m less apt to waste time, especially on social media. If I set my timer, I hurry! Especially if I’ve allotted myself only an hour.
            Maybe this would work for you with writing. I don’t know. I don’t need a timer for writing. Once I’m in it, I’m gone.
Now for one of the biggest problems writers seem to have:

Getting My Butt in the Chair
#7 Tool in Val’s Tool Box

            This seems to be the worst offender for me—getting my butt into my chair. Once I’m there, I’m good to go.
            I’ve developed two ways to make this difficult body part sit down.
            For at home:
            Create a Ritual.
            Before I procrastinate by doing laundry or dishes, I shut off all the phones, home and cell. This signals to me that I’m serious about shutting the world out so I can write. Then I make a cup of tea and take my laptop to the bedroom where our big slider looks out over the back meadow. Why there? Because it’s away from my office, the magazines I need to read, my client’s pile of submissions, and other distractions. The bedroom is peaceful and I’m not tempted to do anything else. Yes, I have Wifi, but for some reason, when I’m in the bedroom, I’m not so tempted.
            Whatever you do, make it special to the writing process. Light a candle. Meditate for 10-15 minutes. Fill a page with stream of consciousness writing. Make a list of those ten things you’re grateful for. Doodle for five minutes. Reread the last ten pages you wrote in hard copy.

            Go someplace away from home that feels like you’re going to work.
            On Mondays and Fridays, I get up in the morning, shower, get dressed, pack my computer case, and head to town where I work in the café at Barnes and Noble. I also have a writing pal who does the same, so we’re reinforcing this with each other.
            When I’m in town, I have no dog to walk, no unexpected visitor, no family calls, and all noise is not my noise. If I’m distracted by loud voices nearby, I put on my headphones and listen to instrumental music. I work 9-3:30. At lunch, I take a break and read a few chapters in the latest novel I’m reading or check out the new arrivals in the bookstore.

“I’m Addicted”
Badass Tools for the Hardcore

            So you confess: you’re an internet junkie. Well, there are a few tools left to help if you’re willing to take a hardline with yourself.
·      Work at a place other than your home like I do, but choose a place that doesn’t have WiFi
·      Have your husband or wife take your modem to work
·      Use software like Freedom. This software lets you choose a certain amount of time you want to be offline, then shuts you out. Yup. It won’t let you back online no matter what you do.
·      Make a contract with a friend or writer; call each other at a certain time to say, “Start writing,” and then call each other at the allotted time when you’re done. Accountability to others sometimes works better than accountability to ourselves.

Bottom Line

            Warning: I’m getting tough here.
            If none of this helps you, then you really don’t want to write that badly. Writers need to write. They simply cannot NOT write. It’s not always about self-discipline. It’s about passion. It’s about doing what you love. It doesn’t matter what you write. It matters that you have to write.
           Sorry, but if you keep talking about writing and you’re not writing, then you’re not a writer.


A Word About Blogging

            I started out loving the act of blogging every week. But I love writing novels more. At first I felt guilty when I took a hiatus this year and didn’t blog for two months. I felt guilty because this was something I started and I felt as if I had to stick with what I started—blogging every week.
            But I realized it had more to do with how badly I handled it. I didn’t let you, the readers, know that I was taking a hiatus. I didn’t tell you why right at the start. That would have been the right course of action. Later I wrote about why I didn’t blog for two months, but that was too late. I apologize. Sometimes I forget the good manners my mother instilled in me.
            I have switched to blogging when I can, preferably every two to three weeks. If I take another lengthy hiatus, I’ll let you know.
            This, of course, is a cautionary tale if you’re thinking about starting a blog. Everything when it’s new is fun. Well, almost everything. Give it a good amount of consideration. Talk to people close to you, people who know your habits and how you work. Make sure you can keep up your blog or, if you start and decide you don’t like blogging, let your readers know and then take down the blog. (See Kristen Lamb’s post below) I understand that, if you’re a writer, you’re trying to create an online presence and blogging sometimes fits. But if it doesn’t, don’t do it because you’ve been told you have to do it. Find a different way. Like Cheryl Strayed in my last post. Right from the start, she decided to work the heck out of her Facebook page.

Social Media for Published and Yet-to-be Published Authors

            Here’s the distinction between social media for published and yet-to-be published authors:
            You will, at some time, need to have an online presence. You can wait until you sell your novel to create an online presence. Or you can create it now, become comfortable with it, build it while writing your novel or memoir. All agents and publishers will expect this of you. If you do create an online presence while you’re writing your novel, this presence will give you leverage with agents and editors. They will see that you’re serious about writing as a career. If they can Google your name and it pops up on a long list of search results, that is going to make them very happy and give you an edge in the final verdict of whether you are publishable.
            Nothing, however, beats a page-turner of a manuscript, luscious prose, or the uniqueness of your story. And what does that mean?

            Do the most important thing first:  WRITE

A Last Confession

            I’m a creative person. My needs change. I might be on Facebook a lot, and then find myself back to blogging. I have a tough time with Twitter because I like immersion. LinkedIn hasn’t yet satisfied my needs as a writer. SheWrites is one of the most supportive social networks out there, but I had to stop the posts from being delivered to my email because everyone there is soooo supportive! I also regularly purge my email subscriptions.
            A last word of advice: be selective about the social media you choose to use. I have not joined Google+ because it seems to duplicate what I already have. That may change when I publish my novel.

            I love staying in touch with you. I love telling personal stories and helping writers when I can. I’m not a born teacher. But I do like passing on what I’ve learned.
            I hope you find something in this post that will keep you writing. And if you have something to add that would be helpful for other writers, please share it with us by leaving a comment.

            Keep those words flowing,

From agent Rachelle Gardner’s blog:

From Social Media Guru Kristen Lamb:

Graciously accepting (although very late) a blog award
Where I Work: a photographic peek into my writing spaces
A Confession: What happened after my six readers responded to my novel