We sat down together in November, my delightful editor and I. Truly, Elizabeth is delightful. Soft-spoken, encouraging, joyful, savvy, and a real Powerhouse of a Person.
Elizabeth Gets Things Done.
So I sat down with her because I needed a little help with the whole social media aspect of this book publishing thing. My edits on this novel were very nearly complete at that point, and in this day and age, (almost) no writer is exempt from lending a helping hand when it comes to marketing and selling a book.
Which is fine. And understandable. After all, next to poetry, literary fiction is the toughest sell in books. And poetry doesn’t sell very well At All. Which is a shame. And also the subject of a different post.
The problem is that I am Not Good at social media. Yes, I have degrees in literature and communication arts, but the communication arts end of that was, for me, primarily about writing. I am averse to anything that smells of self-promotion. And this is true not because I am the rare, devoutly humble creature, but because I am the opposite, and I am trying to keep that whole I-Am-The-Center-of-the-World-Thing in check.
But that, too, should probably be the subject of a different post.
Here we have Elizabeth the Powerhouse and I sitting at the table, talking about social media way back in November. I sat with pen poised over notebook, and Elizabeth sat adjacent to me, smiling, offering me tea.
Imagine my surprise when, still smiling, Elizabeth turned the fire hose on me.
The blog needed to be updated in multiple ways–and even (perhaps?) moved. I needed a separate page–an author page–on Facebook. I should start an author newsletter and look into various designs to better decide how to create mine. I needed to start a Twitter account, and Instagram, and I needed to follow the right people on both of these (here she gave me some names).
She was still smiling, encouraging, oh-so-confident in my abilities. And I still sat adjacent, blinking, soaked.
After my blog–which still feels personal, like writing a letter to friends–Facebook was my first foray into social media. Since leaving my full-time job, I have been amazed and (sometimes) not a little dismayed at the time-suck it can be. Given a free minute, I surface to realize I’ve used ten of them just scrolling through my news-feed, *liking* things.
But it’s good, too: my husband calls it “the largest address book in the world.” Through it, I’ve become re-acquainted with long-lost friends and some distant family. It allows me to keep tabs on the doings and well-being (or not) of those far-flung and–often enough–close by. And there are times, frequent enough, when some group I’m affiliated with has a good or even hilarious conversation there. This can be a healing thing, minimizing, for a time, the enormity and overwhelming brokenness of the world.
Facebook is, in so many ways, simply great. And despite my occasional threats to erase my account, I never will. Too much of the world happens through Facebook. It has become important.
So I’ve updated the blog, as you can see. It’s just a new template, cleaner and clearer. But my lack of savvy is everywhere evident. Where is the “About Me” link? The connections to Facebook and Twitter? Where the list of popular posts or even list of posts at all? When I chose this design and worked with an intern on it last week, I thought I could see or at least could figure out what was necessary, but now I’ve spent more time on it and look. Nothing. I don’t know how to work this template, apparently, and I can’t seem to make it show me what it ought to, even if I log in as someone else.
Truth be told, there was never much of anything (was there anything?) in the “About Me” section. It’s that whole aversion-to-self-promotion thing–and of course that’s not wise. A blog is supposed to be an inviting place, a welcoming one. A place where one can engage with others over shared concerns and ideas. These things are not synonymous with self-promotion.
But my blog writing has always, always been about the writing. Sure, I wanted people to read it: one doesn’t write only for oneself. The idea of writing is communication–a word that shares a connotation with community. Fellowship is implied here. How does it go? “We read to know we are not alone.”
Still, when I sit down to write in my blog, the writing is the thing: what I’m going to try to say and how to go about it. That is my first and last concern. Always.
I have often said that my blog taught me how to write. But that posture doesn’t get people to read it.
There was a year–an academic year, 2012-13–in which I was writing full-time. I left my teaching job and, after the kids went to school every morning, it was my job to write.
The amount of time given me on any given day seemed nothing short of miracle. Having home-schooled my children before returning to full-time work, I could only imagine what it would be like to send them off to school and myself Stay At Home. What wouldn’t I accomplish?
But time is not our friend. At best, we guess at his machinations. The window of time between kid drop-off and pick-up was, it turned out, was very narrow indeed. I finished the novel by the skin of my teeth that year, and this required, moreover, a trip away from family to do so.
Now I am home-schooling once again–this time teaching a freshman in high school. And while she is largely independent, I am persistently surprised at the constraints and limits on my time. People need rides, people need dinner. The housework is that proverbially beaded and unknotted string. And home-school takes time, too. When I sit down to do anything having to do with my job as a writer, what I want is to actually write. I don’t want to learn Instagram. I don’t care to Tweet. I want someone else to figure out this blog-format-thing for me, and let me have at it with paper and pen, with clicking keyboard.
Petulant and spoiled? Obviously.
Instagram is a beautiful concept. I have come to enjoy it over the few months of my experimentation with it. And while my ratio of “followers” to “following” has me forever in the red (my daughter explains that one wants more to follow one than one wants to follow, if that makes sense), I decide not to let this bother me.
Which proves once again (exhibit 596) that I am Not Good at social media.
I do love the photographs, though. The pithy statements. For a person who loves and makes meaning in words, Instagram is a respite. I can look, admire, “like” and move on.
But I am no photographer. My phone camera is not the best one out there. My father is a truly stellar photographer; my daughter is also good. But the picture-taking thing is not my thing. I will sooner find words to describe the pale morning light on the bare branches outside my bedroom window than I will think to grab a camera.
Last week I managed to get up earlier than I have been doing, and two days in a row, sitting at the kitchen table, I saw her.
It was very cold, and both mornings she was wearing a coat with the hood up. The hood and the sleeves were fringed in fur; I could not see her face. She carried a hot-pink backpack on her back.
Clearly she was walking to school. The elementary school is up two hills and across a street from here, a pleasant commute. I think I heard her before I saw her that first day. She was singing loudly, belting out something or other to the otherwise empty trail and woods, the creek and birds that live behind our house.
I watched her walk, listened to her sing. I paused with her as she stood at the split-rail fence. The fence runs for only two lengths along the creek-bed where the creek itself runs under the trail, and the girl paused there and looked over the edge. What did she see?
She proceeded. She took tiny steps, her knees locked, playing a game with the movement. Then her steps lengthened and slowed. She kicked a a leaf. She turned and looked behind her where her early-morning shadow fell along the path. Then she walked again, legs straight, marching.
I was happy for her. All too often I see people walking by with faces locked into phones. This girl was unencumbered, her mind porous to any and everything.
I saw her walking in the cold, and I remembered walks like that when I was her age but in summer, living at my grandparents’ house on eastern Long Island and returning home from the beach through the woods. I was encumbered only by my damp towel, and the woods were mine, and the birds, and the way the light fell through the green. I could sing and no one would hear me–and I did sing.
I can’t put something like that on Twitter.
Twitter confounds me. What do they give you? 140 characters? 180? I don’t know. I don’t think in characters. I think–sometimes–in fonts, but never in number of characters. I am a novelist, for crying out loud. How in heaven’s name does a novelist use Twitter?
I have a deep appreciation for economy in language, and so I bring this much–in terms of appreciation–to Twitter. Economy and efficiency in language are laudable, and they are very real constraints in my work.
But the limitations in Twitter? What is that, a haiku?
It is, nonetheless, my task. It is my *next thing.* The lovely, gracious Elizabeth, fire hose dripping in her hand, made me a promise: “If you sell a million copies, I’ll let you get off Twitter.” That’s what she said.
So I’m off to put this on Facebook, to put it on Instagram, and to tweet this post, which will be my first tweet ever.
Not that I know how. I have to figure it out first.