Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to My Deadline…

My last pair of deadlines nearly did me in. Truly, there were times when I wasn’t sure I was going to make them. Since I have yet to miss a deadline, that would have traumatized me utterly. So in a desperate bit to free up enough time and limit the distractions in my life, I radically unplugged.

Now I have unplugged for a day or two in the past, taken a cyber vacation, but this was different. I did a very daring thing: I un-bookmarked all my normal writing blogs and industry haunts. Just deleted them from my bookmark list and toolbar.

And you know what? It was hugely freeing. I felt this great big whoosh of energy come into my life. I discovered I loved all that quiet. I didn’t miss my daily distractions one single bit. Because in retrospect, that’s what they were. Distractions. And that revelation had me reevaluating the way I use my time on the internet.

The truth of it is, at one point in time, I loved talking about books and the industry and literature. Well the truth is, I still love talking about books and literature. However, as a published author, I feel that a lot of my conversation is restricted. This is a small industry after all, and authors always find out when someone publicly says something less than enthusiastic about their work. That makes it very hard to enter some of these conversations.

I also used to love keeping up on the industry and what different agents and editors were looking for. But once writing became my full time job, something shifted. It was no longer energizing or uplifting or stimulating, or even due diligence. It became a weight on my creativity. And now that I do this for a living, that creativity has an honored position in my house; front and center.

I am also not one to step into a hot topic and therefore tend to avoid the kerfuffles and occasionally vigorous conversations that swirl around the cybersphere. Recently a writer received some criticism for not making a public statement regarding a controversy pertaining to her book. Some people felt it was her job to argue for her book; she should have expected the need to engage in back and forth regarding her work. Honestly? The mere thought of that horrified me. I would rather have my wisdom teeth pulled than engage in a public dialog about my work. There is no way you can win that one. If you are lucky enough to have the objectivity needed, no one will believe that you do. But few people are that objective to begin with.

So I discovered that a number of my previous cyber haunts were mostly habit, they weren’t feeding my current needs, the needs of my career, or my publishing goals.

Yes, there is value to keeping abreast of market and industry considerations. To a point. But oftentimes people get waaaay too focused on that, long before they need to. Often before they’ve even finished a first draft of their manuscript. I am also very happy with my current agent and editor, so I don’t feel compelled to know what Publishers X, Y, & Z are looking for. There went another dozen sites and blogs.

I paid close attention to what sorts of interactions I was missing and have now decided to take some very smart advice from top marketing guru Seth Godin to heart. He talks repeatedly about excelling at one thing rather than diffusing your energies ineffectively over many. If you blog well or are a great tweeter, consider using the other platforms to support that primary focus, rather than spreading yourself too thin over all of them. I enjoy blogs, even though many claim they are passé. I like the longer length of the blog format, for both reading and writing so that is where I am spending my energy.

I know there are many introverts who use it successfully, but Twitter still strikes me as a very extroverted media. You have to enter into hundreds of conversations at once, and as Deva Fegan said in a recent blog post, sift through mountains of data to find the few applicable nuggets. Twitter advocates will tell you that being a part of that conversation is where the true benefit of Twitter lies, but to me it is the cyber equivalent of a ginormous cocktail party with all of its required small talk, so I've decided to take my publicist's advice and use it to augment my blogging rather than feel it is something I need to fully embrace.

Now clearly these were my criteria and what worked for me, but I thought I'd share some of the questions I asked myself when considering which blogs and sites to eliminate. Maybe you’ll find them helpful at some point when you want to re-evaluate your cyber habits and see if they are in line with your own publishing goals.

Which blogs/sites/platforms feed my process? Which don’t?

Do I really need this type of information at this point in my career?

Is this information stuff I can actually do something with? If not, does it add too much anxiety or background noise?

How does it make me a better writer?

Does it make me more effective in reaching my intended audience?

Does it pertain to my specific marketing path and personal career goals?

Mitali Perkins is someone who has become quite an industry presence, but she also tweeted over 50,000 words last year. Another blogger I know spends 30 hours a week on her blog. Look at your own personal career goals and ask yourself if this is really where you want to spend your energy. It is very possible that it IS where you want to spend your energy, and if so, fine. But just make sure it is your choice and your decision, not a default setting. It all boils down to our limited amounts of energy, and this is especially true for introverts.

I'd be curious to know what blogs/sites/haunts other introverts have on their must read list. Most especially the ones you do simply because you love them or they feed some part of your process or soul. For example, one of mine is Nathan Bransford's blog, even though I am not in the market for an agent nor do I think he represents what I write--but I love his blog voice and his general outlook on life and all things publishing. I read Deanna Raybourn's blog because I love her books and her daily blog voice simply entertains me. What about you?

26 comments:

Sommer Leigh said...

I have a long list that I keep to read over on occasion, but I find there are only a couple of people I read every day and/or look forward to when they do post. Nathan is one of my must-reads as well.

I read John Scalzi (http://whatever.scalzi.com/) everyday. I think he gets to the heart of industry news more accessibly than most. I also love his no nonsense voice and the way he supports other authors.

I read Jackson Pearce (http://watchmebe.livejournal.com/) because she is the most sweet, open, caring voice I've ever seen on the internet and it brings me joy to read her and watch her vlogs.

And Bookshelves of Doom. (http://bookshelvesofdoom.blogs.com/bookshelves_of_doom/) I couldn't tell you why exactly I race to read her blog everyday, but I do and I enjoy all of her posts even when we disagree about a book.

I really love Scott Westerfeld's blog, but he does not post very often so I don't check it very often.

Finally, I agree with you about twitter. I am not a published author yet, but I'm working very hard to finish editing my manuscript and I've got all my fingers crossed for the future, and in doing so I am branching out into all areas of media looking for my best "fit" and I have to admit, Twitter is not it. It often feels like standing in a very crowded party trying to talk to someone across the room and no one can hear you and you can't understand any other conversation because you're only catching snippets over the loud music.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

This is so interesting to read today. I've just stepped back from posting five days a week to three. I have no interest in Twitter (though I think I've seen it mentioned in my tentative marketing plan. Maybe I can use your approach).

I think I also need to weed. Thanks.

Irene Latham said...

Robin, I feel like you climbed right inside my head on this one! I am a firm believer in the "ignorance is bliss" school, in terms of sheltering my creativity. And what's crazy is, we're told over and over, "knowledge is power." And yes, it is. But there's also the ugly flipside. So thanks for making my argument for me... and to you and Mary for SVP, which is on my Necessary List. xxoo

Feywriter said...

This is such perfect timing for me! One of my goals for April is to do Spring Cleaning on my computer - digging through my bookmarks and blog feeds to dust cobwebs, streamline, organize, and throw out whatever isn't working for me.

Nathan Bransford is also on my must read list. His weekly publishing news highlights a lot of great blog posts, so I don't have to follow this long list of blogs on a regular basis.

Another I enjoy is Writer Unboxed (http://writerunboxed.com/). It's a group of writers that blog about the craft and business. I love reading the different viewpoints on the same topic, which really helps to delve deeper into queries or point of view. I found it after Googling one of my favorite authors: Juliet Marillier.

Anonymous said...

May Sarton's journals, which she kept in the days before the Internet, suggest that a writer's life was ever thus. Except in her day, what swamped her was mostly the written correspondence. She constantly bemoaned the distractions caused by the piles of letters and invitations, and her guilt over never quite getting to it all.

For me, social networking is still much more a plus than a minus (which, I suppose, is why I do it). I like the blog format most of all because I like to develop ideas over a couple of paragraphs, which you can't really do on Twitter. I think Twitter is best at spreading up-to-the-minute news, and very brief messages such as "Loved your book!" or "Saw this link & thought of you!"

I've managed to be the only person in the world not on Facebook, because I had to draw the line somewhere if I wanted to get any writing done. And in my choice between a closed network, where people have to register before they can read your page, or an open network like my blog, I would much rather use an open network.

Jenn Hubbard, aka writerjenn

R.L. LaFevers said...

Sommer, that is an EXCELLENT description of Twitter!

Caroline, I hope those two fewer days of blogging free up some great creative energy for you!

So glad to have made your argument for you, Irene! And very nice to know we're on your Must Read List!

LOL, Feywriter. I wonder if Nathan's ears are burning today. :-) And I adore Writer Unboxed as well. It features two of my favorite authors, Barbara Samuel and Juliet Marillier, as well as Donald Maass, who is one of the great proponents of the Writing a Great Book is the Best Marketing Advice angle.

Jenn, how intriguing that writers were struggling with this even before the internet. There is something both comforting and discouraging about that. And I think your point about a closed network versus an open one for marketing purposes is a great one!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for giving us permission not to read so many blogs or to use twitter, which I don't use. I think it's harder for us who aren't published not to try to develop a web presence. But I agree with you. It takes a lot of time, especially if you are trying to squeeze in time to write/blog with a full time job. It's 9:00 pm almost and I'm finally shutting off my computer and going to read a book. Thank you for suggesting moderation.

C.K. said...

I feel that most industry talk eats away at my creativity too - I burned out on the industry info long before I ever got published so mostly I just try to stay away from it now.

And it sounds like we share the same feelings about Twitter too! It makes me tired just thinking about it. Although I'd never say never I would definitely want to restrict how much energy and time I'd put into a Twitter account. At the moment even my FB account is languishing because when I spend any significant amount of time there it drains me of writing energy.

Most of the blogs on my must read list are not writing ones but human rights blogs, photoblogs, movie blogs, ones about media awareness. Basically when I'm not writing I'd rather focus on something else, otherwise I just feel too claustrophobic.

Kimberley Griffiths Little said...

LOVE. THIS. POST. I need to step away much more often - and I'm afraid I'm just so dang addicted. I'm skimming through 350 blogs a day because of all the must read editors/agents/book reviewers/industry news/friends/more friends. Links go to links which go to more links . . . it's getting exhausting. I find that I don't read BOOKS very much anymore and always have this ginormous stack that waits months to get through. When I write this all out here in this comment box, I think I'm nuts!

Gotta weed out the feeds . . .

But I have to say that I have made some wonderful friends on LJ and blogspot and for that, it has been worth it. But I need some discipline now!

Mike Jung said...

A great post that I suspect will be an evergreen for me. I like Twitter a lot - I use it partly to connect with people and partly to try and establish some kind of presence within the industry, and it's been very useful in both those respects. But I agree that it requires a significant effort to sift through all the chit-chat and personal conversations, which are tempting to join but usually don't provide much in the way of info I need. So I really try to moderate my tweet rate. I'm also a big devotee of Verla Kay's Blueboards, for both industry info and general camaraderie, and I've realized that I really just enjoy vlogging, but with all of these things it's very, very easy to feel like I MUST DO EVERY ONE OF THEM EVERY SINGLE DAY OR MY CAREER WILL BE DEAD AS A DOORNAIL BEFORE IT EVEN STARTS. And in my more rational moments I really believe that fear is just a lot of stuff and nonsense, because none of it matters if my manuscripts aren't up to snuff...

Robin L said...

Oh. My. Gawd. Kimberly, you might require an intervention! 350 blogs?? Just the thought makes me want to go lie down. You will be so shocked when you free up some time. Pinkie swear. I couldn't believe it.

Mike, I think you hit on a really important point. Well, two actually. 1) None of it means a dang thing if the writing isn't there yet. And 2) Writers, even pre-published writers, feel a tremendous pressure to do all they can to sell their books--even before they're written. Hard to block all that pressure out, but necessary.

Robin L said...

(Clearly working backwards here...)
Natalie, I think the other thing to keep in mind is that if you are on the web, you are going to hear a lot from the people who found success THROUGH the web. But there are also a ton of great, respectably selling authors who don't maintain a massive online presence.

C.K., very smart.Your restraint is a good example to us all. :-)

GhostFolk.com said...

I love you for writing this post, R.L. Thank you.

Dawn Maria said...

As I am about to begin a huge revision of my WIP, I feel like you've given me a lot to consider. My bookmarks are clogged with too much junk. Do I really need all that stuff there? I cut back on agent blogs months ago, but there are other distractions I don't need.

Thanks for this great post and the questions. What really matters is our writing.

storyqueen said...

This is a great post.
And maybe I liked it because I am a closet hermit...I dunno.

But sometimes it seems there is so much that you "should be doing", when really what you "should be doing" is to write the best book you can.

What I like best about blogs is the community of writers.

Shelley

Gregory K. said...

Robin - I think your series of questions are ones every person should ask themselves. You know I'm a big advocate of social media... but only with a plan. And a plan to me includes how, what, where and why you read not just how, what, where and why you post. Without a plan... without knowing your own goals, time spent online is more likely to be a waste than anything else (though often a fun waste).

I also work on efficiency - putting all my blog reading into my Google reader so it's there when I want it - and easy to delete when I'm busy - has enabled me to read so many more blogs in so much less time. I'd note that there are great ways to be efficient on Twitter, too, but I suspect even with them, it's still unlikely it'd be a place you call home.

Great post and congrats on getting past those deadlines!

Alex Beecroft said...

This is wonderful and very timely advice for me. I think I will go and set all my yahoo groups to no-mail immediately. With all this networking, I'm not finding time or energy to write.
Thank you!

Jean Reidy said...

Thanks for this Robin. My Google Reader could use some cleaning. That and my TweetDeck are feeling a little weighty right now. Due to a Comcast issue, I was without the internet for two days last week. While I didn't enjoy it, I got loads accomplished. My cyber life is not so much of a distraction as a bit of an obligation these days. Thanks for giving me permission to free it up a bit.

Beautiful said...

Perfectly said. I've been thinking aout this exact thing. I post once a week, and due to my job/family can't alwas do that. I write off computer hard copy, go over it several times, give it a week to sit and then post.
I either tweet daily or every couple days something that is on my mind or a quote from my posts to remind people I am still there.

kathrynjankowski said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kathrynjankowski said...

I began the year by focusing on my work and limiting web visits. Did wonders for my creativity and productivity.
Now it looks like the Internet is beginning to suck up my time again and I'll have to make it off-limits until my writing goals are met.
I love the blogosphere, but my writing has to come first.
;-)

fourdaysaweek said...

Robin,

Thanks for your post. Slowly, I have been giving myself permission to not read every agent and writing blog on my list. Lack of time dictated this decision. First there was guilt, then there was lightness and freedom. I kept this in mind when planning for my website, which was recently launched. I wanted to give readers the space and time to read each blog entry. I blog only on Mondays at MONDAY MUSINGS, where we encourage and explore our passions, give voice to our wishes, and celebrate the joys that will always come from trying. I recently joined Twitter, but I have no plans to join Facebook. I do fear not having enough time to write my novels, hold a full-time job, and keep up with a new business. At the moment, I have sacrificed sleep and almost all television.

I continue to read Nathan Bransford's blog. I stop by here every now and then. Thank you.

Carol Grannick said...

Thank you...Just - thank you.

Lisa Lenard-Cook said...

Hi Robin,
I had nothing from which to unplug, but have now bookmarked your blog, thanks to Nathan Bransford. Keep up the good work. Miss you! Hugs, ~L

R.L. LaFevers said...

LOL, you're welcome, GhostFolk!

Dawn, so glad this post came at a helpful time for you!

Storyqueen, you'll find lots of closet hermits here, trust me! And those shoulds can just consume us if we let them, can't they?

Thanks Greg! And You are definitely one of the examples of Social Media DOs, but I think a huge reason for all that success in that arena is because it's a personal passion of yours. I keep meaning to set up a Google Reader. Some day soon.

Alex, that's it EXACTLY. If all our perceived networking obligations are sucking up all writing time and energy, what is the flippin' point??

Hi Jean! Good luck freeing up some room in your schedule!

Hey Beautiful (wow, that totally makes me sound like I'm trying to pick someone up in a bar, doesn't it?) That once a week thing works pretty well for us too here at Shrinking Violet. I also use that for my personal blog. I post once a week, but if I feel like it I can post more. I like the way you've incorporated Twitter. I'm going to try moving to that approach.

Nice to know that your internet reduction worked so well for your creativity and productivity, Karen. Because a resounding YES on the writing coming first.

Fourdaysaweek, it sounds to me like you've just nailed the recovery steps; first guilt, then lightness, and last freeedom. That sums it up perfectly!

You're so welcome, Carol!

R.L. LaFevers said...

Hey Lisa! SO good to see you here! (We must have been commenting at the exact same time.) We feel very honored to be one of your few bookmarks!