Monday, November 28, 2011

The Curious Lifecycle of a Blog

There have been a lot of articles lately on whether or not blogs are dead or have been replaced by Twitter/Google Plus/Facebook etc. (There is a particularly brilliant post over on Roni Loren's blog about the ten stages of blogging, which is a must read. What stage are you?)

A lot of bloggers, some quite high profile, have expressed increasing blog fatigue. (Although for the record, I would like it noted that here at Shrinking Violet we copped to blog fatigue YEARS ago, and consequently instituted a rather robust hiatus policy. ☺ )

When Mary and I started this blog nearly five years ago, there simply weren’t many blogs on promotion or marketing for writers, and even fewer for introverted writers. In 2007 there were about 50 million blogs total, an intimidating enough figure. But in 2010 the number of blogs rose to152 million!

In addition to this blog, we both had personal blogs, my own going back to 2006. That’s a lot of blogging and it makes sense that at some point one would run out of things to say.

I haven’t hit that point yet. But. I do find I have less and less to say about marketing and promotion. There are now millions of blogs and sites out there that all talk about this, some ad nauseaum. And frankly, there’s not much I can say about the subject that I haven’t said before somewhere on this blog.

That doesn't mean I'm done blogging. What that does mean is that I won't be blogging as often. Especially with a couple of gnarly deadlines breathing down my neck and a whole calendar full of travel in the coming months. I simply need to give myself permission to take some of the pressure off.

I figured fellow introverts would be the most understanding.

I DO plan to be back, but it most likely won't be until after the holidays. At that point, I'm sure I will be starved for talking about all sorts of things.

I hope you all have a wonderful couple of months and use the time you aren't reading Shrinking Violets for recharging your batteries!

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Social Media Survival Guide by Jenn Reese

We've all seen them. They're as numerous and frequent as deer flies in high summer (and just as annoying): the constant stream of articles telling us how best to use social media, or  worse, how to become a social media MAVEN. Well dear Violets, into that cacophony comes the voice of reason. Jenn Reese's voice, to be exact. When I read this over on her blog, I just had to beg her to let me share it here, and she graciously agreed. It is truly the sanest, smartest  social media advice I've read yet.

My Social Media Survival Guide by Jenn Reese

What this post is: my guidelines for navigating the social media waters.

What this post isn’t: a set of instructions or guidelines for anyone beside me. We all use social media differently, use it for different reasons, and expect different results. I would never presume to tell anyone else how to achieve their specific goals.

Social media I use: Blog, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, Pinterest

Social media goals: Enjoy myself. Connect with existing friends. Make new friends. Laugh. Learn. Share opinions and links to things that inspire, tickle, intrigue, or outrage me. Goof off.


1. Respect that everyone’s Social Media Survival Guide is different.
We’re all different, want different things, have different lives and different tolerances for technology and being social. Don’t expect other people to share your goals and priorities. (This should be the Golden Rule of social media, in my opinion. Maybe this plus the next one…)

2. Be yourself.
Life’s in the details, and that’s what you get. Quirky passions, interests, foibles, and bad jokes. What I ate for breakfast, what I should have had for lunch, what my cats are doing RIGHT AT THIS MINUTE. These are the things that make us unique, even in the vast ocean of people who, on paper, look exactly like us.

3. Never track friends/followers/subscribers.
This isn’t a videogame or a race and I’m not judging success by numbers. Friends and acquaintances aren’t commodities and the only metric for success is if I’m having fun (see goals, above). Some corollaries:
  • Never use any service that tells you when someone stops following/subscribing/friending you. That way lies madness, heartache, and unnecessary hurt. Don’t do it to yourself.
  • Never get upset if someone stops following you. They’ve got their own Social Media Survival Guide and you should let them do what they need to do, guilt-free.
  • Never beg for followers. This makes the people who follow you already feel like livestock.
  • Don’t expect people you follow to follow you back. If you’re following them because they’re interesting, then it shouldn’t matter if they don’t follow you back. Again, they’ve got their own Guide.
  • You don’t need to follow everyone who follows you. Do whatever works for your life and lifestyle.
4. Don’t create social guilt or impose on others.
This goes back to respecting other people’s Survival Guides. People who care about you will try to please you even if it causes them stress. Just don’t put them in that position in the first place.
  • Don’t ask people to retweet, blog, or share anything. If they want to, they will. Asking them to creates obligation.
  • Don’t get upset if your friends don’t retweet, blog, or share something you wanted them to. You don’t know what’s going on in their lives, and you don’t know their Survival Guide. Don’t take it personally.
  • Don’t expect people — even close friends — to read all of your tweets, blog posts, status updates. If they don’t, for whatever reason, don’t take it personally. Their lives are about them, not about you.
  • Don’t expect people to respond to your comments all the time. It’s great if they do, but sometimes life gets in the way. It’s not always easy to respond to every tweet, blog comment, or “Like” of Facebook. Some people don’t even check their social media every day, and that’s fine. Respect other people’s Survival Guides.
That’s pretty much it: respect that we all have different Survival Guides, don’t take anything personally, don’t create obligation, and be yourself.

Feel free to share your Survival Guide tenants with me, but please remember that my list isn’t intended as an attack on your list. Unless we have exactly the same goals and the same lives, there’s no reason for us to have the same Survival Guide.

(And if none of you read this, share it, or retweet it, that’s perfectly okay.)

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Jenn Reese writes science fiction and fantasy adventure stories for readers of all ages. She has published short stories online and in various anthologies, including the World Fantasy Award-winning Paper Cities. Her first novel, Jade Tiger, is an action-adventure kung fu romance for teens and adults. Her newest book Above World, a middle grade adventure series for Candlewick Press will be available in February, 2012.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Writing as Therapy?

Over the years, I have heard people talk about writing being excellent therapy. Not writing in personal journals mind you, but writing fiction.

I laughed. Long and resoundingly. How self indulgent, I thought, to presume one’s inner struggles would be remotely interesting to anyone else. How narcissistic, to have yourself in the starring role of every piece of your fiction.

But dear reader, after fifteen books and over 17,000 logged hours of writing time, I am no longer laughing. Turn’s out, the joke’s on me.

For me, writing has been incredible therapy, albeit not in the way people told me it would. 

It has not provided me an avenue to work out my past and my own emotional baggage on the page. Instead, the hard work I do to make my writing better has spilled out into my non-writing life. How could it not? One of the first lessons we learn about characters is that whatever conflict they are going through affects all aspects of their lives. So when we as writers push ourselves to strive and grow, of course that is going to spill out into other aspects of our lives as well.

One of the things that became clear to me over the years was that writers must not only be keen observers of human nature, but must also understand what they see. They must be able to put it in a larger context, not just record the details. In order to create satisfying, transformative character arcs and journeys, we must become intimately acquainted with the human psyche.

I have spent years pouring over books discussing archetype and theme, character traits, and the psychology of story. In the process, I have learned much about myself—what motivates me, what role story has played in my life, what makes passions are, and what my hot buttons are. 

As I struggle to drill down to my most important core themes, to find my most unique voice and worldview, I have no choice but to discard all the masks I wear for the world, to set aside all the roles I play and pare down to the essence of my Self. Not to be self indulgent, but to create work as uniquely my own as I can. To serve the Story rather than the teller. To get the hell out of the way so that the characters can come to life on the page.

For someone who has worn masks all her life, who has been only too eager to be whoever you want or need me to be, this has been the riskiest thing I have ever done. And I would never have done that if not in pursuit of perfecting my craft, of trying take my stories and my characters farther and deeper.

When I put pieces of myself into my characters it is not in some misguided wish-fulfillment fantasy, but instead to help find a point of access to that character. To use that one aspect of myself or that one vivid memory to enter the fictional character’s body and soul.  To make them real to me so that I in turn can make them real on the page. It is like sourdough starter, or the fermented mash used for good scotch.

But in order to give my characters even just one small piece of me, I have to cobble together enough self-knowledge to understand that piece and what role it will play in my character’s journey.

And all that is aside and separate from learning just how much rejection I can take and still get back up again, how badly I want something, and what lengths I am willing to go to make it happen, what it feels like to follow your dreams, and reach them, stumble, then reach for them again. I have had to learn to be brave enough to admit to wanting, then braver still to put that wanting aside and forget about it as I focus on the work. Learn to love the work for its own sake.

So yes, it has been therapeutic. Not in the way pouring out one’s past to a therapist would be, but rather in the way that going on a long hard journey shows you things about yourself, teaches you lessons, strips away some of the veneer and leaves you more intimately acquainted with your essence, perhaps more than you are comfortable with. But writing—any creative process—is not about comfort. 

But then, neither is therapy.