Astute readers (or anyone proficient in the use of a calendar) will note that this is the first blog post I’ve written in a long time. Specifically, I haven’t posted since August 31. In blogging, that’s equivalent to half an eternity, especially if one is trying to build what we writers call “a platform.”
If you research how to break into the world of writing, you are going to run into a lot of material about building a writer’s platform and how critical it is these days. You quickly learn that publishers expect their writers to supply their own marketing of their books – unless they are among the handful of authors who are already household words whose works get most of the promotional budgets.
Some people even go so far as to say that an unpublished writer who has an existing platform – in the form of a blog with a lot of subscribers, a Facebook page with hundreds of friends, a Twitter account with hundreds of followers – is more likely to get a contract than writer with an equally good book who doesn’t have any of those things.
And if you’re going the self-publishing / e-publishing route, the platform becomes even more critical, because you not only have to do your own marketing, you have to make up for the fact that your book isn’t being stocked in bricks-and-mortar bookstores. There are no bookstore owners to charm into displaying the book and no book signing tours.
In this climate, it is easy to become absolutely obsessed with building the platform. I know that I have been. I worked very hard setting up this blog (not my first one, by a long shot, but perhaps the one I took the most care in setting up) and spent a lot of time trying to brainstorm ideas for posts. Additionally, I was diligent about trying to forge relationships with other writers, visiting their blogs and trying to comment on them. I even joined a platform-building campaign (along with hundreds of other writers) in pursuit of that goal. And in the several weeks that followed, I tried to keep up with everyone’s blog posts and to come up with things to post about on mine.
But I quickly found myself overwhelmed. I’m not claiming to have more commitments or to be busier than any other writers out there; the truth is, an awful of lot us are not just balancing writing activities, but also raising families, running businesses or holding down jobs, and all sorts of other things. In my case, I was starting a new job (albeit at part-time hours), being a single parent to my teenager, doing volunteer grassroots political organizing, trying to stay abreast of local and national politics, and helping to found a local writing critique group. This is in addition to keeping up with tens of blogs each day, maintaining friendships and contact with family members across the country, and writing entries to a few different fiction-writing contests.
Oh yeah, and writing a novel. Somehow, that managed to slide down the priority list as more and more obligations crowded onto my agenda.
I received a wake-up call a couple of weeks ago when I attended a meeting of the Willamette Writers (the oldest wrters organization in Oregon). The speaker was WW president and longtime professional writer Cynthia Whitcomb. While she’s primarily a screenwriter, she’s also written books, stage plays – pretty much whatever you can name. And she’s won awards doing it. So when she’s giving a talk on “Breaking into the writing business,” it’s a good idea to listen to her.
And while I listened, I realized that a whole lot of her advice boiled down to this: Write a whole lot of material. When Cynthia Whitcomb decided to become a screenwriter, she wrote twelve different screenplays (each in a different genre), one after the other. As each one was ready for submission, she sent it off. With each completed work, she gained more experience and got better at the craft. She didn’t worry about whether she was getting rejected (which she was, a lot). She just kept writing.
That night, I realized that while a platform is important, I had to stop giving it so much of my time. It’s not as though I was even creating very much content – most of my time has been spent reading everybody else’s. And the pressure to come up with really striking posts actually backfired on me; I’ve had a lot more stress-related migraines recently.
On top of everything, I haven’t been racking up the daily word counts on my novel as I had been before. I have been creating some shorter works as a result of the prompt-driven competitions I’ve been entering, so I consider those a very good use of my time. But it’s very clear that I need to shake up my priorities.
Long story short: the writing is Job One. I have a very exciting novel in the works, about half-way through the first draft. In the realm of work related to writing, this is the top priority. I can and will make exceptions when I have to produce a short story or something on a deadline for a contest, but that’s it. Writing the actual fiction is more important than blogging, more important than social media, more important than platform-building. Because without the finished novel and other fiction, I won’t have much use for a platform, will I?
I will also make time for critique groups and building relationships with writers face-to-face, because this is something that I’ve neglected and that I think is important. And I will resume building relationships with other writers online, because that is also important. I’m just not going to let it consume me.
I’m hoping that this revised approach to my life will make me more prolific, more interesting, and more fun. But I’ll settle for having fewer migraines!