Balancing work, social media and, yes, writing

We all know how distracting social media can be. Sometimes I’ll sit down to work on a chapter of my book, turn to Twitter or Facebook or my blog just for a minute, and when I finally look up, it’s two hours later.

It’s not that I’m wasting time on these networks. I’m not playing Farmville or poking friends or throwing pigs at tweeps (if only that were possible). There’s simply so much information out there that I want to click on and read and share. So many interesting people to talk to. So much to learn.

I’ve been pretty good at balancing writing and social media for the last couple of years. I multitask efficiently and use tools like Hootsuite and Google Reader to make my online time as productive as possible.

You know you're not working on your manuscript enough when... your dog sleeps on it. Thank you, Cooper.

But ever since I made social media my job, balancing has become a problem. I’m spending more and more time on social networks, and less time writing. This makes sense in some ways, since helping small businesses with social media is how I’m now making money. I’m starting a business. Of course it’s filling more of my time.

But I’ve been neglecting my revisions, and those are important to me, too. A big part of the reason why I think it’s a good idea to work for myself is because it gives me the flexibility and the time to write. I can build up Socialexis and work on my book. Allegedly.

Here’s my problem. With social media, work is never done. There’s always more I can do. Know how you always want to push out one last tweet or connect with one more interesting person on She Writes? How you’re sure you can improve your online community and influence if you just put in one more hour? I’m now feeling that pressure not only for my personal networks, but also for my clients’ accounts. I want to do the best job I can for each client, and I’m always thinking of one more person to follow or a cool way to reach out on Facebook or a new networking tool we should use.

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Taking honesty to a new level (in your writing)

Writing an awesome memoir requires being honest with the reader.

This is pretty basic, Memoir Writing 101. You’ve got to reveal your true self through your story, because if you don’t, readers will know it. They might not be able to put their finger on it, but they’ll know something’s off. If you’re not completely and utterly honest, your voice won’t feel authentic and the story won’t work.

So we know the importance of being honest with the reader. But what about being honest with yourself?

During my last round of revisions, I kept feeling like something was missing from my story arc, from my tale of personal growth. It took a lot of digging, but I finally realized I wasn’t being completely honest with myself about why I chose to travel alone.

I’m not going to tell you exactly how this plays out in my manuscript because it’s crucial to my book’s theme, and I don’t want to give it away. It has to do with my deep-down fears and how they affect how I live. But my point here is that it took me this long — I’ve been working on my memoir now for a year and a half — for this light bulb to go off in my head. It took me this long to peel back the layers (cue the onion analogy) and see my story for what it really is, and to see myself for who I really am.

Let me tell you, I never expected to confront — or even think about — my fears through this memoir. After all, I’m writing a fun story of adventure travel! But the story arc gets stronger every time I peel back one of those layers. And I’ve peeled back so many by this point that I’m recognizing pieces of myself that I didn’t know existed. I never knew I had grown in this particular way until now. That’s the coolest thing about writing memoir — It has forced me to analyze myself, my motivations and my goals, and helped me learn more about me.

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So next time you sit down to work on your personal essay or life story or even understand the motivations behind a character in your novel, take the whole being-honest approach to the next level. Don’t just ask yourself whether you’re being honest with readers. Think hard about whether you’re being honest with yourself.

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Writers’ Roundup: June 25

Just finished yet another revision of the manuscript! It changed and improved more dramatically this time than ever before. Super excited.

My favorite links from this week:

What’d I miss?

Writers’ Roundup: March 26

If you’re new here, Writers’ Roundup is a weekly Friday feature with links to blog posts, news stories, etc. about writing, travel, journalism and anything else I find useful and entertaining. It’s the best of my Google Reader and Twitter links!

What have I found this week?

  • Travel bloggers: TBEX, or Travel Blog Exchange, is holding its annual weekend event July 26-27 in New York City. Looks like some cool panels and guests — might be worth attending.
  • At Guide to Literary Agents, author James Dashner chimes in with 7 Things I’ve Learned So Far — one of the best so far in the series. Networking is key to getting breaks in publishing, he says. And, I’d say, in life.
  • How long will it take to land an agent? Get your first book contract? See your first check? Literary agent Rachelle Gardner has the answers.
  • Remember Reading Rainbow? It’s back… Once again, GalleyCat has the goods.
  • At Getting Past the Gatekeeper, an anonymous literary agent has good ideas about strategic querying.

I’m in D.C. for a few weeks, scouting jobs and places to live. Hoping to make the move permanent soon! Will keep you posted.

Aspiring Author becomes The Traveling Writer

Notice anything new here today?

Aspiring Author has become The Traveling Writer! I’ve thought for a long while about revamping this blog with a name change that would give me room to write about a broader range of topics, hopefully growing my audience. It’s time to take the leap!

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I used to blog about travel — when I was actually traveling. I transitioned to this blog to tell another story, my journey of writing and publishing my first book. Aspiring Author has served me well for that purpose, but at some point — when I’m no longer aspiring, when I’m published! — it will become obsolete.

I knew that when I started blogging. But at the time, I wasn’t sure what else to call this blog because my vision for it wasn’t really fleshed out. (There’s a lesson here for bloggers: as your blog improves and develops, and as your life changes, it’s okay for your blog vision to morph, too. We’re always learning!) Now, as I approach my year anniversary at this blog, I feel confident that in my ability to build community not only around writing, but around my other strengths and interests, too.

This blog will still be about writing my first book. You can still come here for writing tips, conversation on topics that affect authors-to-be and inspiration. But I’ll also blog about travel — my own experiences as well as the experiences of others — and the places where writing and travel intersect.

Travel usually evokes images of visiting foreign countries. And yes, I’ll write about that here. But like each of you, I’m also traveling through life, looking forward to the unknowns that lie ahead, and The Traveling Writer suits me in that respect, too. With my manuscript now complete, I’m thinking about moving to a new city, looking for a job and starting another book. Who knows where life will take me next?

Thanks for coming along for the ride!

Writing for twenty-seven readers

Every once in a while I come across a piece of writing advice that really resonates with me. And when I reviewed Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed last week, I forgot to mention that she had one of these bits in her book.

In Gilbert’s prologue, she writes about her difficulties writing Committed, how she ditched her first attempt at a manuscript and started from scratch. She writes:

Ultimately I discovered that the only way I could write again at all was to vastly limit — at least in my own imagination — the number of people I was writing for. So I started completely over. And I did not write this version of Committed for millions of readers. Instead, I wrote it for exactly twenty-seven readers.

She goes on to name those twenty-seven readers, all female friends, relatives and neighbors. As I was reading those names, I realized that I use this technique, too — subconsciously. And I should start using it consciously.

Who do I write for? Not twenty-seven people. Sometimes I pretend I’m writing my book for just one person: a close friend named AJ. (Now that I’m writing this post, I recall Stephen King mentioning something similar in On Writing, how he writes his books with one person in mind, his wife.)

Why AJ? She knows how to tell a good story (like me, she has journalism in her blood). She’s got an attention span that does my writing good — I can imagine her getting super excited about the riveting parts of my book, but yawning and skimming over more boring sections (when I picture her getting bored, I cut). But the main reason I write for AJ is because I know she’ll never laugh at me. She wants to read about my feelings, secrets and embarrassing moments, and she’ll like the book more because of those details. Even when it’s hard for me to reveal personal thoughts to the millions of people who will read my book (hey, you never know), I feel comfortable sharing them with AJ. And so I write for her.

This strategy could work for any genre, but it’s particularly useful for memoir because it helps the writer be honest — utterly honest. The world isn’t going to read the book. Just your friends. No biggie. No pressure. Just be honest. And writing with an honest voice is so important in memoir.

Who do you write for?

Best Posts of 2009 (or what I learned this year)

Since launching this blog in April, I’ve learned a lot.

I’ve come so far, in fact, that it’s almost embarrassing to read some of my initial posts, when I was confused about newbie details like when to query literary agents (when my memoir is done) and what’s an appropriate word count for my book (90,000 max).

But that’s why I created this blog, to document my learning process so you don’t make the same mistakes I have. When I write my next book, I’ll have this blog to remind me what works and what doesn’t.

To celebrate the end of this year, I’ve created a Best Posts of 2009 list. It includes some of my favorites, as well as posts that were popular with readers:

  • A kick in the butt. Advice from an author who said I should spend less time learning about publishing and more time writing.

Now I’d love to hear from you: What did you learn in 2009?

Goodbye, Hambidge (and a progress report)

A lot has happened since I left upstate New York in late August. I’m several chapters away from completing a draft of my manuscript! I’ve got a new working title (although I’m still not satisfied with it). I’ve read through all seven of my travel journals. And I’ve rewritten my proposal.

Trail to my Hambidge studio. The seasons changed while I was here!

Trail to my Hambidge studio. I arrived here during summer, and now it's fall!

But more on all that in future posts. My experience at The Hambidge Center has been about more than what I’ve produced. As another artist said, it’s not necessarily what you do while you’re here; it’s your state of mind.

When I left for Hambidge, I felt anxious about writing this book. I was eager to finish it, so I could get a job, earn some money and move out of my parent’s house. Even though I was doing something I always wanted to do — write a book — I felt stagnant in a lot of ways, largely because after ten years of living on my own, I didn’t have my own place. That’s a hard transition.

But being at Hambidge has allowed me to enjoying the process of writing. Surrounded by nature, I’ve reflected not only on my work, but on my life. For the first time, I feel like I could make a lifestyle out of this type of writing.

I still think about how I’m going to make money when I get home, whether off this book or through some another job. That’s probably natural; we all need money to survive. But after five weeks here, I feel differently about trying to finish this book so I can get a job. Maybe, I’ve realized, I had it all backwards — maybe that job, whatever it is, is more of a stepping stone, a way to make money so I can write my next book. What I’m saying here is that my priorities have changed. I do need to make money. But my next priority, I think, is another book. (And yes, I have one in mind.)

Another writer might not be have been moved by Hambidge’s rustic setting. An artist’s experience might have been ruined when she ran into a bear on the way to her studio, like the potter here did last week. But for me, there was something about being surrounded by nature, the group of people I was placed here with and the timing, that allowed Hambidge to have an effect on me. I’m not sure I even know fully what that effect is yet. Time will tell.

I do know that I want to come back. I encourage you, too, to apply to Hambidge; the next deadline is January 15. Or check out a post I wrote about how to find and apply to a residency that’s right for you.

Now I’m off. I’ve got a road trip to New York ahead of me.

Photos from Hambidge’s creative residency program

I’m still working on my book at The Hambidge Center. Only nine more days left of my residency! You requested more photos, so I’m sharing them today.

Rabun Gap, home of Hambidge, in the north Georgia mountains

Rabun Gap, home of Hambidge, in the north Georgia mountains.

Taking a break to play with clay.

Artists take a break to play with clay.

Visit to Hambidge's grist mill

Visit to Hambidge's grist mill. Grits, anyone?

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Artist’s Residency, Week Three

I expected to write a lot at this residency. I’ve already had several breakthroughs on that front, including producing a new first chapter that I shared with the other artists here. They say it works. I think so, too.

What I didn’t expect from this experience — because I knew it would include many hours of alone time — was to meet such fascinating people. In three short weeks, they’ve affected how I think about my writing, how I see my work, and the importance of combining the two in a way that makes me happy.

Porch at the Hambidge Rock House, where we eat dinner.

Porch at the Hambidge Rock House, where we eat dinner.

I’m going to try to tell you about a few of them without invading their privacy, since Hambidge feels like one of those what-happens-here-stays-here kind of places.

One of my favorites is a writer from San Francisco, a 58-year-old, queer, Jewish, skinny guy with a mustache who I probably would not have picked from a line-up as someone I’d bond with. But he is a fabulous storyteller. The two of us explored a few of Hambidge’s trails a few days ago, and I knew that every time this man opened his mouth he would have something interesting to share about his early career as a glass-blower or years living in Jerusalem or time working in the publishing industry. It wasn’t until we had talked like this for a week and a half that another artist, during dinner, happened to ask him how many books he’s published. He answered modestly, “Umm, eight or nine. Yeah, I believe this will be my ninth.”

When I told this guy about my idea for my next book (I’m not ready yet to share the idea here), he literally stopped in his tracks. “You should be working on that now,” he said. That was the kind of support, the kind of fire I needed to get started on the project.

Then there’s a music composer from Tennessee who must study botany in his spare time. When we go hiking on the weekends, he identifies every flower and plant on the path.

“When I look out into this beautiful green scene,” I admitted to him last Sunday, as we walked to a trickle of a waterfall, “all I see are weeds.”

Last night after dinner, a writer from Montana (who seems to spend more time here writing awesome blue-grass music than her literary nonfiction piece) pulled out her guitar and sang for us some of her music. Then she strummed a few tunes we knew so we could all sing along. The composer slash botanist got a drum-beat going on a piece of Tupperware, and the Jewish storyteller made a racket on a fan with a fork. The rest of us played bowls from the kitchen.

And somehow, it made me a better writer this morning.