Uncomfortable Visibility (or, An Introvert’s Woes)

With each passing year I am increasingly surprised at my endurance here. This morning WordPress reminded me today is this blog’s eighth anniversary. My 1,086 posts during those years average more than two-and-a-half posts a week.

My Bio warns that musings here may wander through my assorted realms of interest, and they certainly have, although most have ended up relating in some way to a writing theme, because writing was my initial reason for creating this internet residence. After writing devotionals and occasional magazine articles sporadically for years, I finally moved into fiction and needed a different audience — a new kind of visibility.

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 9.10.56 PMI don’t have a huge following here — WordPress tells me the total is 667 — but I’ve appreciated the cyber friendships that have developed both here and on Facebook.  The visibility that I referred to in that first post eight years ago, has been relatively painless because of them.

Other writers might understand the reluctance with which I embarked on this online journey. I’ve discovered many, like me, are introverts. Like my backyard ursine visitors, we’d prefer to remain unnoticed … to view the world’s activity from a safe and somewhat unobtrusive distance.

Bear

The very definition of visibility indicates why it isn’t a welcoming situation for us. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary explains it as…

  • the ability to see or be seen
  • the quality or state of being known to the public

But I’ve forced myself into other beyond-my-comfort-zone situations through the years, knowing that in order to achieve a particular goal, I had to overcome my hesitancy. When I think about some of those situations, I am encouraged  by the realization that I can do things I once believed weren’t possible.

  • establish a business that involved interacting with and being depended upon by hundreds of people
  • accept public accolades from an astronaut, and subsequently be interviewed by newspaper and magazine reporters about my role in his life
  • act as a consultant in the making of a major motion picture
  • be the theme speaker at a community youth convention

Life is all about growth. I may not have actually ‘enjoyed’ every growth opportunity, but I recognized the necessity of stretching to do a job; plus there were benefits. I gained satisfaction from getting involved in something new and from doing the job as well as I could.

So now I continue on my writing journey, blogging my way into another year while also working on assorted writing projects. My thanks to those of you who have stayed connected with me here and on Facebook. I truly appreciate your faithfulness and support.

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Writing Time vs Online Time (It’s all about balance)

I did say this post would be coming last ‘Friday’, didn’t I? Mmm, yes. This isn’t Friday, is it? Some bloggers might be inclined to say, “Oh, well, suck it up and let’s get on with it.” Personally, I wouldn’t think that was a polite way to respond. I’m more the apologetic type. “So sorry,” I’ll say. “Unavoidable interruptions. Sincere apologies.” Now suck it up and let’s carry on.

We writers sometimes need a jolt to unsettle our complacency. In my previous post I mentioned a comment from a book I’m currently reading by Jeff Goins. I went to his website for the URL to share with you, started reading his post and that’s where I got today’s jolt.

“…what do writers do? They write. There’s nothing mystical or magical about it — you just have to show up and commit to doing the work. Place butt in chair, fingers on keys, and start typing. And this, of course, is where most writers fail. They never actually write a word. They talk about writing, think about writing, even read about writing. But they do not write.”

I think that makes last week’s post even more appropriate. Not only is our “crazy social media platform maintenance” frenzy a form of stalling, the talking, thinking and reading about writing are all equally effective deterrents to any success.

It’s decision time. Time to make strategic choices that will provide the resources we need while allowing us to spend the majority of our time pursuing our creativity. So, what will those choices look like? Take a moment to…um, I’d say smell the roses, but it’s too early for them…so maybe just admire the snowdrops (they’re everywhere in my garden right now), then grab your notebook and start planning.

Winter Snowdrops

(Winter Snowdrops – Galanthus)

  • Restrict social media networks to the few that are the most useful

We agree: we can’t do it all. Ideally, the best networks will be the ones where we encounter people of similar interests, the sites where we will find the information that is most suited to our purpose or that will reach the most people who are likely to be interested in our product or subject matter. It isn’t necessary to constantly explore cyberspace. Once we’ve found them, settle on a select few sites.

I have a group of writing friends on Facebook in addition to my family, church and purebred dog connections, so next to my blog, that’s my network of preference. I check in on Twitter occasionally, but don’t spend much time there, I recently quit Google+, and I’ve avoided Pinterest entirely because I know it’s addictive.

My list of regularly visited blogs and websites have been whittled down considerably this year to include those of a handful of friends, fellow authors, and writing mentors, the Seekerville writing community, and a couple inspirational sites. That’s not to say I don’t occasionally visit some that are on my earlier lists, or go to places like Amazon and home-decorating sites, but they are no longer places to dally on a daily basis or let eat into my writing time.

  • Allot specific amounts of time to spend online

How long do we realistically need to check and respond to e-mail, to peruse a limited number of favourite blogs or websites, to do the research for a particular writing project? Determine that ahead of time and set a timer. Knowing it’s counting down should keep us more focused on our task and less inclined to dawdle. Once our ‘social’ time is over and we move on to the day’s work, I try to resist checking in online every few minutes. If it’s a writing day I might work for an hour and then allow myself a ten minute break to check for messages, get a Coke or a coffee, and carry on. Your daily tasks will be different from mine, depending on your day job, family responsibilities, and other commitments. How much time we allot to social media is up to us but we need to be disciplined, honest and realistic about how we ration it.

  • Include opportunities to ‘give back’ to the writing community

It’s easy for writers to become immersed in our fictional worlds and believe the online hype we try to create is all about us. It’s not. We relish the support and encouragement of those we look up to, those whose efforts have brought them success, and in turn we should be ready to offer what help we can to others. Whether it’s leaving comments of encouragement, interviewing newcomers on our blogs or offering book reviews on places like Amazon and Goodreads, we can show appreciation by giving back, regardless of our level of expertise or inexperience.

  • Schedule time into the day for creative refuelling

Whatever our workday consists of, it’s important to make sure we carve out a niche for personal refreshment. (And that doesn’t mean to go blog-hopping!) Some of my favourite writing books aren’t actually on the craft itself, but on nurturing the writer within. Julia Cameron recommends artist’s dates — going for a walk, visiting an art gallery or museum, spending quiet time in an environment that is personally rejuvenating. It can be a whole afternoon, or just fifteen minutes. It doesn’t matter, as long as it’s “me time”.

That’s about it. I’m not all that proficient when it comes to how I spend my online time, but I’m trying to be intentional about it. When I succeed, I’m surprised at how much more I get done in a day.

As for those links I promised, here’s a list in random order of some of the more helpful writing sites I particularly like (no, I don’t visit them everyday, and you’d better not, either!):

Writer UnboxedWriter’s Digest, Anne R. AllenK.M. Weiland, Jessica Morrell, Chip MacGregor, Rachelle GardnerJane Friedman, The Write Life, Seekerville, The Writer’s Alley, Write to Done, Story Fix: Larry Brooks, The Kill Zone (Hey, don’t raise your eyebrows; I write cozy mysteries!), Jeff Goins, Pub Rants, Molly Greene, Kirsten Lamb, Live-Write-Thrive: CS Lakin, Jody Hedlund, Agent Query, Writer Beware, Preditors & Editors, The Passive Voice: The Lawyer Guy, American Christian Fiction Writers, The Insecure Writer’s Support Group, Writers Helping Writers, Absolute Write WaterCooler Forum, Bookends Literary Agency blogWriting World: Moira Allen (blog has concluded, but has sixteen years of archived articles). 

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The Writer and An Addiction to Social Media

GoldenEarsWriters

A comment left on my previous post reminded me why I began my venture into social media, AND why I have ever-so-slowly backed away again. Wendy Love said,

I love reading ideas that concur with my own as this one does. As a writer/blogger I keep reading that I have to spread myself all over the internet. But as someone who is challenged by bipolar disorder, I only have so much energy to go around. At one point I cut myself off of everything but now that I am back to writing online I realize I should probably be reaching out more. Can anyone suggest a select few that they would recommend?

Part of my reply: “I began blogging chiefly because I heard the same thing: that to be a successful author you need to establish a tribe…a crowd of online followers. There’s a certain benefit to being part of the social media community, but if we become obsessed with developing numbers to the detriment of our personal growth and writing time, we counteract the value.”

Also detrimental is the subtle addiction to social media. It’s too easy to get hung up on being a courteous communicator — checking online conversations and making sure we reply promptly. One week I discovered I had spent more time trying to react to comments and other people’s articles, and to provide thoughtful responses, than I did working on my own writing project.

Most of my early writing years were spent in cognito as far as any online presence was concerned. I stalked popular agents’ and editors’ blogs while reading ‘how to’ books on the craft of writing. I was in learning mode, and I stayed there until one day the urge to respond to something prodded me into visibility. (I think my first comment was on Rachelle Gardner‘s blog, and I was almost in a cold sweat as I fearfully pressed the SEND key that first time.)

At one point I had well over a hundred blogs and websites bookmarked — all interesting and useful, but, of course, I couldn’t visit each of them every day. A pattern developed, and I found a way to code my favourite, more favourite and most favourite sites. Later I joined Facebook, then also Twitter and Google+, but managed to withstand the temptation of everything else. As I mentioned last week, in conjunction with my blogging, even those few have become too time consuming.

I’ve come to believe that establishing a specific online community is desirable for gathering personal support and industry information, but trying to be present everywhere and “do it all” will eventually drain my energy and shift the focus of my writing towards maintenance rather than creativity. And before having published books to promote, the creative writing aspect is what I need to pursue.

The question of which social media sites are most useful has no single correct answer. I qualify that by adding it depends on what genre you write, how experienced you are, and what your goals are. It also depends on what ignites your passions. I’ll share some of mine in the next edition of my Musings.

I’ve been reading Jeff Goins’ YOU ARE A WRITER (SO START ACTING LIKE ONE). One of his observations struck home:

You know what most of this crazy, social media platform maintenance is? Stalling. Procrastinating the real work you need to do, which is writing. I don’t play that game anymore. I pick a few networks that work for me and I say ‘good riddance’ to the rest. If you’re going to be a real writer, you’ll have to make similar sacrifices.

I hadn’t read that when I decided to jump ship from Google+, but I think he would approve. I’ll be back here on Friday to share what social media I haven’t abandoned and which blogs and websites get the majority of my attention.

In the meantime, in Jeff’s words, “do a little purging and get to work.”

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Sleepers Begone!

 

Dogs

I bit the bullet today and deleted my Google+ account. It was a sleeper anyway — a place I rarely visited. My blog posts from here were set to automatically show up there as well as on Facebook, but when I chose where to spend my social media time, apart from here, Facebook usually won out, despite some of its features that annoy me.

Every time I checked my Gmail messages I would find some ‘interesting’ yet unknown-to-me man had added me to his Google+ circle. Today it was another military guy supposedly from Iraq. I’m supportive of our military, but don’t appreciate stalkers of any ilk.

Sleeping accounts are risky. Without monitoring, I don’t remember to change passwords, and that’s a security hazard. I don’t see inappropriate comments and spam. It truly is a situation where, excuse the cliche, one shouldn’t ‘let sleeping dogs lie’. Right! So, after considering its lack of usefulness to me, and without a twinge of guilt, I deleted the account.

I spend most of my online time here. Second on the list is Facebook, because that’s where most of my online friends hang out. A distant third is Twitter. I don’t find Twitter conversations particularly satisfying, but I do check my account regularly, albeit not often, because I believe visibility there is a useful tool for writers. But I no longer have to worry about who’s tiptoeing around me on Google+.

No more sleeping dogs! C’mon, guys! On your feet! It’s time for some activity. Let’s go for a walk.

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Where do you spend the majority of your online time? Do you ‘post and run’, or do you stick around for meaningful conversations? How useful is social media to you?

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1,000 and still counting!

1000PostsWordPress tells me this is my 1,000th post. There are times when I wonder what you expect to find here when you visit, and whether you leave satisfied or disappointed. The truth is, when I write, I rarely worry about what readers want. Words spill out of my brain and spatter onto the page. If something is produced that appeals, that’s a good thing. If it falls flat, like a stone into a mud puddle, that’s okay, too. At least the words are out of my head and I’m free to move on to explore other ideas. You aren’t obliged to stick around either. But after Monday’s post, I’ve continued to think about my online identity and my purpose here. I never promised to produce brilliant treaties on meaningful topics. My mental meanderings on life and writing really do wander all over the place, and quite honestly, I’m not sure why you’d want to read any of them. Yet, since the summer of 2008 and after nearly eighty-two months in this space, you’re still turning up here, and so am I! It’s a comfortable place for me — a little like my family room, where I can curl up on the couch in front of the fireplace with the afghan and journal on my lap, and share anything that pops into my mind. The trouble is, some days not a lot of popping happens. On those occasions I clip my pen to the edge of the page, reach for my mug of coffee (sometimes it’s chai tea or a Diet Coke), lean back into the cushions and let the flames mesmerize me. IMGP6757_2 There isn’t always a story to be told … at least, not a specific one. Not one of significance or with an analogy and application. Sometimes there is, but not always. Today is one of those days. Today I’m simply celebrating one thousand posts and you. Thank you for being here and sharing this milestone with me.  You make it all worthwhile.

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To mark the occasion and also help express my thanks, I’m giving away a $20 Amazon or Starbucks gift certificate (your choice). I’ll draw a name at random from among those of you who leave a comment here between now and midnight Sunday (11:59 p.m. April 19th). I know not all of you who stop by here like to leave comments, but it’s the only fair way I can think of to choose someone. Check Monday’s post for announcement of the winner.

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“… I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you.” [Romans 1:8]

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Who Am I?

K-Yawn - Version 2

Many years ago there used to be a television game show of that name — “Who Am I?” — where contestants had to guess which guest was telling the truth about their profession. Two guests lied; one was required to be truthful. There is a different series, “Who Do You Think You Are?“, currently airing, where celebrities journey to trace their family roots.

I was reminded of these programs last week when I came across two articles posted on social media that involved personal identity. In order to get to my point I need to share a few excerpts.

In one article, Michelle de Rusha wrote about the hard work of growing authentic relationships online.

“I think one of the hardest parts about being a writer, and specifically a memoirist, is that it’s often challenging to know where to draw the line, how much to tell, how much of myself and my private life to reveal…Sometimes I avoid writing about [certain] topics because they are controversial, and I like controversy about as much as I like flossing my teeth, which is to say, not at all.

“On the other hand, sometimes I don’t write about [other] topics because I’m afraid you won’t like me, or will be disappointed in me, or will see me differently or less-than. I’m a people-pleaser at heart; I don’t like to ruffle feathers or disappoint.

“And sometimes I don’t write about certain topics because I’m afraid they don’t fit who I think you think I am. Does that make sense? Take time to read that sentence again, because it’s a bit convoluted.

“Part of this disconnect is simply a natural by-product of writing publicly. The truth is, you can’t know every facet of who I am just by reading what I write here … this blog and my memoir, even though they are about me, aren’t me entirely. They don’t fully represent me; they don’t reflect every facet of my personality, who I am inside and out. Part of that is because I have presented myself in a certain way, not to be deceptive, but simply because that’s what happens, even in in-person communication. And part of that is because you have interpreted me and defined me in certain ways according to who you are and what you believe.”

In the other article entitled ‘Goodbye, Facebook’, LL Barkat compares her sustained online presence to being at a constant party.

“What would it look like to attend a party for years? The music never off. Always the same snacks. No room of one’s own. Chatter, chatter, chatter, chatter. And always the ready smile, because that’s what we do at parties… The day I lost my will to speak, I realized I was tired. I have been at a party for years. You could say the cause of this fatigue was all of digital life. But you would be wrong. If you said, “Facebook?” I would say I have been doing an experiment.

“Here is the thing. Facebook is “push” technology. Things keep popping up without you asking, and the algorithms pretend to take your wants into account, but you really have virtually no control. What’s more, you are connected (semantically) to “friends,” not interests, and friends put all kinds of things out there at all hours of the day regardless of your mood and intentions at any given moment, and because they are linguistically labeled as “friends” and not “people I follow,” there is a subtle emotional obligation that comes when these posts pop up, saying whatever these posts might say.

“All the while, you are swinging from extreme to extreme. Laugh! Cry! (Someone died. Someone just said the damnedest thing. Oh, that’s cute. OMG, carnage. Or, here comes a carnal clip of something you hadn’t wanted to see) … and it’s confusing, but you keep … on … eating, because these are friends and you are at a party, after all.

Respond. Respond. Respond. And? Express. The party has trained us (or have I trained myself?) to lay out the details of our experiences and our thoughts, in an unnatural constancy, until we have given over much of our inner life to the flat sameness of a digital wall.”

She suddenly stopped talking; her voice became mute. She’s said goodbye to Facebook, perhaps permanently, perhaps not. She may come back once a month “for a day of party-going”, but first she needs to overcome her social media exhaustion. 

Both authors are dabbling in the quagmire of what determines an authentic online identity and I can relate to their struggle. None of us can be positive that what we know of our cyber-acquaintances, or what they know of us, reflects the reality. The dilemma is, does it matter?

I think it does because in our effort to utilize social media to expand and maintain communication, the loss of a unique personal identity is becoming a byproduct. Online, we become who we want people to think we are. Consciously or unconsciously, we display snippets of positive reality for public consumption while we abstain from revealing anything that might adversely reflect on our persona.

Keeping up pretenses is exhausting. Combined with the addictiveness of the Internet, it’s no wonder digital communication is affecting us.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the Internet is a fabulous tool for communication and professional promotion. But, more and more, I’m coming to believe it’s also leading us into an identity crisis. We can’t seem to function in the everyday — or don’t feel complete — unless we’re logged into our digital world. That can’t be a good thing!

We’re enriched by our cyber relationships, but our continuous connection is depleting the inventory of who we are.

When my late Aunt Norma was establishing her blog, she went through an exercise to provide a blurb for her ‘About Me‘ page, setting out a list of what she felt defined her identity. We might all do well to create such a list, and then keep it handy for reference.

Do you know who you are?

If you’re inclined to take inventory, I’d love it if you’d share your list.

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Working on Websites (Oh, my!)

I’m not a computer dummy, but neither am I a guru. I deal with my computer and make my way around the internet in a fairly competent manner, but some days it isn’t without a degree of stress.

Some writers have multiple websites or blogs. I have just one, but have established cyber locations for three organizations and three other writers. Mostly it has involved using WordPress templates and has been relatively easy.

Then the day arrived when it became necessary to revamp my church’s website! (Yes, that sentence was meant to end with an exclamation mark.) The original server was going down, and it was the opportune time to start over from scratch.

It was decided we needed a professional look, not achievable with a blog template. This time we would have a brand new site, created by a professional web designer.

While the new website is beautiful, it’s requiring a steep learning curve for me, and that’s both challenging and stressful. I’ll survive, but I’m sure it’s going to be quite some time before this shiny new website is ready to ‘go live’.

Website Screenshot 2

For those of you who have gone this route, too, how much value do you place on the aesthetics of a site? I tend to think first impressions are important — that visitors judge the appeal and suitability of a congregation/writer/product by its cyber-face. Am I wrong? Is the bare message conveyed by text and photos more important than a polished presentation? When you visit a website, how do you react to your initial encounter?

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