Discover more from Writer Therapy
Literary Citizenship for Distractible Introverts
How and why to put yourself out there when you'd rather not
I have a few questions.
1. There are some author events upcoming in my area and I'm a big chicken and have chickened out in the past on going to them. I would be going by myself. It's causing me a bit of social anxiety. Have you ever felt this way?
2. I have accounts on Twitter and Instagram but I never go on them. I don't like social media because I have a hard time with being distracted by them. But, I also know it's a good way to build a platform and make connections. How do I engage with social media without being overtaken by it?
3. On building an author platform, when should a writer have their own website? And is having a blog/newsletter a good idea?
Phew! The business part of being a writer is overwhelming. And I have a lot of avoidance and resistance to doing those parts. Any advice you have would be welcome!
No People Please
Thanks for reading Writer Therapy! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Dear No People Please,
I completely understand. When I signed up to write things, I did so under the impression that there would be no people involved. And now, suddenly I am expected to have a community and a platform and talk to others? Ugh, no thank you.
But unfortunately, no matter how much I avoid it, the writing bit keeps chasing me down, and so at some point, I must face the people of at all.
I have talked a little about literary community before, and undoubtedly, I will talk about it again, but your questions speaks to a related, but somewhat different idea: literary citizenship.
When we think of our work being out in the world, we might think about the reader. But who is the reader? The readers of literary magazines are, in large part, other writers. When we do our first readings, we are most likely reading to an audience of other writers. If we’re lucky enough to get a few reviews, most likely they were written by another writer.
Our teachers are other writers. Panelists and speakers at writing conferences are other writers. Our grant and residency applications are presented to a jury of other writers.
Beyond that, we have the book bloggers, the booktok community, the independent bookstores who host the readings and events and launches, the editors of literary magazines who publish new writers and review their work. And so many more people.
Much of the heavy lifting of support in the early part of our literary careers is shouldered by a community of literary citizens, many of whom are not being well-compensated for this work. A labour of love is still labour.
What does this have to do with social anxiety and social media? Participation, both in real life and online, is part of being a good literary citizen.
I mean yes, I haven’t gone out to readings in a long while, in part because I can be very socially anxious, in part because I have young kids, and in part because the pandemic exacerbated my tendency to isolate, (please don’t tell my therapist, I told her I’m fine). But not long ago, I went out to support a friend at her book launch, and while I was there I said hello to some people, talked to a writer or two that I didn't know and surprisingly, I didn't alienate the entire writing community by being awkward. Who knew?
Still here’s the deal on readings. Many writers are very introverted, and readings are attended by writers, so I guarantee you will not be the only socially anxious person in the room. I remember going to a different friend’s launch party, and thinking that you can tell this is a good launch because every corner in the room is being taken up by people standing around awkwardly. (I knew this, because I was looking for an empty corner to stand awkwardly in.)
If the reading is in a bookstore, you can really avoid people by looking at books. If it’s at a bar, you’ll have to settle for grabbing a drink; I recommend using your phone as a cover while eavesdropping and hopefully picking up some literary gossip. Or you can talk to people (ack!) but like, that is optional. Once the readings start, you need only listen and applaud politely. If it’s a book launch, buy the book. If you like the author, you can line up to get it signed.
Then you can go home, all without having had to socialize. Success!
Of course, as you involve yourself more as a good literary citizen, you might actually start to recognize people and make some friends. Crazy, right? You can stand awkwardly next to each other not saying much but giving the appearance of being social to all those people standing awkwardly in the corners.
Switching gears to social media, and taking the next two questions together. I had a pretty half-assed relationship to my social media / blog / newsletter / website presence for about ten years or so, but about a year ago, I started treating it more professionally.
Part of the reason it took me so long was my own resistance… I was afraid I’d start doing something, and then never maintain it, and that became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I was afraid my social media wouldn’t be good enough. I was afraid of looking foolish. I was afraid of failing at social media. And as much as I was pretty comfortable calling myself a writer, there was still some imposter syndrome hanging around. It was easy for me to call myself a writer if it was something I appeared to be playing that, no matter how much it meant to me internally. Harder for me to publicly show that yes, I am indeed a professional, even if professional writing involves much playing.
In any case—websites. Websites are the new business cards. Registering a URL and putting together a basic website with your bio is not very difficult nor is it expensive. If you’re at the point in your writing life that you’re starting to wonder about a website, take a few hours to put together something cheap and simple. Include your bio, a photo and some way to contact you. Done.
Note that if you have a very common name, you might have to get a little creative about your URL, but keep it simple. FirstnameLastnameWriter.com, etc. Make it easy for the literary community to find you and get in touch.
If you’d like to do more than that, you can—back in the day, it seemed like every writer had a blog, although now everyone has a substack instead. But there is genuinely no need to do that, and frankly, if a blog feels like more work than joy, don’t do it. More on that below.
Next, social media platform. The Internet is full of advice about why every writer needs a platform and a brand, but it’s hard to go out there and brand yourself as a FancyPants Writer when you’re still figuring out if your pants are sufficiently fancy. Nothing sparks up the imposter syndrome like telling all 12 of your IG followers that you are a writer but no, you can’t buy my book because it doesn’t exist yet.
Still, social media is a good way to engage in literary citizenship. Promote the work or events of other writers you like by sharing their news, and engaging with them on social media to help them win the algorithm games. Did a writer you like publish a book or win an award? Comment on their post with a congratulations. Post that you enjoyed their book and tag them. Especially if they are emerging or mid-list writers. Margaret Atwood doesn’t need any promotional help. The local writer who published her first collection of short stories with a small press does.
If you’re worried about mixing up your personal life with your writing life, make two accounts and decide what your boundaries are. You can still be your authentic self within that—I have my writer Instagram, and also a personal Instagram that is locked down. The boundaries you choose can be whatever you want them to be, and you can change them when you choose. We’re expected to share a little bit of our personal lives on social media—that’s part of the authentic, social part—but we can select what parts. Just as you are probably not telling your boss about your sex life, you don’t have to reveal everything to your social media followers.
Social media is also a good way to find out about things. My first publication credit came from a submission call for an anthology that I stumbled upon on Twitter, and I happened to have a story that was a perfect fit.
To keep social media from being a distraction, put a timer on it. Your phone likely has this built in, but if not, there’s an app for that.
As for building your platform, let me make one thing really clear. Unless you have hundreds of thousands of followers, your platform makes no difference to whether or not you can put a book or a short story or an essay or whatever into the world. There is no publisher in the world who will look at a draft and say, “Well, it’s not good, but she has 172 Instagram followers, so let’s publish it.”
If you have limited time, limited resources, or just plain don’t want to do it, focus on the writing part and forget the social media. Building a platform is not something you have to do. It’s not going to make your writing better. It’s not going to finish the novel for you. It’s not going to send your work out in the world for you.
All that said, if you are at the stage in your writing journey where you are selling books (or classes, or anything at all) know that marketing books is not what it once was, and having people who are genuinely interested in you—at least enough to click Follow or Subscribe—is helpful. If you aren't at that stage, it's helpful for later. Not required, but helpful.
I enjoy engaging on social media. Prior to treating my social media more professionally, I volunteered my writing skills to a grassroots political group, and ended up creating a lot of their social media images, which turned out to be a really fun, creative challenge. Who knew?
Part of my decision to start treating my social media more professionally is that I wanted to learn how to get good at it before anything is at stake. And by good at it, I mean, doing this in a way that is comfortable and sustainable for me.
A big help for this is that I use a social media management app to schedule posts in advance. There are a bunch out there that are free or low cost. Instead of posting every day, I take a day or an evening or whatever fits my life, and I create a bunch of stuff and schedule it. That way, I don’t have to be glued to my phone. (I’m still glued to my phone, though.) I will rearrange things to be more timely as things happen, but if I know I’m going to be busy, I can plan ahead for that.
The other thing that helped me is that I figured out different types of content to post at different, but regular frequencies. Rather than ten posts on that one day when inspiration struck and then nothing for weeks, I can create them all and then set up one post a week for ten weeks. Or a daily post for ten days. Perhaps this only works for my brain, but the constraints help me.
I also use this to build up incrementally. I pick one thing, and then once it’s working, I add something else. So once a week, twice a week, two posts a week plus some at monthly intervals—you don’t have to go big all at once. You’re also allowed to experiment with different things until you find what works for you, and then if something stops working for you, you can change it up.
As for a newsletter or a blog, the best reason to do that is that you want to start a newsletter or blog. As a promotional tool, they are great since you have direct access to an audience who knows you and likes you. As a component for your writing life—it can feel like another guilt-inducing item on your to-do list. Don’t do it unless you genuinely want to write at least somewhat regular missives on a particular topic.
Also note that publishing writing publicly on a blog counts as it being published—that is, if you post your writing on your website, selling first publication rights (what publishers typically want) may be off the table.
For me, Writer Therapy is my way to stay engaged in coaching and mentoring writers, without investing the time and energy in teaching a class. Sometimes, I just want to drop some wisdom and run away. I hope that it’s helpful to other writers, or at least, mildly entertaining. This is part my of literary citizenship.