What is UP with social networking? Sure, we're all encouraged (mandated?) to use it in as many varied and creative ways as possible. Authors complain it's a time suck, publishers swear it's the most valuable tool in the box. So how come social networking, when viewed as a whole looks more like a come-as-you-are party than a well oiled machine of effective marketing?
Social networking is the number one topics of author loops. We talk endlessly about the specifics, we ask "how do I. . ." questions, we share our successes, our embarrassing missteps, our horrifying moments. We discuss the appropriate way to express our anger (don't), disappointment (don't), our feelings of failure (don't) and our need to be validated by an increasing larger number of people (heaven help us).
How does and author get off this crazed merry-go-round?
Here are five tips:
1. Develop an inner circle. Book reviews, the number of friends on facebook, your Twitter following, and the number of book signings you've attended have nothing to do with who you are. It's important to develop an inner circle of people to whom you turn when you feel insecure, angry, betrayed, or otherwise upset about your job. Start with your family. Then hand select a very few close friends who love you and support you. These are the people you need to lean on, and who can truly validate. Your Twitter following may be populated with nice folks, but they don't truly know you. When we need to be validated by an increasingly far-flung group of people, we actually begin to devalue the rock solid affection and support of our inner circle. We end up hurting the people who love us most by taking their validation for granted and running after validation somewhere else.
2. Validation is an illusion - stop running after it. Outside of your inner circle (comprised of people who truly know you and love you anyway), there is no such thing as validation from others. But doesn't it mean something that I've written a bestselling book that Oprah can't stop talking about? Only in terms of the publishing industry and your chances of getting another book contract. People's opinions change. Books rise and all too soon become 'so yesterday'. I recently watched a movie about the 1972 Canada vs. Russia hockey series. The series first game was played in Toronto, and then the series made it's way west. But Team Canada didn't trounce the Russians the way the Canadian people expected. By the time the games reached Vancouver, Canadian fans booed their Team Canada when they took the ice. Later, in Russia, Canadians once again cheered for their (suddenly) under-dog team.
3. Stop talking about yourself all the time. Social networking has created a new self-paradigm where in it is acceptable to talk about yourself all day long. Facebook wants you to post how you are feeling, Twitter wants us to post our micro-moments (99.99% of Twitter posts are incredibly dull. Either inane posts about what they ate for breakfast, or spamming posts trying to generate blog traffic). Even if you NEED to social network about yourself all day long, ensure you aren't repeating this behavior in real life. Real life isn't all about you (or me). Talking about yourself all day creates and unhealthy filter by which you begin to view the world as orbiting around you.
4. Nothing matters more than the writing and the story you are telling. We can talk all day about our work, about people's reactions to our work. But if we focus our energy on talking about it, the quality of our work will suffer over time. We will use up our creative and energy resources for the day and have precious little left for our work. Focus on your craft - not talking about your craft. Excellent writers are writers who know they haven't arrived. They know how much more there is to learn and they dedicate themselves to mastery. Do we want to talk about writing? Or do we want to be great writers?
5. Develop a strong sense of self. Creative people have weird needs (as a creative person, I speak with authority). We lose ourselves in our work, we give huge chunks of our minds and emotions over to creating worlds that don't exist until we bring them to life. Depression rates in writers peak when the novel is finished. We die little deaths, we mourn the intangible. The fragile nature of creative people means we need to work harder at understanding ourselves and accepting ourselves for who we are. How do you develop a strong sense of self? Begin by following steps 1-4.
6. Know where you are going, and keep moving toward that goal. Hockey obsessed Canadian's have a saying, "Keep your stick on the ice." It means stay in the game, stay focused, and be ready. Don't confuse what you truly want for what you want in the moment. Develop a strong goal, and work toward it. You can't be an expert about everything. You can't be the go to person for everything. If you would like help developing your goals, I'd shamelessly point you to my non-fiction, Your Best You. It's a strength based approach to discovering your strengths and using them to discover your true goals based on what matters to you most (your values). It's not an easy book (it's a program, developed to help you understand yourself. This means it will take time and effort), but it works. Find a way to define your true goal - then keep moving toward it. Learn to enjoy the journey. Be true to yourself.
I bid you good writing.