The Social Media Existential Balancing Angst of Flailing and Pondering and Sometimes Missing Stuff

A few weeks ago, I took a hiatus from social media thingies. It was refreshing. I had more time to do other stuff.

Here’s the thing, though – I missed out on stuff, too. Probably a lot of stuff. The silver lining is I’ll never know what stuff I missed out on.

I’d love to know how other people balance their stuff. For example, how much time does a writer mom of young children spend on Twitter and Facebook, on average? How does she manage social media and writing time? What about other busy people? How do they achieve balance (or something close to it)?

For awhile I tried popping in to Twitter and Facebook, with the idea I’d do just fifteen minutes a day. Fifteen minutes isn’t much, is it? But then I’d stay signed in, and check in again at a later point that same day, and suddenly I’d have spent thirty extra minutes doing, in effect, NOTHING (I think we’ve all had this experience). Or, if I asked a question on Twitter, someone would respond, and I’d want to respond to their response, and then I’d get a new follower and revisit the site just to follow them back (if they were deserving and not relentless self-promoters). And before I knew it, I’d have gained a follower but lost fifteen more writing minutes because there was a really cool conversation going on and I wanted to find out more.

What if I gave myself Twitter Tuesdays and Facebook Fridays? And I just check in on those days?

What if I just…stop?

Then there’s the “I’m a writer and so I must have an online presence” issue. A blog is probably enough. (But Twitter can be pretty fun.) (And Facebook is the only connection I have to certain friends, family, and colleagues, and it’s the gateway to some cool groups of people.)

I really don’t know what to do. I love writing. I also love participating in conversations online. I also love paying attention to my family. And there’s only so much time.


PS: the flying whale drawing has absolutely nothing to do with this post. I just drew it awhile (awhale?! hahahahaha) back and like it. That’s all. Really. Unless you want to work some cool psychoanalysis on it. In which case, do share!

5 Rules for Getting It Written

I wrote the first draft of my work-in-progress (nicknamed le manuscript) in a little over two months. I’m sure it’s not the fastest record on time, but it’s much better than my first manuscript (over a year to complete) and my second (clocking somewhere around eight or nine months). Experience has something to do with it, but for me, it helps to have some rules.

You can do something with assigning word counts to different stages of the plot, like Anne Greenwood Brown describes in her blog post that inspired this one, “Kicking Out a Fast First Draft.” What I did was a slightly-less-insane version of NaNoWriMo, a goal of 1200 words per day. My friend Seven organized it, and we and a few other writers encouraged each other to go, go go!

Not all of us finished our drafts. Part of what helped me was I was already somewhere around 15,000 words ahead, because I’d started drafting le manuscript in February, then gave it up in March when I realized Manuscript Numero Dos needed some serious help (it still does). But I got le manuscript done, and will now be revising it for the next 86.92 years.

Here are some rules that helped me reach my goal:

1. A Writing Schedule Is Your New Best Friend. This was easy at the time, because Z was still taking her naps (this is a blog post for a different day). The rule was: I pick up my blank book and work on that draft, as soon as she goes down for her nap.

2. A Back-Up Writing Schedule Is Your Second Best Friend. If, for some reason, I got distracted by the scrub jays in the back yard, or the way my pinky fingernail desperately needed filing, or how that spot on the wall kinda-sorta resembles an ex-boyfriend’s nose… If I didn’t make 1200 words during Z’s nap, I had to finish them up after she went to sleep that night.

3. Clean Houses Are For People Who Don’t Write. Or who write, and have maids. Or who write, and have older children they can make into their chore slaves. I did whatever household chores I could while Z was awake. She really loves to “help.” That’s right, Z, washing dishes is FUN. Never forget it, ’cause this is just the beginning, baby.

4. Do It On Paper. My Paperblanks journals are the bestest ever. You know why? No wireless internet. No Mahjong Titans or other tempting solitaire games. No wireless internet. No lights to irritate the eyes after prolonged exposure. No wireless internet. I recently read a blog post, How to Get More Done by Pretending You’re on an Airplane. It’s true. The most writing is done distraction -free. Twitter, lately, has been hearkening to me like a sadistic siren, and I don’t even like Twitter. I don’t. There. I said it. Now every time I try to log on they’ll tell me Oops! they’re over capacity.

5. Outline It. I’m way too much of a control freak to just start writing. I also adore lists and bullet points. So I come up with a rough idea of where I want the story to go and how I want it to get there. This doesn’t mean that I know all the major players right away. This doesn’t mean I ignore tempting paths – I take them. Having an outline keeps me going because I don’t have to chew thoughtfully on my pen while deciding what should happen next. One of my critique partners, Jo, has a good post on creating an outline (click here for that), although I get by with a bullet-point synopsis.

Like Anne Greenwood Brown says at the end of her post, there’s no way she’d share her first draft with anyone, not even her mother. I agree. The first one is total trash. If anyone has tips on how to revise a novel in two months, do share. As things are going, I only have about 86.33 years left of revising le manuscript.

There’s probably more, but I’m off to the woods for some mosquito-slapping, bear-dodging, holing-up-in-my-cabin-and-writing adventure. See you Wednesday.

Internet Blackout 2011, Part 1

What did I learn from severely limiting my time online? I’m still unsure. Perhaps on Friday, when I finish this post, I’ll have some answers for myself. I mean, really, I haven’t had much time to reflect, what with all the email checking I’ve been doing lately.

Here are some notes from my diary (diary quotes in purple, my witty and amazing comments the usual gray/black):

Day 1. As soon as I fired up my laptop, the mouse hovered over the Firefox icon, but with a great push of willpower I moved it over to the Microsoft Word icon. So proud of myself.

Right now I’m thinking, yes, I can totally do this. I’m a little worried that there could be urgent emails waiting in my inbox, but really, I’m not the president. I’m not in charge of anything. So I’m a little itchy-twitchy about not getting to check, but at least I’m rational about it (so far).

Besides: I used Z’s entire two-hour nap to work on TBC (The Black City…the title of my, ahem, manuscript). Got the ward thing all figured out, made some little edits. It feels good. And today felt more like a family day. We didn’t do anything special, since Z has a cold, but we hung out all together on the couch after her nap, instead of me rushing off to check email.

Email. Email & my website – those are the two time-sucking culprits. Facebook can take time, but I don’t honestly enjoy it, especially not posting about myself – isn’t that what my blog is for? It’s fun to check up on other people, but I’m usually not on for longer than twenty minutes, & only every couple of days. My Twitter visits are much shorter. If I’m honest I’ll admit that Twitter’s a little intimidating. Intwitteridating?

Anyway, loved my day offline. But I’ve already got a list of email priorities, so I don’t waste time once I finally sign on.

Day 2. Printed out manuscript. Nothing in my diary about internet black-out because I was too busy making manic predictions of how this is the novel that will hit it big. (I am embarrassed to admit this here, which is why you get only summary.)

Day 3. A dream I had – I accidentally checked my email, breaking my hiatus. I was really upset about it in the dream. Then in real life, I had to email a note to P about the potluck, asking her what to bring! I didn’t have her phone number! Husband said it was okay. In my defense, I started drafting a message on paper and was going to make him sign into my email and type it up.

Signing in and seeing all those emails waiting for me (yes, most of them Freecycle) – and then not clicking on them! Difficult. There were two that looked especially interesting. Damn.

Day 4. Here I gripe about the wind (I REALLY HATE THE WIND). I wrote a random poem:

Very few things
disgust me more
than a stuffed animal fallen
on our bathroom floor.

MOVE OVER, W. S. MERWIN. I also complain about how sucky my manuscript is. Honestly, my feelings about it change constantly. What’s the Hamlet quote? I think it goes, “I am but in love with my manuscript north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a piece of crap when I see one.”

I checked email yesterday! Yes! I was supposed to do only one session – at least, that had been my aim, but with the schmooze at P’s & uploading files for the Writer’s Group, I needed both a morning & an afternoon session. Each was about 20 minutes.

It felt pretty good. Lots of support from people emailing me to tell me how they liked that I’m not checking email (and they noted this irony). Some business stuff. Kinda liberating to jot off quick responses & not dilly-dally while writing them.

The diary entry goes on for NINE pages, nearly all of it obsessing about TBC. The lack of emailing and blogging redirects me to the paper diary, I suppose. Also, I talked with another internet-addicted friend on the phone and warned her she might have to check my email for me if things got desperate.

On Friday I’ll post the rest of the wrap-up.

NiFtY Interview with Josh Fernandez

Kato Peruses an Author Contract (Oh if only my Clarkie could do the same!)

For my second-ever Not-Famous-Yet Author Interview, here is Josh Fernandez. He’s an amazing writer with a hilarious, irreverent voice, and he has a book of poetry coming out this fall. It seems I’ve snagged him for this interview just before his jump into fame. Okay, so publication does not equal instant fame. For instance, I, like many other people, still have no idea who wrote that weird Twilight book.

BH: What’s your one-paragraph pitch for Stickup Kid?
JF: Buy it or I’ll murder you! No, it’s an exciting little story about a small half-Mexican, half-Caucasian kid named Bear who lives with his mom in Brookline, a very Jewish suburb of Boston. One day Bear separates from his class while they’re on a field trip and he meets a man named Stoop. Bear runs away from home and finds Stoop, who takes him in and teaches the naïve boy about his Latin heritage, but he also teaches him the art of being a stickup kid—a purse-snatcher, a robber, a thief …

BH: You’re one of the few people I know who actually makes a living from his writing. What do you write to pay the bills?
JF: I write mostly arts and culture stories. I write for, Sacramento News & Review, Boulder Weekly and some other papers that are scattered throughout our glorious country.

BH: How do you think your nonfiction writing influences your fiction, if at all?
JF: Non-fiction writing has helped me write fiction in a number of ways. It’s really helped me find a voice. My goal when writing for newspapers isn’t to be a solid journalist; my goal is to simply entertain the reader. I get a lot of hate mail. News writing has also helped me find the focus of whatever I’m writing. Nobody wants to read a long, blathering story, except for my grandpa. But he could barely read. And I think he was just pretending to read, trying to escape my grandma. RIP, gramps.

I also write poetry, which helps with everything except for money. Although, I just signed a contract with R.L. Crow press. They are going to publish my first full-length collection of poems, tentatively titled Dancing to Genocide. It should be out in the fall.

BH: What is your writing schedule like?
JF:  I’ve never really had one until I started writing Stickup Kid. I’d kind of just write when I felt like writing, which kind of ended up being all the time. But for the novel I got up every morning at 8, went to the coffee shop and wrote until 2 or 3. It was important that I did that because I have a tendency to stay in my underwear all day and watch YouTube videos of high school kids getting hit in the nuts with various objects.

BH: Voice is one of the aspects of Stickup Kid’s beginning that I admired the most. It’s also a quality all writers are after, and something which confuses many beginning writers. Do you have any tips to share on how to cultivate voice?
JF: I think basically you have to just have a voice. Sometimes I teach a writing class at Sacramento City College and I ask the students if they ever have thoughts that pass through their heads that they’d never tell anyone because they seem weird or sick. They always say “Yes.” Then I tell them to take those thoughts, write them down and then throw away everything else. And then they don’t say anything. Because they’re all asleep. Because I’m really boring. The point is, you just have to be unafraid to grab the core of who you are and put it down on a page. Nobody wants to read the outer part of you that’s been influenced by the outside world. That’s already been done. People need to read the inner you. That’s very new age. I learned that from Yanni.

BH: Your blog title “I Know, I Hate Blogs Too!” just begs me to ask what it is you hate about blogs. So, what do you hate about blogs?
JF: I don’t hate blogs. I just hate bloggers. Ha! I am a blogger, so what does that say? Really, it’s just the journalist in me that hates the idea of people who don’t get paid taking our jobs because they offer their blogging service for free. There’s so much bad journalism now because of this idea that “anyone can be a writer!” It’s the same with self-publishing. Anyone can say, “I’m a published author!” and then be a writer, while the rest of us who are actually trying to write stuff that people will read get left in the dust. Basically, I’m saying “Waaaaah!” But in more words.

BH: Since I started my own website/blog, I discovered roughly 167,738,744 other writer blogs and websites. Are you an island or do you frequent anyone else’s?
JF: Oh I read blogs all the time. I kind of just cruise around to see what other people are doing. I can’t really think of any off the top of my head, though.

BH: Can you compare Bear, the main character in Stickup Kid, to anyone you know in real life?
JF: I based a lot of Bear off my own life. And I took parts of friends from childhood and put them into his character. There are a lot of things that happened to me that also happened to Bear. All the good, heroic things were me. The horrible and twisted stuff was, um, my friends. Yeah.

BH: What does your writing workspace look like?

JF: Pictures! We have a spare bedroom that we made into an office. It’s good to have an office without a TV. I’d never get anything done with the possibility of Judge Judy lurking nearby.

BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?
JF: I really like Robert Pinsky’s The Sounds of Poetry. It allows you look at words in an entirely new perspective. The first time I read the book it made me a little insane. I had no idea words were that delicate.

BH: Last we spoke about it, you were revising Stickup Kid with an agent’s guidance. Where are you in the process? Have you signed a contract with that agent?
JF: I’m editing it right now. When I’m done I’ll hand it over. They want the cleanest copy I can make. After that, if they like it, which hopefully they will, actually, I don’t know what happens after that.

BH: How did you & the agent originally connect?
JF: Luck! I set up my website and one of their interns happened to click on it. He read the part that mentioned I was writing a book and he told me to send the first 20 pages. So I did.

BH: What is the best writing advice anyone has given you?
JF: It was something about a bow. It was like: make your paragraph like a bow, tight enough so that when you pluck it it will resonate with the perfect pitch. Crap, no, that wasn’t it. I get a lot of great writing advice, but then I forget everything. My mind is small.

BH: Do you “tweet”?
JF: Yes. I was totally against it, but then I realized that it was another way to get my stories out there so I’m getting used to twitter.

BH: Why do you want to be published?
JF: That’s a great question. It’s all a blur now. I’ve been mulling the story of Stickup Kid in my mind for so long that I just wanted to get it out. I really like the story and I honestly think that other people will like it. I like to write stuff that I like to read. I kind of want to see if other people like the same stuff that I do.

Here's the feature image without Josh's forehead cut off. I spent at least an hour trying to fix the feature image. Sorry, Josh. Love the bunny.

BH: Any words on advice to other writers for keeping the hope alive?
JF: Writing isn’t a very hopeful profession. I think it’s a great hobby, but there’s a lot of heartache and rejection in the world of writing. I am the kind of person who expects to be rejected, so when I’m not I feel like I’ve tricked someone. It’s great. Not all people are like that, though. A lot of people expect to be published and expect people to gush over their writing. And when they don’t get published they blame everyone else. It can’t be like that. You have to pay a ton of dues, and when you’re done paying dues, you have to stand there while people dangle pink slips in front of your face that say “We’re sorry, Mr. Fernandez, but we regret to inform you that your story isn’t what we were looking for …”.  Man, that was like the least hopeful thing I’ve ever said. Sorry. I’ll just say: Keep the hope alive!

There you have it, folks! Words from very-nearly-famous author Josh Fernandez. When he’s famous he’s promised to get us all book deals with his amazing influence. Not really. I’m promising that for him.

Thanks again, Josh, for the interview!

You can check out Josh’s website by clicking here.