Posted in Writing, Writing craft

Writers (like everyone else) need common sense: Five times they don’t show any

Years ago, one of my students returned from a semester abroad in Australia and brought me a little gift for helping her. It is a coffee coaster, and it has sat on my desk for years. It says, “Common sense is not common at all!” I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but I think it warrants some further consideration.

French writer Christiane Collange once said, “Common sense is perhaps the most equally divided, but surely the most underemployed, talent in the world.” And when it comes to so many people’s writing aspirations, it seems to be so under-employed as to be practically non-existent. Let me explain.

Newbie writers can be intense. They follow the social media feeds of many other wannabe writers and writers who have garnered some success. They take part ins discussions on Facebook sites where everyone else is just as inexperienced and gullible as they are. They hang on every word of encouragement posted by every other writer and wannabe writer, and they seem, so often, to lose their sense of perspective―their common sense. Here are five times when I think writers need to get real and cultivate some common sense.

  1. Sending manuscripts to publishers and agents who don’t publish or represent your genre. Often, not only do they not represent or publish your kind of writing, they actually loathe it. Why would any aspiring writer do this? It shows a significant lack of common sense. And don’t have the audacity to think that your brilliant piece of work will sway them. Not going to happen. Remember, publishers and agents take on only a tiny fraction of the work they’re sent that they do like.
  2. Interacting only with other “writers” on social media to sell books. This makes no sense at all. If you’re trying to connect with readers, connecting solely with other writers isn’t going to get you there. Everyone on those SM sites wants what you want: they want you to read their book, but they’re not likely to read yours.
  3. Interacting on social media writers’ sites to get advice on your writing. If you’re interacting in the hope of improving your writing, unless you know the strengths and credentials of those on the site, you might as well ask you brother for his writing advice (this would demonstrate common sense only if your brother happens to be a well-established writer or writing teacher!). The best writing advice comes from successful, well-established writers not from barely literate members of Facebook groups for beginning writers. Use some common sense!
  4. Not spending every minute you can when not writing or working on whatever else you do reading. If you’re spending more time watching Netflix than reading, you are not demonstrating common sense. We learn to write by reading widely―which means not just in you own genre. Open your mind. If you don’t read, you’re going to be a shitty writer. End of discussion.
  5. Thinking that writing just comes naturally. In what world does it make any sense that you don’t’ have to learn your craft? There is such a thing as talent, but talent is not enough. Talent needs to be cultivated and supported. Many talented writers never get anywhere because they fail to see that there is still a lot they have to learn. There was a learning curve in learning to drive a car, knit, bake cookies, ride a horse. Writing isn’t any different.

“Common sense” is generally defined along the lines of sound judgment applied to practical matters. Apart from the actual writing effort itself, much of what we do as writers is of a practical nature―editing, marketing, searching for agents and publishers, making publishing decisions etc. Don’t you think it’s a good idea to apply sound judgment?

Posted in Social Media

Independent or co-dependent? Writers & other strangers

network 2The indie music scene?  Now that’s an image most of us can get our heads around.  As Catherine Andrews wrote for CNN online a few years ago, “If it’s cool, creative, and different, it’s indie…”[1] I don’t know about you, but when I think about indie publishing, I don’t really get the same vibe – but I’d really like to. Let’s start with the word itself: What, precisely, does the word independent mean?

I like to start with a dictionary.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary online, independent means the following:  “Free from outside control; not subject to another’s authority.”[2]  That sounds just about right.  The dictionary also suggests that the word means “…not depending on another for livelihood or subsistence,” and my personal favorite, “…capable of thinking or acting for oneself.”

So indie writers should be self-sufficient, self-supporting and autonomous.  They should also be unconstrained by the thinking of others.  They do their own thing.  So, is that really true?

I’ve spend a bit more time than usual lately on my social networks – more than I should because that cuts into writing time (and I plan to stop that immediately), but I have noticed an important phenomenon as I connect with so-called writers’ communities online.  Writers are by and large more connected with other writers than they are with mentors or readers.  And it has puzzled me quite a bit that I am sometimes followed on Twitter by tweeters who have thousands of followers.  An illustration…

Just the other day I one of my Twitter notifications indicated that I had several new followers.  I don’t know what other people do, but I usually click on them to see who they are.  My suspicion is that others either (a) automatically follow those who follow them – a questionable exercise depending on your objective for being on Twitter at all; or (b) try to figure out if the new follower could be useful to them.  In any case, this particular new follower boasts some 81,000 followers!  Wow!  This individual must have a lot to offer.  Well, not so much, I found by reading his tweets.  And to make matters worse, he follows 75,000 people or organizations! Why in the world is he following me?  Even if I had something useful that he might be interested in, he would never, NEVER see it among his thousands of tweets that would come to him on a daily basis.  I might be ridiculously naïve when it comes to the power of social media – but I don’t think so.

I’m as aware as the next person that there is a lot of power in the viral tweet, but the truth is that only a miniscule number of tweets garner the kind of publicity that most writers are looking for.

I took some time today to explore the research on what makes social media message go viral.  It appears that no one has yet published a good, well-constructed study on the reasons for why a tweet goes viral, but there have been some studies on the attributes of videos that go viral, although the results are vague to say the least.  One American study I read suggested that there are two distinct factors that might affect the ‘virality’ of a video message: the emotional content of the video and the source. This study provided some evidence that videos that were disgusting, angry or funny might garner more sharing, but the results are a bit fuzzy in my view.[3]  So does that mean that if your tweets are angry, funny or disgusting they are more likely to be retweeted and go viral.  Maybe, but unless these are genuine characteristics of what you really want others to know about you and your work, the results are not likely to be what you want to achieve.

So, if you are seeking a large following on a social media platform like Twitter, are you truly independent and unconstrained by the thinking of others?  Or do others’ perspectives and actions make you a lemming?

There is a big difference between independent and co-dependent which is how I see many of the relationships between and among writers on social networking platforms like Twitter and Facebook (to a lesser extent on LinkedIn but it’s only a matter of time there.  Co-dependency means being controlled or manipulated by another – and in the usual sense of the word that other person has some kind of pathological condition including narcissism.  Hmm…not at all like indie, isn’t it?  But does seem to define many of the online relationships in writers’ communities in my view.

Is it the case that most of us only use certain social networking sites because of what we think we can get from them?  What would happen if we took a different view?  Ask not what a social network can do for me, but what I can do for this social network?  Wouldn’t that change a lot of those me-tweets?  Then maybe we’d all actually get something out of it anyway!

Perhaps being a cool, indie writer means that you have to be the one asking what you can do for your social networks, rather than the other way around.  I’m actually going to try this myself – from now on.

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[3] Guadagno, R. E., Rempala, D. M., Murphy, S., & Okdie, B. M. (2013). What makes a video go viral? An analysis of emotional contagion and Internet memes. Computers In Human Behavior, 29(6), 2312-2319. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2013.04.016