As writers we have a lot of shoulds.
I should write every day.
I should take out the trash before I write.
I should Tweet.
I should call my mother.
I should apply for a BookBub promotion.
I should be reading.
I should exercise.
I should go to a writer’s conference.
I should post on Facebook.
I should spend more time with my family.
I should volunteer.
I should do a book give-away.
I should bake more.
I should walk the dog.
I should clean the garage.
I should update my website.
There are so many shoulds, they can easily take up all your time, leaving no time to write.
Of course there are some shoulds that should be there, like eating and sleeping and making sure you have the means to do both. Perhaps you have other living things that rely on you, and you have to make sure they are clothed and housed and fed, too. Setting aside the shoulds related to survival, what shoulds do you have as a writer?
The number one should for a writer is: I should write.
After all, if you don’t write, you’re not a writer. If you’re not a writer, you don’t have any writer-shoulds. End of story.
As a writer, what other shoulds are really necessary, and what’s just getting in the way of the big should: writing?
I’ve managed to get rid of a few shoulds in my writing life, like I should be inspired to write (Forget that—I have a deadline, I write, with or without the muse), and I should get all my chores done before I write (Ha! Hello, compartmentalization).
But I’m still struggling with shoulds related to author presence and promotion, with social media being the biggest question mark. Should I Tweet? Should I post on Facebook? What about LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram? I find myself vacillating between spending time on them while not getting much value, and spending time feeling guilty about not doing them.
Twitter is the one that perplexes me most. I’ve really tried the whole Twitter thing, but I just can’t figure out how to enjoy it as a consumer of its content, so I suppose it makes sense I can’t fathom how to leverage it as a provider of content.
I know several writers who swear by Twitter as a tool for both connecting and promoting. Not me. My Twitter account is dormant, and each time I get a notification that I have a new follower I have a huge pang of guilt. I should be Tweeting!
Figuring I really should get a handle on Twitter, I went to my go-to social media platform, Facebook, and asked other writers to enlighten me. Dozens responded with loads of opinions and advice.
Prolific author Jonathan Maberry had this to say:
“I budget ten minutes out of every writing hour for social media, which means I hit Twitter frequently throughout the day. It allows for a different kind of conversation than I would have on, say, Facebook or Instagram. Twitter is very focused on immediate buzz. It’s kind of a perpetual cultural zeitgeist water cooler. I can get some news out right away about one of my various projects. I can get some quick reactions to pop culture topics while also keeping tabs on the constantly changing world of politics. So, I get to stay in touch, buzz my business, and interact with other people without getting sucked into a time-wasting black hole.” Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Mars One and Dogs of War
From my small, personal, unscientific survey, I learned that lots of writers, like Maberry, love Twitter. They use it in a wide variety of ways: promotion, conducting polls, research, word sprints, tracking agents, pitch events, networking, interacting with fans, fun, and more. It works for them.
But for every writer who responded with something positive about Twitter, an equal number said they don’t use it, can’t figure out how to use it, or have no idea if the way they are using it is beneficial to their writing careers.
Color me more confused than ever! Should I press on and learn Twitter because it will be good for me as a writer? Or not?
Recently that question was answered for me when I had an appointment with a marketing consultant who specializes in the intersection of authors and technology. He looked at my website and saw those nifty little buttons for people to connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, Pinterest and Instagram.
“Do these work?” he asked.
“Sure, you click on them and they take you to my accounts on those sites,” I said.
“Yeah, but do they work for you?” he asked. “Do you actually use them and find them beneficial in some way?”
“Not really,” I replied. “I mean, I’m on Facebook every day to see what’s going on, but I don’t post much.”
“Do you enjoy Facebook? You don’t regard it as a chore?”
“I don’t mind it,” I said.
“Then use that one,” he said. “And ditch the rest.”
“What?! Are you sure? They’re supposed to be great tools for writers. Shouldn’t I be using them to, I don’t know, connect with readers and promote my books or something?”
“Do that on the platform you actually use and enjoy—Facebook. There’s no reason to bog yourself down with more than one or two.”
The “or two” caught my attention. “I guess I should learn Twitter after all.”
He must have seen my antipathy on my face. “No, there’s no reason to use Twitter if you don’t like it. If you want a second platform, find one you do enjoy.”
“I like to make Pinterest Boards where I cast actors as the characters in my stories….”
“Perfect,” he told me. “Make those public. And then post on Facebook a couple times a week with things that help people know and relate to you—your writing process, your stories, your dogs. Get rid of all the other social media and stop feeling guilty about it.”
“Phew,” I said. “I’m so relieved to have those ‘shoulds’ off my back.”
“The only two things you really should have as an author,” he told me, “are a website and a mailing list.”
Uh oh. Want to join my new mailing list?
Another should that I’ve allowed to get in the way of writing is blogging. Blogging can be deceptive for a writer because it’s, well, writing. And we think we should do it for our author presence and promotion. While it can be a great tool for some authors, I recently learned that my list of shoulds doesn’t need to be so big. And I have a deadline coming up.
This will be my last blog here on Kobo Writing Life, at least for the near future while I focus my time and energy on writing the novel I’m under contract to release in May 2018.
If you’d like to connect with me, you can probably guess where to find me: on Facebook or via my website, ChrisMandeville.com, where I really do have a button for you to join my mailing list.
Chris Mandeville writes science fiction and fantasy, as well as nonfiction for writers. Her books include Seeds: A Post-Apocalyptic Adventure and 52 Ways to Get Unstuck: Exercises to Break Through Writer’s Block
I always enjoy your articles, so thanks, Chris for your dedication to your writing and for sharing it.
Thank you, Susi.
Good advice, to focus on a) the social media that relates best to your reading audience; and b) the social media you enjoy most. You might enjoy Chris Syme’s books/posts re doing more with less on social media. I’ll catch up with you over on FB.
I’ll definitely check out Chris Syme’s info. Thanks, Lisa!
What a perfectly apt way to look at the new year (and any time of the year, for that matter). Too many “shoulds” can weigh too heavily on the “shoulders.” Here’s to less weight (and wait) and more productivity for 2018.
Thanks! Love the “shoulders.”
I am so relieved at the words of your marketing guy — I get this awful heart-squeezy feeling when I’m thinking of all the promotion I “should” do (not that I have anything to promote yet, but I figure I should practice, get a presence, etc., so it’s less of a huge task once I’ve published more than nonfiction articles and blog posts).
One thing I have recently added to my “should” list is to read more regularly. I find that my writing comes easier, and I have fewer self-doubt moments (“is writing a real job?”) when I’m on a steady diet of good, satisfying fiction reading.
I’m so relieved, too! I’d been carrying around a whole lot of those shoulds, with a constant feeling of “I have homework I haven’t done.” I feel so much better now. And I’ve been reading more, too. I do find that it’s important to have reading as part of the balance I’m trying to achieve in my life and work. Thanks for sharing, Mandy!
Outstanding blog post. I find myself struggling with my “shoulds” as well, but I agree that none is more important than the writing itself.
I liked the bit about giving a bit of a hierarchy to the “shoulds” (i.e. have a website, have a mailing list).
Very insightful. Thanks Chris!
Thank you for a wonderful blog post. (And I’m sorry that it’s going to be your last for a while!) As a writer, I struggle with many of the same “shoulds,” especially around social media. You’ve shared a great way to keep some balance and stay focused on what’s really important.
Thank you, Barb!
Chris, I 100% agree with your consultant on social media. Figure out the one social media platform you enjoy or at least tolerate and work with that one. You’re really just networking and building a community on social media. When you are ready to sell books, I will wouldn’t branch out much. I recommend some FB ads but more importantly, Amazon ads. Consumers are there primed to buy something which gives you a great opportunity. Anyway, my two cents.
Phew! I’m so glad you agree, Jenny. I look to you as an expert in this area, so this is a huge relief. I also appreciate your advice on where to branch out–Facebook and Amazon ads are now on my list. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment!