Tackling the flotsam and jetsam of my digital clutter got me thinking, especially as I was trashing old links, old tweets, old articles on the web, getting that strange high you get sometimes when you clear out huge piles of anything in your life. It hit me as I trashed a whole folder of clipped files on my hard drive: Someone went to the effort to write and make this, I thought to myself. I’m sure probably someone out there is probably cleaning out their RSS reader or whatever, trashing a post or site I created on the Internet, unfollowing or unsubscribing me.
If You Build a Platform, Will They Come? Really?
I’m not saying this to be sensitive or express hurt; I’m at peace with the fact that you can’t be all things to all people, that not everything will resonate, that people outgrow writers and sites all the time. It’s just part of life as a writer, especially one who creates as much on the Internet as I do.
But it did make me thoughtful about my own “digital output.” As a writer, especially: nowadays many writers are advised to have a blog, build a site, be on Twitter, guest post, create a Facebook page, etc. It’s called “building a platform” — and it’s something you’re advised and even expected to do beyond writing your genius book or brilliant short story or epic poem. Sometimes I even read advice to think of my work overall as a “content creator” — that your book or story is the center of your output, but your Tumblr, Twitter or whatever is also part of your “body of work.” (I say that with a faux-snooty tone of voice, of course, because it makes me giggle to think of all my Internet natterings as something so lofty.)
Of course, this makes sense on a marketing level and a professional one as well. But as a writer, I struggle — I already have to work a full-time job; my time is limited; part of me really just wants to focus on writing my novels and stories. Isn’t that enough? How do I balance this all, this genuine creative labor of love (AND MAJOR PASSION OF MY EXISTENCE AFTER ALL) with all this social media, this blogging. And of course, life! Remember life? Like, people and travel and music and glamour and dinner parties and concerts and clothes and being an aunt? No wonder addictions to Adderall are on the rise!
In Which I Admit That I Like Wasting Time on the Internets
Some writers I know just don’t do it, this whole “content creator” approach. They blog once a month and tweet like maybe every fortnight. They’re really purist souls, with a purist’s dedication to their craft, and I admire them. I would do this, too, if I were smart and pure.
But I’m not. To be honest, I’m a bit of a mad scientist when it comes to Internet-y things, tools, platforms: I like messing around with newness. I like experimenting with e-publishing, with blogs, with Tumblr. I like to sign up for something new, play around with it a bit, see what the possibilities are and then drop it if I get bored. I genuinely think making beautiful, truthful words, reaching an audience with them and making a living from that will change pretty radically in the next decade.
And it’s not fruitless: I inevitably come back here or back to my novel with a new idea, or at least some new energy. Sometimes I think of my Twitter feed as an odd poem I’m writing; sometimes I get seeds of story and book ideas from random things I tweeted. I like writing here because I like having a record of what I’m mentally, creatively and intellectually engaged by. I like the novelty of digital content creation, the possibility of it.
But I’m also pretty sure someone out there is like, Ugh, this person. And has no compunction excising me from their corner of the Internets, because my content is their clutter.
Taking the Eagle-Eye View of It All
The truth: I’m a big digital content experimentalist and enthusiast, but like everything Internet-related, it takes some discernment and wise strategy to put what I call “digital content toys” into their proper place. It’s easier in some ways to just eschew it all — then you don’t have to break down what each space means for you as a writer and where it fits into your overall work. And maybe you just don’t care, and that’s really great, too, because you’re a punk rock stalwart and that’s why you rock.
For me, though, I want to make good use of my time and energy without being all Type-A crazy-system about it. So that means that after a period of messing around, I have to sit down and define how all the parts of this expanded content universe fit together. Then I don’t have to waste time or precious headspace trying to figure out what goes where, what I’m doing with this or that. And it’s inspirational as well — knowing that I have all these interesting spaces to pour work into makes me look for ideas to fill them with, and that keeps my ears and eyes open in a specific way. So I settled down for a bit and figured out what each online space meant to me, setting up for myself what I would do with each one — and discovered how defining all your digital writing outlets can actually help me grow as a writer.