Could I BE any more out of character?!

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
An’ ev’n devotion!

–Robert Burns, “To a Louse”

I’m about to post a selfie.

And then ask for help.

That, my friends, is at least two of the signs of the Apocalypse. Start hoarding the canned goods.

phone pics 3 003
Asking for help feels a lot like posting a big ol’ no-makeup selfie of me in a blaze-orange hat. It probably won’t kill me.

 #LiveTheQuest – Prompt 6, from Jeffrey Davis
What experiment for revenue or reach can you define? #experiment
What is one specific experiment you can define for growth and change for this month in revenue or reach? This experiment is similar to the one small project you defined before. But this time I ask you to frame the experiment in these terms, If I did X, then would Y result? If I wrote and published relevant content every week, would I feel better and reach # more people? If I reached out to 3 people this month for possible connection or collaboration, would one of them lead to an exciting new venture? If my business focused less on _____ and more on ______, would this lead to more customers? If I wrote poetry with no imagery for a month, would I discover another way to write poems? (Okay, that last one was not related to reach or revenue, but I include its ilk as an option.)

This is a fantastic question, and I like the focus it places on concrete action. I’ve done a lot of soul-searching over the past couple of months (okay, forever), and it feels refreshing and productive to move on to something less personal.

Revenue, in my particular line of work as an unpublished writer, isn’t even on my radar at the moment, and won’t be until I’ve made significant progress toward my goal of publication. Right now, my family’s revenue stream comes from my husband’s full-time teaching job and my part-time tutoring gig. “Writing” and “revenue” aren’t words I can yet imagine uttering in the same breath. So my focus here is on reach.

Writers are constantly exhorted to increase our reach, which in large part means being active, relevant, and effective on social media–putting ourselves out there and garnering followers with our content. “Putting myself out there” isn’t something I’m comfortable with, particularly within the context of growing a following. It feels like a middle school popularity contest, and I’ve seen writers approach it in this way. I can think of many published writers whose social media presence strikes me as in-your-face, aggressive, or extremely self-serving. I have to acknowledge their success, though–this approach appeals to their followers, so I also have to acknowledge that what they’re doing works for them at the same time as I own the fact that, for me, this wouldn’t feel authentic. I can develop my own authenticity without denying theirs. There are, of course, numerous examples of writers who leverage social media with extreme grace–writers who enrich their readers’ lives and engage them without screaming, “BUY MY BOOKS!!!”

But how do I do this? How do I “put myself out there” as a writer in a way that feels authentic to me? This is a question I’ve struggled with since I became serious about embarking on a career as a writer. I’ve considered a number of projects: creating a Facebook author page; becoming more active on Twitter; recalibrating this blog to focus less on personal insights and ponderings and more on providing something that my readers want–whatever that is. Honestly, I’m not sure. I should probably spend some time thinking about this.

Some options aren’t currently viable for me. I hear a lot of writers touting the merits of conferences, workshops, classes, and retreats. Financially, these aren’t an option for me. I hope that someday they will be.

Here’s the thing I love about writing. Okay, one of the things. Writing is how I make sense of the world. It’s how I know what I think. I began writing this post with the assumption that I’d write about creating a Facebook author page and ask for input–who does it? how should I go about it? what content would readers find valuable? Instead, I’ve realized that before I take any concrete steps, I need to figure out exactly what I’m going for. What, as a writer, do I hope to accomplish by growing my network, my connections? What exactly is it that have to offer readers? Who needs what I write? And why?

So here I am, once again laying down where all the ladders start. I need to see myself as other see me. (As I reach for Yeats and Burns, I’m wondering what on earth I would do or be without the poets who have given me a language). As Jeffrey Davis points out, DIY often pales in comparison to DIT (do it together), so I’d like to ask for your help.

(It’s hard asking for help. I’m afraid I’ll sound wanty. Or needy. Or, worse, like I’m asking for praise instead of earning it.)

Here’s what I’d like to know–what, exactly, is it that I have to offer you? I’m not asking for a list of what makes me awesome; instead, I’d like to know what draws you to the blog of an unpublished writer (as I typed that, my five-year-old just said, “I need to publish.” Seriously. That was creepy). What do you want to read? What would draw you in–or drive you away?

I guess what I really want to know is this–how can I add value to your day?

Thanks for reading. Thank you for connecting with me. If you weren’t reading this, I’d still be a writer, but it wouldn’t mean nearly as much.

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21 thoughts on “Could I BE any more out of character?!

  1. It might be helpful to look at why you seem to see “revenue” as something somehow alien to being the writer that you are (my impression). Money is simply a form of facilitating energy – something that allows forms of expression in our culture (like eating). It is an energy that is exchanged based on value. For a writer, value is produced in what is written and is determined by the consumer of the writing. The dominant system, publication by a third party who is the arbiter of what is valuable, is, in fact, transforming to something else. This creates confusion and confusion contains large doses of opportunity. The arbiters are losing control and there are opportunities for writers to take a larger, even a dominant, role in connecting with readers who will exchange money for the value they get from reading the writer’s production. Perhaps there are some stones that you have not yet turned over in your search for revenue – the first being the inherent value in the great talent that you have to relate to people in a profound way.
    “Or I could be wrong.” ~ Carl Sagan

    1. Thanks, Jim. I really appreciate your response, and perspective. Since I’m pursuing publication the old-fashioned way, revenue and writing don’t really intersect for me at the moment. I’ve thought about self-publishing, but at this point in time it doesn’t feel like a good fit for me (perhaps if I were more marketing-savvy, it would). You make a great point about the current confusion as the old system gives way to the new, and I’m really interested to see how writers make use of this as things develop further.

  2. Brenna, Beautiful post and beautiful selfie. Is it weird to say I like the look of your face? Probably, but it’s true, so I’ll be authentic and say so. I feel your pain on this. I always wonder how, as writers, we writers help one another beyond just providing encouragement. But I love to hear from other writers, to learn their processes and see their viewpoints. When I find bloggers who are honest and compassionate, I like to read what they have to say. You are those things. I like to know about people’s lives and opinions. I enjoy slices of life, especially when lives differ from my own. I guess I would say, keep on, keepin’ on. (I fear that doesn’t help much, but it is honest)

    1. Thanks so much. And no, that doesn’t sound weird; it warms my heart. 🙂 I love that connection with other writers, too; maybe I can focus on a way to foster that. I think there’s a real need for encouragement, too–my writer-brother and I were talking about that recently–about how many unpublished writers there are out here, many of whom don’t feel supported by their family and friends. We were thinking about the possibility of creating some kind of support system for the writers whose spouses/partners/families/friends simply don’t appreciate what they do. Not sure what that would look like…..it’s something I want to spend some time thinking about. Anyway, thanks so much for your response!

  3. Brenna,
    I love reading about how people are fighting dragons and meddling with wizards.

    I wish more kids in middle school could start or end their days reading about the dragons and wizards, knowing that they have the superpowers they need to get through the bizzarro world called adolescence. Maybe even talk about it in a circle in homeroom so that they can tap into those powers. Or create videos together to explore the stories, and find new truths.

    I wish someone would write good stories for the back of cereal boxes so that kids would beg their parents to keep buying that cereal, and brands could see that that don’t have to sugar up kids to get them addicted. They can connect with people through fantasy and dreaming and challenge and the stories that weave all that together.

    I wish school committees and town councils and community action groups would use fables to engage people in solving problems. If we were invited into the journey in new ways, could we solve problems in new ways? Why do we pay people to take notes and transcribe but not enlighten us through metaphorical stories about real dangers and magical possibilities ahead?

    Instead of mindless arts and crafts and bingo, I wish nursing homes would hire story writers to help their residents share their wisdom and what they’re learning in their final journey.

    Keep asking and you’ll find what you need.

    Until then, more dragons and wizards, please.

    Lois

    1. Lois, thanks so, so much for your very thoughtful and thought-provoking response! I love your questions, and your wishes. Incorporating storytelling into “real life” would be a powerful thing, and I agree with you that we need to make more space for it. Your nursing home particularly strikes a chord with me. I’ve spent a lot of time in nursing homes over the past decade, as three of my grandparents needed care, and the idea of empowering residents to share their wisdom–oh, that is gorgeous and game-changing stuff, Lois. I love it.

  4. OH I will join this line-up of genius to say this, I like what you do. That- your thoughts on daily life as a woman who is a mother who writes. Or a writer who is a mother and a woman. And a wife. And a teacher. Daughter, Wizard and dragon. Finding the bead here, that is authentic and you seems to be something you’ve already done. Getting right with it requires practice and engagement. I spend a bit of time every couple of weeks to notice which of my posts got shared the most, or commented on, or how many times people sent me emails because they cannot figure out Disqus commenting on my site. Let it be easy. That is what I want. Your easy, no-make-up, lovely, real self. xoxoS

    1. This is a lineup of geniuses, isn’t it?? I think this post may be my most-commented one already. 🙂 The getting-right with things….that is always challenging. Or maybe it shouldn’t be. Maybe it should just be easy. I think you’re right. Thank you, wise and compassionate Suzi.

  5. If you were my marketing client – saying “I want to grow my reach, how do I do that?” My first question for you would be “What are your goals?” I can tell you how to gain blog followers, blah dee blah, but unless you know where you want to go, then what tangible advice could be properly given? I know a lot of the hows – but you’re asking yourself EXACTLY the right questions – what are your goals?

    Envision your idea of success. When will you feel like you’ve “made it” as a writer. Imagine it fully in color, smell, taste and sound. Then, think about what it would take to get there. And if there’s any experiment that can be done along those lines.

    The end goal success vision is a tricky one. Some people feel successful having gotten readers, or reviews. Having made money at writing, or having recognition somewhere. My personal success metrics are random and weird. I want to see someone on a plane or subway reading my book. I want to have my name in IMDB. So, I make my shorter-term decisions based on those very personal sensations of success.

    1. Thanks, AK–your advice is excellent. I need to spend more time figuring out what, exactly, “making it” as a writer means to me. I like your personal examples–they seem much more aligned with what I want than the sort of abstracts that are often held up in this profession as “success.”

      1. Once you know the long-term success goal, it makes the shorter term paths clearer. Then if you decide “I need an email list of X” or “I want to have a thousand Twitter followers”, then we will talk about the specific steps you should take to get there.

  6. Brenna! I just want to squeak your name and give you a big hug! My fellow “subtle touch” comrade! It’s like you are inside my head, typing up the notes I am thinking. Thank you for this post. The questions are the thing itself, no? I just want to keep reading it, and I have a feeling some of the meaty quotes will end up on my wall. Your selfie is brave and beautiful! I love it! Your expression captures and says so much, so subtly.

    I ask myself so many of the same questions on a regular basis. Especially about the social media. Who wants to hear about me? My cookies, my troubles, my recipes, my questions about life? I started a tiny Facebook page for my JustWriteFood blog, but it falls off (in content and readers) because the content I post just aren’t genuine or meaningful (just stuff to fill the page, most of the time). I’ve been thinking more and more that maybe it’s not about what I can share, but maybe it’s about what I ask of other people. Sort of like your question to the group in your blog today (asking for feedback). Maybe a novel way to think about it is not ‘what do I have to offer”, but “what do I have to ask?” I’m shifting my thinking to the idea that maybe using social media, or even the blog, as a way to generate information, content and questions and sharing from people may be helpful – and I think part of my personal development in moving in that direction. (Like asking a question, offering a prompt, something that people can connect with and respond too).

    I agree with AK too…what are your goals? I understand your place as an unpublished writer, it’s hard to know what the goals are. For me, the goal has become – anything that keeps me writing.

    Good luck to you sweet soul! You have so much goodness to share with the world, and I hope I get to keep reading what you have to say. Thank you! Thank you for what you offer.

    1. Vanessa, thank you so much–the absolute best feeling I ever experience as a writer is when I can really connect with someone else and maybe say the things that are in another person’s head, too. For me, I think that really is what all of this is about. I love your focus on the questions–I hadn’t thought about it that way, and I’m immensely grateful to you for pointing it out. This reminds me of AK Anderson’s dream post about the answer being in the question. 🙂 It’s so comforting to know there’s another “subtle touch” out there thinking this stuff! And I’ll take that hug. 🙂

  7. Oh, and YOU! You are what draws me to this blog and your writing. It’s exactly your story and your questions, as you narrative them through your lens. So, just keep being you (with lots of pictures of dragon tea parties).

  8. This is an interesting challenge you’ve given us. A few things come up for me in answer to your questions. First with regard to money:
    – I have a good friend who is an artist who has started selling notecards with photos and haiku she wrote on the front. Might you and your artist friend be able to turn your award winning collaboration/s into something like that?
    – A friend of mine recently sent me a link for a new crowd funding site just for authors called inkshares.com. Basically you pitch the book and work with them to determine the fundraising goal, you set up the campaign and if you meet your goal they work with you to edit and publish the book under their imprint. The unique thing about it is that you don’t start writing the actual book until you get funded. Not sure what I think about it yet or if it would be right for me, but it’s an interesting concept.
    And regarding building presence:
    – I have a number of friends who are unpublished or minimally published writers and I do love hearing them talk about their work–their challenges, their inspiration, their research, even the books they are reading. But I especially like when they involve their readers in the conversation. I’ve had friends post when they are stuck asking for ideas or feedback. I love it when they ask questions. So many people online want to connect, want to be heard or seen or recognized. But they also want to see you. Luckily you are going at that, but maybe showing more of what’s going on with how you work. It especially builds camaraderie with other writers in the same place (so I am hoping you pursue something around your idea of building connections with other writers).
    – We’ve sort of started bit of this with Quest, but I think we could do even more around sharing each others work–on Facebook, on our blogs. Not quite sure that might look like yet. It might look like guest posts, or including links in our newsletters (if/when we have one) like Marisa did. If you have any interest in writing apocalypse poetry or fiction, I hope to have my submission process up and ready by the end of the month. 🙂
    – And back to your art collaboration, collaborations can be a great way to expand your reach. Perhaps there are others you can collaborate with in other ways…

    1. Lauren–thanks so much–excellent suggestions! The inspiration/research/reading list one instantly jumps out at me. I am sort of a crazy researcher–I learned to dowse for a novel involving dowsing, and learned broadsword fighting for a novel about a warrior, and it would be fun to put some of that wacky stuff out there in the world a bit more. And posing questions….yes, also good stuff. I also like your suggestion of showing more of the nuts and bolts of what’s up with my work/process. We could definitely share more of our stuff as Questers–I really appreciate the people who’ve been doing this, and need to be more consistent about it myself. Funny that you should mention apocalypse stuff and the art collaboration–the most recent photo Cara sent me is just begging for an apocalyptic reading. 🙂

      1. I thought you might like the research one. I’m that way, too, which is why I love to read about it. And cannot wait to see what you do for the photo. 🙂

  9. Brenna, I, too, have struggled with these questions. I think it’s good to have goals, but also to recognize that they evolve over time, and that’s not a bad thing. When I started my blog, I went at it from the perspective of “what fulfills me.” I realized that I was energized by three key things: helping others, learning, and storytelling. This then lead to my blog’s purpose: helping others by sharing my learnings about communication through storytelling.

    What I didn’t foresee was how energized I would become by collaborating with the blogging community. A to Z is fun to plan for because I asked people what they wanted, and they shared their thoughts with me. I think I’d like to journey more into sharing other people’s stories as a community, so we can all help each other. I see in your comments you’ve been thinking along those lines, too. 🙂

    You add value to my day through your beautiful writing, your genuine approach, and the sharing of your stories. I think you should write what speaks to you and your community will build around that. Which is not very “marketing” of me, but I think the most important thing about content is that it is true to the author.

    Thank you for sharing your self, my friend.

    1. Sue, I love framing the question as “What energizes me?” That’s a fantastic way of looking about it. Your blog is an excellent example of combining seemingly disparate sources of inspiration and expertise to create a cohesive whole. I’d definitely like to do more collaboration within the blogosphere; I really enjoyed our recent interview experience! Your feedback is much appreciated; you’re always thoughtful and helpful with your responses. I also like your A to Z idea–I need to find more ways to be more interactive along those lines.

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