Yesterday I met writer Cindy Zelman for coffee (or Earl Grey tea, in my case) at a Starbucks in Newton. Cindy had spent the morning in a cubicle at the financial company where she works. I had been at a car dealership, waiting to hear that the “check engine” light blazing on my Subaru dashboard means that I need new catalytic converters (well, my car does). I waited quite a long time for this news, while the mechanics ran the car through various diagnostic tests. Thankfully, I don’t really mind waiting at this particular dealership, because there is a quiet area upstairs with a long desk, plugs for laptops, and free Wi-fi, all within reach of a free coffee machine (thus the Earl Gray tea later). I used the time to complete four issues of an e-newsletter for pedorthists in advance, in preparation for my vacation in April. This is the life of a freelancer: writing e-newsletters for pedorthists upstairs at a car dealership, hoping those e-newsletters will pay for catalytic converters.
At 3 p.m., Cindy and I met over a little round table, and set aside our jobs and other worries to discuss writing. And one of the things we talked about was the whole concept of being present on the Internet as a writer, or building a professional platform for yourself.
Some publishers are stressing the importance of an Internet presence; they like to see that you are out there, because it’s a good sign that you will be able to promote whatever book you might publish. The days when publishers had the financing to supply publicists are largely gone (except, perhaps, in the case of the really large houses); these days, you have to do a lot of marketing yourself.
The problem is that all of this takes time. Between posting and reading others’ posts on Facebook, blogging, updating your Twitter account, and trying to read everything that friends and other writers are churning out, you can find yourself spending a lot less time actually writing. Both Cindy and I are experiencing this problem. Cindy has decided to take some time away from posting regularly on Facebook and writing blog posts so that she can focus on her current writing project. I’m wondering if I should do the same.
It’s a tough line to walk. I think it’s important to share information about writing and literature in general, to participate in the ongoing dialogue with other writers, to help other writers promote their work, and to get the word out about your own projects. There’s no shame in marketing yourself or your good work; even someone like me, who generally resists such things, has come to understand the importance of getting yourself and your work out there. Few writers are satisfied with stuffing their work in a drawer; we write for many reasons, but one of those reasons is that we hope to reach readers. And you can’t reach readers if no one knows about your work.
Still, there are disadvantages to spending time creating a “presence,” especially if you have a “real job,” too. If you find yourself checking in on Facebook, your blog, and Twitter all day, frankly you’re not getting much else done — especially if you start reading all of the interesting blog posts and things that other people are writing. That’s one of the problems with this Internet age; there’s so much information out there, and it’s so accessible, that you could drive yourself crazy trying to read everything people send you, or clicking on every interesting link posted on Facebook. And while you’re doing all of that, you’re not spending time alone, outside, quiet, apart from distractions, focused, reading a book, or writing.
I’ve seriously considered putting a timer in front of my computer. When the timer goes off, so will the computer.
It’s a dilemma. How do you handle it? And I’ll stop right there, before I use up any more of YOUR time.