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Posts Tagged ‘social media’

But first, it’s the time of year when science fiction and fantasy writers begin to mention award season. I’ll make this short and sweet.

I am in my second (and final) year of eligibility for the Campbell Award for best new writer in science fiction and fantasy. You can vote for this award if you are voting for the Hugos. Here is my list of publications to date. I’m happy to send you a copy of anything on that list–just shoot me an email at practicalfreespirit@gmail.com

Also for the Hugos, I can be nominated in the Fan Writer category for my writing on this blog. I recently updated my Best of Blog page to include some blog posts from 2012. And if you’re looking for other people to nominate, I recommend checking out Theodora Goss and Ferrett Steinmetz, both of whom have strong blogs relevant to fandom and our community.

I had four short stories published last year, all of which can be nominated for the Nebulas and the Hugos. The complete list is here, but in my opinion the strongest one is Daddy’s Girl.

And now, for something completely different.

I have something new I’m really excited about. It’s a vlog called The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and one of its executive producers is Hank Green of Vlogbrothers fame (he vlogs with his brother, writer John Green).

This vlog combines modern media and storytelling in a way that is special. Its conceit? It’s a modern-day adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. The main vlog belongs to Lizzie (aka Elizabeth) Bennet, who starts it with her friend Charlotte as a project for her communications masters. We are slowly introduced to the concerns and people of Lizzie’s world, and the acting and writing are both quite strong.

The audience can watch only these main videos and have a great time. However, for those who want more, it’s out there to find. Lizzie’s little sister Lydia starts her own vlog. Charlotte’s little sister Maria does a short series of videos as well. Each of the characters in the vlog has their own Twitter handle, and they tweet at each other and with the audience. (Unfortunately, whoever’s in charge of the Twitter accounts doesn’t understand the technicalities of how Twitter works so the responses aren’t threaded to each other in a way that is easy to read. Still very cool, though.) One of the characters (Jane) has a semi-active Tumblr account. There’s even a fake website of the company Lizzie is about to go visit for an independent study project next week.

Lizzie and Charlotte, dressed up as Lizzie’s parents

I’m fascinated by how the story is being updated to modern times. For example, the proposal of Mr. Collins to Lizzie isn’t exactly what it was in the book, even while it remains true to the spirit. There are plenty of references to catch for those who love Pride and Prejudice. I particularly love how so far the videos are very effective at highlighting the flaws in Lizzie’s character. But even for those who aren’t so into the book, this is a fascinating experiment of a different way of storytelling using a combination of video, websites, and social media.

I don’t know how I avoided hearing about this for so long, but now that I’m all caught up, I’m looking forward to experiencing the serial feel going forward. Another thing I really like about this vlog is how each episode feels complete in itself even while maintaining suspense and forward momentum. When I watch my other favorite web series, The Guild, I am often frustrated by how short each episode seems and how I feel like I’m constantly left hanging (maybe I got spoiled by getting to watch the first five seasons after they were completed, making them more like five movies). In contrast, each episode of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries has its own mini-arc that leaves me feeling satisfied.

I would love love love to be involved in the writing and/or producing of a project like this. Truly fabulous storytelling.

What media are you geeking out over right now?

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My social media book is stalled out right now because of Life, so I’m going to be sharing a few insights on social media for writers here on the blog in the meantime.

One of the most important truths to keep in mind when crafting a social media strategy is this: as writers, most of us are in this for the long haul. We need to pace ourselves so that we can continue to use social media to connect with our audiences over the course of an entire career. We need to find a balance so we don’t impede our own ability to write.

I talk a lot about priorities, and I firmly believe that for most fiction writers, the first priority has to be writing our fiction. Any social media strategy needs to support this goal instead of getting in its way. Otherwise it will prove to be unsustainable over any significant period of time.

So when you are crafting your own personal strategy, keep the following in mind:

1. As writers, we don’t need to do All The Things (or in this case, be on all the sites). Yes, it’s better to be using more than one form of social media. But you don’t need to be active on six or seven different sites. For most of us, that way lies madness (and a severe time crunch). It’s fine to try the newest, hottest thing in social media to see if it has a particular resonance for us, but it’s also fine to drop the services that aren’t pulling their weight. It’s generally better to choose a few places to focus your social media energies, rather than not being able to do a good job anywhere.

2. Assess your time honestly. If you need to manually track your schedule for a while in order to do this, then go ahead and do that. Between day jobs, families, and other commitments, some writers simply don’t have time to regularly blog, for example. Other writers can put aside an hour or so a week for one blog post, and still other writers have time to blog every day. But even very time-crunched writers can squeeze in five minutes most days for Twitter or Facebook. By realistically thinking about the time that is available to you, you can choose which sites to craft the bulk of your strategy around.

3. Choose your ONE top social media priority. Sometimes you’ll be sick, or you’ll have multiple deadlines, or someone close to you will be getting married, or Life. During these times, you might not have the time or energy to use social media as much as you normally do. So choose one social media activity that you’ll try to carry on no matter what’s going on. Only one. Right now, mine is this blog. But you can choose any service you want, depending on your overall strategy. And then when things get hectic or difficult, you can drop everything else and still be maintaining your presence.

What about you? What do you have time for? What sites do you focus on? What is your top social media priority?

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A couple of weeks ago, I was reading over some of my older blog entries. When I’d finished, I sat back and thought, “Huh. That was actually kind of personal.” At least, more personal than I had remembered.

There’s a place where the personal and the important intersect. And we who blog are then called to make a decision: how important is so important that I can’t stay silent about this? In my case, that means I often end up blogging about issues related to people pleasing and boundaries (and occasionally feminism). I know there are lots of people who grew up in dysfunctional families just like I did, who have similar issues, and I know how helpful it can be to know there are others out there in the world dealing with the same kind of thing you’re dealing with. It’s too important for me to stay silent.

This trade-off was brought strongly to mind during this year’s Worldcon, where I was lucky enough to spend some time with Jay Lake. For those of you who don’t know who he is, Jay is a prolific SF/F writer of some note. He also blogs. For the past few years, he has blogged in an unusually open fashion about his difficulties with cancer. He blogs about disease, about mortality, about what he feels his cancer has stolen from him. He blogs about determination, depression, despair, and joy.

He told me he gets more fan mail from his cancer blog than he does from all his published fiction.

Me and Jay at Epic ConFusion this January. Photo by Al Bogdan.

And he pays a price for being personal. I spent time with him at several points during the convention, and every single time, we were approached by people who expressed their sorrow about his health, or asked about it, or gave him their good wishes that he would recover. On the one hand, it was beautiful to see this outpouring of support from the community.

But I looked at him at one point, late-ish in the evening, after a particularly long stream of generic good wishes, and I thought, “This must get completely exhausting.”

And that is the price. Not everyone will be able to look past the cancer and see the man. Because he has blogged so openly about his disease, he can’t necessarily create a veneer of normalcy for himself when at public events like Worldcon. Part of his public identity is linked to his cancer.

But he pays the price with grace, and I admire him so much for doing so. Because it is too important to stay silent. We need to hear about cancer, about illness, about mortality, and about the physical and emotional struggles that come with these oh-so-human things. Our society tends to have dysfunctional attitudes around illness, around death and dying, around grief and loss, and part of changing those attitudes is talking about these things in a frank and open way. And people who have cancer, people who have other serious illnesses, people who have loved ones who are sick, many of them are helped by Jay’s blog, where by writing authentically about his own personal experience, he puts words to so many other people’s experiences.

So I think about this blog, which is perhaps a bit more personal than I had originally intended. And then I think about Jay. And I’m glad to have written about what I think is important.

I’m in fabulous company.

 

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This week I have a guest post up over at BookLifeNow: So You Want to Start a Blog. I go over different points to think about when you are either starting up a blog or trying to give your current blog a face lift. So if you enjoy reading me talking about social media, you might want to check it out.

And speaking of me talking about social media… I have a new project! And it’s way exciting! (Well, at least if you’re me.) I have started work on a nonfiction book about social media strategies for fiction writers.

Yes, there are already a few books on this subject out there. But not as many as you’d think. And the few I’ve seen start at a really basic level, geared towards people who don’t know how to or are uncomfortable using the internet. (For example: Here’s how you sign up for a Twitter account.)  That’s great and definitely needed, but it’s not necessary reading for all fiction writers. I also don’t agree with all the strategies that are presented. And much of the material you can find on the internet is either geared towards companies or nonfiction writers, or is also fairly basic.

So many options!

So what I’m writing is the book on social media strategy that I wanted to read. A book that is targeted for writers who already have basic internet skills. A book that is lean and not stuffed with extra padding so that you’re not wasting time. A book that goes into depth on the fundamental principles behind social media strategy and content creation as well as giving strategies for specific platforms. And while I am going to be specifically targeting fiction writers, I think much of what I’ll be talking about can also be applied to other creative professionals.

As you know, I write a fair amount about social media on this blog, and I’ve been thinking of writing this book since last year. What pushed me over the edge, however, was working on my guest post for BookLifeNow. I was originally writing an article on the different types of writer blogs, and it kept getting longer…and longer…and then I thought, this would be so much better if I could add a few case studies…. That’s when I realized that first off, what I was writing was not a blog post, and second off, I could no longer put off writing this book about social media.

My plans are still fairly fluid right now. I’m working on this book at the same time as I revise The Academy of Forgetting, which is taking priority (since otherwise I might just not do it). I don’t have a target release date yet, although you’ll all be the first to know when I do. I expect that I’ll be self publishing this book when I am finished with it, to get it out into the world in an efficient manner. My other option is Kickstarter, but I’m not confident I have enough of a base to make that work (feel free to tell me your thoughts about this!)

I’ve been avidly studying all things social media for the past few years, and I’m really looking forward to sharing what I’ve learned. My hope is that I can help fiction writers at all stages of their careers craft personal strategies that are both effective and enjoyable.

If you have any thoughts or ideas about what you’d like to see in such a book, please leave me a comment or drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you!

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Conventional blogging wisdom for fiction writers is that we should avoid talking about politics and religion. (Science fiction writers are perhaps the exception to this rule; see John Scalzi, one of the most prominent examples, and on the other side of the American left-right fence, Orson Scott Card.) The idea is that such views can be unnecessarily divisive and that by talking about them openly, we can alienate potential readers.

I have, for the most part, followed this advice. I don’t talk about religion on this blog or anywhere else, really. I rarely talk straight politics, although I couldn’t quite suppress my concerns about habeas corpus. But feminism keeps creeping in through the cracks of this blog and in the material I choose to share on the internet, and isn’t feminism at least partially a political issue? It certainly is a touchy one.

One result is that I’m been forced to rethink the conventional wisdom. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that it is easier not to blog about religion or politics or social justice. And I can understand the choice not to do so when it feels like a livelihood hangs in the balance of what we allow ourselves to discuss. Plus some of us find conflict to be very unpleasant. But at what point does talking about matters of importance become more of a question of conscience?

Does blogging give you a voice?

I’m not talking about being safe here. There’s this trend that happens in the science fiction blogosphere, wherein a few of the really big bloggers share their opinions of a current issue, followed by a quiet ripple of smaller bloggers chiming in with “Me too”s and “basically exactly what has already been said about this issue in almost the same words.” Because when we follow in the footsteps of the big guns, then we’re relatively secure. I’m not saying it’s bad to offer a show of support, but it’s not the same as pushing the discussion forward. The conventional wisdom is consunmately safe.

Let’s talk about danger instead. If, as a writer, we develop a greater reach, then we have to decide how to use that reach. We have a greater ability to help, and an equally heightened ability to harm. We can set the topic of conversation instead of merely echoing and reacting. We can affect the way people view the world, often subconsciously, through our stories and our words. We can decide whether to point something out as problematic or whether to be silent and let it float on in obscurity. And whether we like it or not, these abilities come with certain responsibilities.

We don’t have to blog about politics or religion, not if we don’t want to. We can choose to communicate exclusively through our fiction. But at some point, I think every artist has to ask, “What am I really trying to say here? What do I really need to say about human experience and about the world? What might I be saying by accident that I don’t actually want to be saying?”

But sometimes, we might be compelled to blog about something risky, about something uncomfortable. And sometimes we are willing to pay the price for having a voice. In which case, that conventional wisdom can go right out the window. There are times when safety is not the most important goal.

What do you think? Do you ever talk about politics or religion on your blog or over social media? Are there issues that you feel compelled to talk about, even though they lack an approved-for-fiction-writers (or approved-for-polite-conversation) stamp?

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People like to find a scapegoat.

Recent articles link the rise of loneliness in modern society with the use of social media, and although I have explored the idea before, I have become less convinced. Isn’t it convenient that we can blame technology, that behemoth with which we traditionally have an uneasy relationship, for the lack of connection we might feel? And yet, even if, as some figures suggest, Americans are now lonelier and have fewer confidants than in the past, there is still little data to show this trend is being caused by social media.

I agree with Dr. Grohol, who states: “[Using social media] doesn’t stop me from having those in-depth, face-to-face conversations, or put them off. I’m under no illusion (or delusion) that having a social networking circle of hundreds or thousands makes me more social.”

Instead, what social media allows us to do is maintain, in unprecedented volume and frequency, our weak ties. What is a weak tie? Someone who we don’t know very well, an acquaintance, if you will. By fostering so many weak ties, we are able to continue to expand our social networks and have potential reach to larger numbers of people, many of whom we will never directly meet or communicate with.

Obviously this is a major boon when we are, say, trying to sell something or build a reputation for ourselves or looking for a different job. But it can also be valuable because of the different insights and opinions we are exposed to, the potential actual friends we might meet, and the recommendations we might receive. Not to mention the benefits of being able to keep in touch, however superficially, with friends and family who live far away.

However, it’s not hard to see how social media might appear to make us lonely, especially if used as a kind of social substitute that it isn’t. If I am already feeling lonely and then I hop onto Facebook, the odds that spending half an hour reading my “friends’” status messages will make me feel any better are fairly low. But I have noticed a certain irrational expectation in myself that seeing all those photos and clicking “Like” a few times will magically pick up my spirits. Note to future self: that doesn’t work! Go out and see someone instead.

It’s interesting to watch ourselves learning how to deal with so many weak ties at once, a feat about which we are only now gaining experience. I like to think of social media as a party: a few of your really good friends are there, which is especially awesome. Then there’s those people who you’ve been seeing at these parties for years, and that’s the only time you talk to them. And there’s the newcomers, the people you don’t know so well but it’s interesting to chat with them for a few minutes. Except this is happening all the time on your computer, not just for three or four hours at a scheduled event.

And just like at a party, most people are trying to present their best selves. Many of them will keep their dirty laundry and deeper troubles mostly under wraps. A few of them might have embarrassingly public meltdowns. We’re surprised when  the perfect married couple announces their impending divorce, when that vibrant woman turns out to have been suffering from a life-threatening disease, when bits and pieces of messy life burst unavoidably out into public view.

And social media is very much the same. We are presented with a smooth and managed facade, and sometimes we forget the facade does not always reflect what’s going on under the surface. All those people in your social media networks who have perfect lives with adorable children and exciting jobs and exotic vacations? Maybe her child vomited all over the living room this morning, or that exciting company is going through a round of layoffs, or that exotic vacation meant forty-eight hours of pure, unadulterated suffering from food poisoning. Some people show this underbelly of their lives, but many choose not to. It’s the way weak ties work. And as depressing as all this seeming perfection can occasionally be, we mostly find it depressing because we are not used to weak ties; we haven’t internalized the knowledge that these public statuses are only a small percentage of the whole. We believe, often without question, the stories people choose to tell about themselves.

The societal shift we are experiencing is certainly not without its difficulties. But social media, and the internet as a whole, are just technological tools like all other such tools. Sometimes we use them skillfully, and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we lack the understanding of how such tools work or for what they work best. Sometimes we’re not very interested in trying them out at all.

But I suspect loneliness arises much more from our physical environments and the strong ties that we either have or don’t have with other people. Strong ties that are fostered by face-to-face interaction, video chat, phone calls, and the exchange of letters and emails. Blaming a tool meant for developing weak ties for any trouble with strong ties seems misguided at best.

What do you think? Do you have less in-person conversations or strong ties because of the advent of social media? Have you been able to develop strong ties as well as weak ties through a social media service? How much does face-to-face time matter in your close relationships?

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Our notions of privacy are currently changing due to technology, and it’s an interesting time if you enjoy watching social trends. For example, head on over to Nathan Bransford’s blog and read his fascinating essay “Divorce in the Internet Era.” He gives us an intimate peek into how the experience of divorce has been changed by social media.

It’s not just divorce that has been affected. Social media has also transformed our ideas of social connection, of friendship, of the purpose and maintenance of strong ties vs. weak ties (ie acquaintances and people we met that one time–when was that?–and in a flash of enthusiasm connected on social media). It has affected how we do business, how we try to connect with a more specific audience, how we can succeed at marketing, and how we can fail. It has spawned the 1000 true fans theory.

And now with the announcement of Google Goggles (known officially as Project Glass), we see another potential radical social change: a world in which our goggles tell us everyone’s names and pertinent information when we meet. A world in which remembering names is less important. A world in which I can make notes for instant reference the next time we meet: “possible kindred spirit” or “didn’t bother to ask me a single question during a thirty-minute conversation” or “really likes discussing neuroscience but becomes enraged at the suggestion that humans don’t have free will.”

My own personal ideas of privacy have changed along with the times. Every time I post on the Internet, whether that be here on the blog or on the myriad of services I am encouraged to use, I try to remember to run a little filter check. If the whole world knows I said this, would I be okay with that? If the answer is yes, I’m good to go. And every time I remember to run this check (which probably isn’t 100% of the time because no one is perfect), I develop and refine my ideas about my own privacy, about what I’m willing to share as public information vs. what I wish to remain private. In a certain way, our society is shifting back to a village mentality, that there are certain things that everyone simply knows about everyone else. And anything we want to keep to ourselves, well, we have to really work at it…and some facts, as Nathan Bransford found, are impossible to keep under wraps.

I’m hoping this shift will come with a lessening of certain stigmas and an increased tolerance for difference. I have to hope for this because the alternative is not a world in which I want to live. Perhaps we’re already seeing evidence of this shift: contrast the open statements about President George W. Bush’s past alcoholism and President Obama’s past cocaine use with President Clinton in the ‘90s who felt it was necessary to claim he “didn’t inhale.”

On Twitter, Catherynne Valente said, “The Google Goggles herald the final death of any semblance of public manners and social courtesy. Hope we enjoyed it!” But I wonder if all these changes might eventually lead to a new kind of civility. Will there be certain secrets we allow each other to keep out of sheer politeness? In a world where everyone knows each others’ names, will our sense of community change? Maybe even expand? What kind of courtesy will be possible when we can have a computer keep track of our acquaintances’ interests and news and automatically remind us of them when we’re in conversation? Will intimacy feel like it’s shrinking (the way some people feel social media is causing it to do right now) or will it feel like it’s increasing?

It’s going to be really interesting to find out! The one thing I’m betting on is that we’ll have a bumpy transition as what is possible from technology changes at a different rate from society’s attitudes about privacy and social interaction. What do you think? What about this new world do you look at with dread? What about it sounds like it could be amazing?

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Writer Susan Kiernan-Lewis wrote a blog post a couple of months ago entitled “The Great Social Media Flim-Flam.” If you want to see writer frustration with having to deal with social media, go on over and read it, because it’s one of the best examples I’ve seen. If you don’t want to read five hundred words of it, here’s a key excerpt:

“Is it possible that the prevailing belief that having an online platform is essential to a book’s success is wrong? Are we all just the cool kids playing with the latest gadgets and wanting them to be essential and really they’re  irrelevant? Is it really the author’s platform that’s important? Is that why YOU buy a book?

Isn’t it about the damn book?”

Okay, first off, yes, it is about the book. If there isn’t something appealing about your book, it doesn’t matter how much time you spend promoting it. Notice I said “something appealing.” I chose those words carefully. Plenty of books that have a lot of problems do well; some of them even do very, very well. But there has to be something about them that makes people want to read them.

However, a key point I think Ms. Kiernan-Lewis may be missing is that social media presence for writers is not about sales.

Yes, I just said that.

Social media is not about sales. We may want it to be about sales because sales are easy to measure. And what writer doesn’t want sales? I’m not saying social media never causes sales; if you look at the pie graph in that blog article, it claims 23.9 percent of book discovery happens via social media (I combined blogs and social networking sites to get that figure). But that’s only a quarter of the whole pie (at least for now), and probably some of those people are going to get the book from the library or borrow it from a friend.

Social media is about marketing. It’s about building brand awareness (and for writers, your brand is YOU). It’s about weak ties and networking and relationships and being a presence. Marketing is important if you are trying to sell something. The problem is, it’s more nebulous to measure than sales. Sure, you can look at your follower count or your blog traffic or count your likes and retweets and +1s. But when you think about what those numbers really mean, well, it’s hard to say. Higher is better, but beyond that? *silence in the room* Yup, that’s marketing for you.

One network example. (by Marc Smith)

Marketing and social media is also for the long haul, which makes it critical to formulate a strategy that works for you. Otherwise, say hello to burn-out. That’s why I recommend using social media in a way that you enjoy, or at least in a way not completely odious to you. If you’re forcing yourself to do something you hate, whether that be daily blogging or tweeting or posting on the service du jour, then it’s time to rethink your strategy. If you feel frayed around the edges from your social media activities, then maybe you need to pull back a bit, rest, and re-group. The ultimate goal is to find a balance that is sustainable for you (and this balance is going to be a little different for each individual). The way to find this balance is through time and experimentation, and it will change as your life changes. For example, I’ve had to adjust my own strategy the last few months when I’ve been deep in novel head space.

I wish I could tell you social media doesn’t matter for writers, that it’s all some mass delusional idea. But it does make a difference. When someone has heard your name several times, they’re more likely to give your book a second look at the store. They’re more likely to click on over to your book on Amazon and read the summary and some reviews. If it looks interesting, they’re more likely to take a chance and buy it. If they’ve read an interesting essay you’ve written, they’re more likely to talk about you and spread the word. Etc., etc. How social media works and helps you is the subject for an entire series of posts, but if you know anything about network theory, then you have an idea of what I’m talking about.

So the real question when thinking about social media isn’t if it matters. It’s figuring out how you can participate in social media without becoming overwhelmed or wanting to throw your computer across the room. It’s figuring out the best use of your time so you also have enough time to write that next novel. It’s experimenting to integrate social media into your life in a way that works for you.

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I really miss e-mail.

Before you look at me funny and silently consider whether I’ve gone off the deep end, let me add that I don’t miss all the e-mail I actually get: various sales communications from any store I’ve ever bought something from online, e-mail list digests, appointment reminders, notifications from Twitter, Facebook, Google+, WordPress, and let’s not forget bills and bank statements.

I miss the old days of e-mail when I didn’t get any of the above, and each e-mail I did receive was an electronic letter, worthy of excitement and anticipation. You can express so much personality in an e-mail. When I read a good e-mail, it almost feels like its writer is in the room with me. And the one-on-one nature of the communication means that e-mail builds relationships in an intimate way. These words were written for my eyes only–there is value in that.

I got my first e-mail account when I went away to college. My mom would print out the e-mails I sent her, and then she’d write a response and send it through snail mail. I tried my best to stay in touch with those friends who also had e-mail addresses. Those that didn’t…not so much. Mea culpa.

That first year, visiting the computer lab across the way to check e-mail was an event. We’d head over in our slippers in friendly camaraderie until we sat in front of those old glowing screens, at which point our focus was entirely on the act of checking e-mail. I spent so much time marveling at the wonder of e-mail, I made one of my best friends of freshman year in the computer lab.

E-mail was often my lifeline when travelling alone. I’d be meeting new people every day, but still spending hours at a stretch by myself. I learned how to eat by myself at a restaurant, but it was never a particularly joyful experience. When I got too lonely or felt too detached from anything permanent, I’d find an internet cafe and write to the friends who had become, whether they knew it or not, a kind of anchor. They reminded me of what it meant to have a home.

Nowadays I rarely receive this kind of e-mail. My inbox becomes clogged with messages that feel like work. I stay in touch with people via social media, a kind of communication that, while efficient, can also be impersonal. People “like” my statuses, but we don’t have the sort of conversations we’d have if we were discussing the same topic over e-mail. And too often it feels like the friendship is being held in stasis instead of being actively developed.

I do have one friend with whom I e-mail regularly, and it’s just as good as I remember. It’s also something of a miracle that we both managed to continue the correspondence, especially in the beginning. But I’m glad we did. If we had merely stayed in touch via Facebook and Twitter, we wouldn’t know each other half as well as we do now. We would only see the edges of each other’s lives instead of being able to go deeper. We might not even be friends at all.

Yes, I miss the golden age of e-mail. Do you?

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I can hear your groans already. Not another social media site!

But I have good news: Pinterest is simple, fun, and pretty. It can be a helpful creative tool. And it is absolutely NOT necessary for a solid writer platform. Use it if you enjoy it, but if you don’t have the time or inclination, this isn’t a make-or-break proposition.

Aren’t you feeling better already?

What is Pinterest?

Most simply, it is a social image-collecting site. You can create “boards” that are collections of various images you have “pinned.” For instance, you can have a “Books I love” board or a “Beautiful photos” board or a “Yummy recipes to try” board. The boards tend to be visually pretty.

You can re-pin images directly from the Pinterest site. You can pin images from other sites, either by adding a “Pin It” link to your browser’s bookmark bar or by copying and pasting the image’s url into Pinterest. You can also upload your own images for your boards.

Finally, you can browse through other people’s boards and images, comment on them, re-pin others’ images, and like others’ images. You can follow other people on a board-by-board basis, and they can follow you. Hence the social media part.

Downsides of the site:

1. Massive time suck. Massive.
2. You can only use the service if you already have either a Facebook or Twitter account. Given my privacy concerns around Facebook, I chose to use my Twitter account. However, that means I can’t look for other friends who use Pinterest, as you can only do that (to my knowledge) by linking to Facebook.
3. You can’t re-arrange the images pinned to your board, so whatever order you enter them, that’s the order you’re stuck with. Hopefully they will eventually add a click and drag sort of interface to make the boards more customizable.
4. The user interface of the site can occasionally be a bit confusing, and the “Pin It” browser button doesn’t always work.
5. As far as I can tell, there is no way to make a board private. So everything you do on the site will be in full public view. Otherwise it would make a great archival/bookmarking tool.

Ways to Use Pinterest as a Writer:

1. Settings boards: Make boards of photographs of various settings in your WIP. I recently wrote a story set in Rio, and I had an entire browser window with twenty tabs devoted to the photos I’d found. I would have loved to have the convenience of pulling all the photos together in a board instead.

2. Blog boards: If you use interesting pictures on your blog, you can pin them all onto your blog board, and have a beautiful visual representation of your blog. You can see mine here.

3. Book boards: I adore books, and it gives me happiness to click on my “Books I Love” board and see all my favorite covers staring back at me. This can also work as a recommendation board or as a record of the books you’ve read this year.

4. Mood boards: I know a lot of writers use music, often carefully crafted set lists, as a tool to get into the mood of their book. For those of us who can’t use music (I find it too distracting), we can make a visual board instead and take a look for inspiration before a writing session.

5. Random inspiration: If you can be disciplined enough to avoid the time sink factor, scrolling through the aesthetically pleasing images can be just the thing to kick-start those creative juices. Also, need an idea for a story? Maybe you can find an image that gives you the first nugget of an idea.

6. Hobbies: If you happen to have an interest in design, fashion, architecture, photography, visual art, cooking, etc., you might find this site fun outside of any writerly benefits it may provide.

Notice that not once do I mention the social aspect? That’s because I really think of Pinterest as more of a creative tool than a social site. And if you’re using it as a tool, the social aspect will follow. You’ll begin re-pinning and liking other users’ images…and they’ll know you did. You’ll find some people who have such awesome boards that you want to follow them. Maybe you’ll have to comment on a particularly thought-provoking image. You get the idea. The social part, I think, can happen organically.

What do you think? Have any more great ideas for ways to use Pinterest? Need to vent some social media angst? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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