Are you there, Web? It’s me, Janelle.

Today, I’m blogging about social media for writers and my experiences so far, what’s gone well and what hasn’t. I’m hoping you’ll chime in and share your experiences, since we’re all at different stages in our careers.

See, my goals for 2011 are fairly straightforward: Besides finishing a complete, start-to-finish draft of my current WIP, I’m also working to build an online platform so I can talk reading and writing with people who share my passions. I don’t expect that this will magically happen by the end of the year. But I want to build a solid foundation.

I started out with LJ last fall and am pretty happy with how it’s going. My blog isn’t getting tons of hits, but I’m meeting really cool people and I’ve found a lot of other blogs that are helpful and enjoyable, so I’m pleased with my progress. I just started a professional Facebook account and am “patiently” tending to it. Later this year I hope to expand to Goodreads and Twitter. The first time I tried this, I started everything at once. Didn’t really go so well. Lesson learned: It’s a lot like juggling. You start out with a couple things and add incrementally as your skill grows.

I’ve found people and resources that have been especially helpful. Here are a few:

       1.) Crit partners: This one is an oldie for me, but a goodie. It’s not about social media per se, but social media can help you meet future critique partners. I’ve been critiquing since I started taking college creative writing classes when I was still in high school. (Yes, I’m a nerd. Please don’t give me a swirly.) When I got to graduate school, I met a group of wonderful people who were as passionate about writing as I was. A few of us lived in the same area, so we started meeting. That was way back in what, 2006? (Amelia and Kathleen, correct me if I’m wrong!) They’re dedicated, talented, and, not least of all, honest. They care about my work as much as their own, and they push me to take it to the next level. Every writer needs a fellow writer or two to critique her work and give honest, helpful criticism. Not nit-picky stuff or something that’s just plain mean. Having another writer read your work means that you’ll get feedback that a non-writer can’t provide. A non-writer can say, “I don’t like this scene,” or “It was hard to get into.” A writer knows the tools and lingo of the trade. They can say, “This character is inconsistent. You need to develop him more.” Or “These scenes don’t have enough conflict; they’re not moving the plot forward.” Or, “Heighten the tension.” And we need that if we want to grow in our writing. They also provide the kind of support only a fellow writer can provide.

       2.) Rachelle Gardner: One of my crit partners turned me on to Rachelle’s blog. Rachelle’s advice applies to any writer in any genre. She is honest about the hard work of writing but also inspirational.

       3.) Kristen Lamb: I read Kristen’s blog and make frequent use of her book We are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. I found her book first via an Amazon search. Kristen talks a lot about brand. Don’t cringe! Branding is not the evil corporate, soulless endeavor you’re thinking of. This is different. But that is another journal entry. She also gives commonsense advice about how to build your social media platform.

4.) Kait Nolan: Kait offers insight and honesty about writing and building a platform. She doesn’t sugarcoat anything, and she provides great, practical advice. She’s also an indie writer. It’s hard in the days of self-publishing to go indie. I don’t know why indie writers have it so much harder than those who go indie in any other art form, but that’s a blog entry for another day (seriously, coming soon). Until I read Kait’s blog, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as indie writers. All I knew about were the extra-speshul snowflakes who were certain every thought inside their noggin was per solid gold. But there are indie musicians, right? Of course—I’m friends with one of them, and she’s damned talented! (Rock on, Electrik Emily!) People like Kait are challenging perceptions and paving a new road. Whether you want to go indie or take the traditional publishing route, I’d encourage you to check her blog out.

        5.) Romance Writers of America: The national organization also has local and subgenre chapters that you can join. The dues are reasonable, the people are friendly, and the resources are great. There’s a monthly print magazine, but equally useful are the RWA e-Notes e-mails that include, among other things, links to articles about romance writing and the writing market in general. There are plenty of conferences, retreats, contests, e-mail loops, and online workshops to join or attend. It helps to know that, as Kristen says, we are not alone.

OK, so those are just a few. And I’m just starting out with blogging and social media in general, at least as far as my writing is concerned. I’d like to come up with a detailed plan, but growing a social media platform, like growing as a writer, takes time. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

As Tiffany Trent said in a recent post of advice for writers, “Patience, Grasshopper.” Tiffany, what is this patience of which you speak? And where can I get some? I’ve always joked with my husband that patience is a virtue, just not one of mine. Well, this fire sign (seriously, Sagittarius with Aries rising. What were the stars thinking?) is growing. Yeah, it’s hard work. I’m OK with that. We’re writers, and we’re climbing uphill with boulders strapped to our backs. I think I’ll call it endurance training.

Social media isn’t just about building a platform. It’s about remembering that we’re not the only ones climbing the mountain. It’s about meeting people who can support you and whom you can support through each step. It’s about learning, about conversations, about friendship and personal growth. And you know what? I might just be picking up a dusting of patience along the way. But that’s still to be determined. 😛

February writing:

So, this morning I woke to a new week to find that somehow I had completely vanished from the blogosphere last week. I try to post at least once a week, so I’m not sure how I managed this vanishing act.

Now, I was still around. I know I popped by to read people’s blogs, and I found a few new ones (I’ve just started reading Kristen Lamb’s and Jami Gold’s blogs, both full of fun and useful info.), so I’m sure some of you have comments from me. But no blog posts last week from me. What’s up with that?

Hmm. Well, one, I finally broke down and created a Facebook account, so if you’re on Fb, please log on and friend me so I can communicate with you via that avenue. And if you have a fan page, please recommend it to me, either via a Facebook message or as a comment here. So last week I expanded my horizons, both blogging and social media in general. But I assure you; I was around.

I also attended the Virginia Romance Writers’ monthly meeting in Richmond, where Rebecca York (Ruth Glick) spoke about the intersection of plot and character. She took a really interesting approach to the subject that got me thinking about my current WIP. Maybe it got me thinking a little too much because I spent a lot of time reflecting on plot and hammering out the details.

I haven’t been stuck. Far from it. I’ve been making good progress with the current novel-length manuscript I’m writing, but I’m taking a different approach than in the past.

My goal for February was to write 28,000 words. With one week to go, I’ve penned (OK, typed) about 23,500. But the current draft is only about 17,000. See, I ended up writing the same scene about four times before I was remotely satisfied with it. And I’m sending it off to my crit partners this week, so I’m sure that I’ll be revising it a few more times before it’s reader-worthy.

There are a few reasons for this, but mostly it boils down to one thing: My main character, Zoe, is the most stubborn, fiery, skeptical, hard-nosed, pain-in-the-ass character I’ve ever met. She doesn’t want to believe anything or trust anyone. But because of the situation she’s in, she’s going to have to start believing and trusting someone, ‘cuz she won’t find her way out of this one on her own. Imagine trying to get an impossible character to believe in the impossible. Yikes. I don’t feel too bad for myself, though I do feel bad for Blake, my male lead, and every other character who’s had to deal with Zoe’s insanity.

It’s meant a few rewrites of an essential scene. One of the points Rebecca York brought up at last Saturday’s meeting was that your plot has to emerge from your characters. It has to be believable based on who they are. Which, I know, sounds obvious, but it’s not always the easiest thing in the world, especially with Zoe. I like the unlikely pairing of  a skeptical character like Zoe, who could pretty much say “yeah right” throughout the entire book without batting an eye (relax, she doesn’t. and Zoe is way more colorful than that, anyway.). She’s frustrating, and that’s why I like telling her story. It’s when we’re writing the impossible, when we’re scratching our heads and thinking, “Now what the hell happens?” that things start to get interesting. So getting Zoe where she needs to go has been challenging and will continue to be, but I’m not complaining.

Normally, I just write a scene and keep plowing through the story. But I’m on draft two (2.2, technically), and I’m at the stage in my writing process for this story where I want each scene to build upon the previous. My first draft was somewhat sporadic as I learned about my world, my story, and my characters. The aim of this draft is to be cleaner, so I can move from points a to z, building the story as I go. Some scenes will be cut, others added, and some rewritten twenty times, but if a key scene is problematic, I know I’ll need to stop and work on it so I don’t get stuck later.

I’m not one-hundred percent certain that I’ve got the aforementioned scene where it needs to be, but I feel I’m getting close. More forward momentum is opening the story up to me. I know where I’m going now; my sense of direction is stronger than it was in draft one. Draft two isn’t a final draft. It’s intended to be a “from-start-to-finish” draft for my crit group. Later this year, I hope to get a stronger draft to my beta readers, who will have their way with this story and hand it back to me, hopefully full of questions and honest observations. So, onward I go.

So, I really am still around, even if my blog was eerily quiet last week. I hope everyone else is enjoying their own writing and having fun duking it out with their tough-to-pin-down characters.

The Tortoise and the Hare:

I’m one of those people who has a core of yin energy wrapped up in a whirlwind of yang. I’m both a dreamer and a type-A personality. Those who are close to me are no doubt all-too familiar with my ability to simultaneously attract chaos while remaining annoyingly optimistic.

I’ve only recently discovered how much this informs my approach to writing, in which I am both the tortoise and the hare. If I have a writing day where, whether for lack of time or because I’m rewriting, adding/deleting, or revising, I only write a few hundred words, I still add it into the total marked on the white-board in my office. Because, in my view, every little thing, every word written or deleted; every revelation about my character, my world, or my story; and every footfall on the path of my writing career is progress. Slow, steady progress is still progress. And so, onward I go.

And, of course, what writer isn’t the hare? Many of us can crank out a few-thous words come crunch time, but isn’t far more pleasant to say, “Oh, I have [insert amount of time here]. Maybe I’ll write in my blog. Maybe I’ll go on Facebook. Or Twitter. Or MySpace. Or maybe I’ll pick up a few writing books on Amazon. Oh! My e-mail…”

So, inevitably, as the fable goes, the tortoise reaches the end: score one for slow, steady approaches to larger goals. Word by word, scene by scene, moment by moment, and day by day, a story is written.

But whether I’m in tortoise or hare mode, I still have to live with those goals in mind. Finish this story, read this book, write x number of words. Having my goals keeps me grounded. And a bit of hectic hare energy is good every once in a while. When utilized properly, those swift days allow you to crawl into bed exhausted but full of a sense of accomplishment. And accomplishment can serve as a motivation, getting you excited for whatever the next day or chapter brings.

For me, I have my white board, on which I list my current WIPs, with word-count goals and a space for a current tally. Of course, I also have stickies on my computer desktop and yellow notepads full of lists and notes to myself. But the white board helps me stay on track, focusing on the work at hand, but with an end-goal in mind. It prevents me from getting sidetracked by those other projects that line my path, screaming, “Pick me! Pick me!”

So I’m curious about everyone else. How do you keep yourself on track toward your writing goals? What tools or strategies do you use to help meet your daily writing goals and work toward larger ones?


Books that surprise you:

What is the last book that you read that really, really surprised you?

Maybe it ended differently than you expected. Maybe it went down a path you didn’t even notice was there. Perhaps it startled you with its intensity or its strangeness. Or maybe it humbled you.

When we experience these kinds of stories, whether told in music, dance, words, or brushstrokes, the air seems to hum with energy, charged with thoughts and feelings that we can’t quite name. Even critical analysis can only go so far toward capturing what it is that makes a story speak to us in this way. Freudian or Jungian, Marxist or feminist, formalist or reader-response, whatever it is that rises up from those pages, talking about that ethereal beauty is like trying to capture mist in a jar.

I have favorite writers whose works do this to me all of the time: Melissa Marr, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Alice Hoffman easily come to mind. Good writing, like a good kiss, can sweep you off your feet and make you weak in the knees. It can hurt you and heal you at the same time. Wow, what a feeling.

But think about a book that you picked up not expecting to feel this way. Perhaps it wasn’t quite your normal reading taste but you decided to give it a whirl, or it had been given or recommended to you by someone else, but you were skeptical. Or maybe, for reasons you didn’t understand, you picked it up at the bookstore, certain you had to read it, but not sure why. And then, suddenly, the story transported you and left you shaken.

I remember when I read Wicked Magic by Cheyenne McCray. I was going through all of this crazy crap in my life and I just wanted a feel-good book, packed with action and steamy romance. And McCray’s book definitely delivered. I’d read some other books in the Witches series. But Rhiannon’s story was different. And following Rhiannon’s struggle to understand her path and her past while grappling with her shadows (metaphorical and literal) was helpful in learning to turn my own shadows into a source of personal power. It wasn’t a metaphor I expected to find in those pages, and it resonated strongly with my own life. And it helped me realize that your shadows can hurt, but they can also empower you. When you embrace them, it helps you to heal. Yeah, it seems simple now, but at the time, the revelation was huge for me. Guess it just proves that when you open a book, you never know what you’re getting into.

Can you think of any recent books you’ve read that did this for you?

Restless spirits:

This week, after Punxsutawney Phil’s proclamation that, sans shadow-sighting, we would indeed be having an early spring, spring fever kicked in. In fact, I think that if my husband never hears the words “dressy sandals” or “sundress” again, he will be a very happy man. If he never has to have another spring collection catalog shoved under his nose while I ask, “Which of these do you like?” he might even call it bliss. Considering how much I love both dressy sandals (OK, sandals of all kinds) and sundresses, he’s just going to have to settle for plain-old happy.

Since my childhood, I’ve been given to bouts of nearly indescribable, often unbearable restlessness. I can’t think of a name for it. I haven’t found a cure for it. And I have no explanation for it, whether it’s a personality quirk, a character flaw, or some sort of underlying urge to keep searching for a new challenge, adventure, or story. As a kid, I spent hours walking through the woods trying to sort out the millions of thoughts in my head and finding my feet propelled ever forward, without really being sure of where it was I was going.

And that’s precisely what this week has been. A week of fighting a restlessness that’s exhausting when forced to contend with deadlines and routines. If I gave in, I’d be driving through Tennessee right now without the slightest clue of where I was going. And yes, there’s a character for you, ever-roaming, often bored, wanting a new challenge but not sure what. I’m sure I’ll have to write her story someday, if only to help me figure out my own.

A great deal of my restless energy gets funneled into my stories. And it’s a part of my creativity. The artist in me is like a hummingbird in constant need of movement, zipping from one place to the next (although, conversely, capable of intense focus when necessary). Hours-long meetings and presentations at work find my fingers itching, my high heels sliding off and on under the table, and me fighting the urge to leave the room for a twenty-minute brisk walk. My fingers are ready for words to slip from them like water; my head has a thousand thoughts ready to let loose like a room full of trapped sparrows. I often wind up taking notes just to busy myself. Even as an adult, I can’t sit still.

It’s not that I can’t pay attention. It’s not that I can’t or won’t focus. It’s just that, when it comes down to yin and yang, I’m often a whirlpool of yang energy, the breeze playing in the curtains, the rushing mountain stream. I love earth and trees and stones because of the solidity of them. They have a grounding quality. They balance me. But I wasn’t born an earth sign. I’m fire (Sagittarius), and, well, sometimes I have more energy than I know what to do with.

So in February, I find myself wishing for summer days, pulling out my summer skirts and tops and dreaming of picnics by the water; long, exhausting hikes; and just a good old sprint through the fields with hubby and our dog.

I’m settling for a day of laundry, tarot cards, research, and writing, and following it up with dinner and a movie with friends. And I’m checking in on LJ to get some of this endless momentum out of my system. This girl’s ready for a sundress and a jar of bubbles.

Guess I really should hope that spring is right around the corner. Phil, I’m counting on you.