My point of view, Writer's life, Writing

Level Thinking – Lay down our swords and shields

I have an affinity for a techie-guy named Merlin Mann. When I first dove into the Internet and what it could or couldn’t do for me, he was the first guy that said things that made sense. Things like turn off that ding that seduces us to check every new e-mail as it arrives. Things like a simple formula for a successful blog is a successful blog = obsession x voice, which means we speak in authentic ways about something we care about to the point of obsession. Things like this quote:

“Managing time is good, but if all you manage is time, you stand the chance of making something that no one cares about. You can’t make art unless you manage your attention, too. Time and attention are finite. Expectations go up and up; resources go down and down. We get some help in learning the hard skills—the technical stuff—but we get no help in learning the soft skills—how to stand up and say that we’re drowning. If someone was stealing from your wallet, would you stop them? Why don’t we stop people who are stealing our time and attention.” ~Merlin Mann

I found a You Tube video of a speech about time and attention that he gave several years ago to Google employees. In 35 minutes, he covers five ideas. One, about managing e-mail, may not be especially relevant to what I’m writing about today, but it was interesting. The other four, which I am writing about today were

  • Time is a valuable commodity
  • Time is a limited commodity
  • We need to reformat the work we give ourselves or allow others to give us
  • We need to take small steps to change the culture in which we work

 The writers’ culture

I started this serious writing gig in 2001. In the past thirteen years I’ve seen huge cultural shifts in the writing workplace. We, as writers, in addition to that minor activity of turning out great books and stories as fast as we can, are expected not only to know about the following things, but create and use them.

  • Blogs
  • Blog hops
  • Book fairs
  • Book signings
  • Book tours
  • Book trailers
  • Branding
  • Business management
  • Business and marketing plans
  • Contests
  • Conventions
  • E-book conversion
  • Hand-selling
  • Interviews
  • Mail outs
  • Newsletters
  • Niche marketing
  • Platform development
  • Press kits
  • Publicity photos
  • Web sites

Social media sites deserve their own paragraph. The big emphasis is on the final “s.” Not site, sites. Those of us who remember back to Chicken Man, incredibly silly radio plays from the 1960s, may also remember each episode’s ending line. He’s everywhere, he’s everywhere. We can apply that same line to social media expectations that the current writers’ culture has for us.

All of us who think that sounds like a balanced lifestyle, please raise hands. Mine certainly didn’t go up.

Marketing is essential to being a writer, but isn’t it about time we make choices? At what point do we say to agents, publishers, and all of the other people who have advice on what we should or must do, that we are drowning? How do we bring ourselves to a point where we treat marketing as art by focusing time and attention on fewer things done well instead of everything done poorly?

Isn’t it about time we laid down our sword and shield and made our own peace with reformatting our work and taking small steps to change our personal culture? Here are three starter steps:

  1. Start with the above list. Pick three activities that are important to us, whether we are currently doing them or not.
  2. Research each of the three: What does it include? What is it supposed to do for us? All of the media sites have About pages. Take a look at them. If one makes no sense — some don’t — ask ourself how successful will a service be in meeting our needs if it can’t clearly explain it’s own purpose?
  3. Audition the experts. How do we find experts? We google them. Use the term “stuff you should know about [fill in Linkedin, or blog hops, or book trailers, whatever your current search is about].” Or try, “experts on [fill in the blank]. Names will start to pop up. Google +: Guy Kawasaki. Book Trailers: Facebook’s Book Trailer Experts. Find the experts and read what they write. If the first guy or gal doesn’t really turn our cranks, go on to the next one, and the next one, until we’ve assembled about five go-to people whose information makes sense to us, and who we’ve grown to trust.

Once we have the information and the trust, it’s going to be a lot easier to work on reframing and taking small steps to change our work culture.