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Mine Field and Gold Mine: Why You Should Read Your Primal Posts

Since my imagination seems to be in a bit of a dry patch when it comes to blogging these days, I decided to explore the wonderful world of reruns. The hope is to recycle some of my original posts that may have escaped general notice the first time around. Luckily (?), plenty of the Internet paid absolutely no attention to me for quite some time, so I’ve got a bumper crop of possibilities at my personal website. But my ongoing trip down blog-memory lane is not what this post is about. As often happens, my exploration in one direction led me some place unexpected.

Reading my first attempts at blogging reminded me of some wisdom I picked up somewhere, way back when, before I had a website (you know, a couple of years ago). Like most good advice, it was simple: the wise one said that all bloggers need to make a habit of reading their old posts and correcting/updating them as needed.

The wise one was right. I know this because, to date, I have completely and utterly failed to take the wise one’s advice. And my oldest posts reflect that. If you, like me, have gotten into the habit of publishing one of these things and then pretty much forgetting about it, then you, like me, might be surprised by what you find in the dustier corners of your archives.

It’s sometimes feels like a different person wrote them.

At first, I thought to share some of my choicest new-blogger gems here. But then it occurred to me that I would just be highlighting what is essentially mediocre writing worsened by bad editing. It occurred to me that might not be the wisest course of action for a freelance writer and editor to take. Though, if you hurry, you can still probably catch lots of the typos and bad grammar I haven’t gotten to yet. I am, after all, still the same procrastinating person I was before. And there are quite a few of those old posts. This process is definitely going to take some time.

But it’s proving beneficial on two fronts: I’m not only hiding my shame, I’m also discovering the various ways my writing has improved. (Yes, I like to think what you’re currently reading represents an improvement.) The biggest example of my writer-ly maturation has been seeing how my voice has matured.

So go back and read your primal blog posts, you might be glad you did. At the very least, you’ll probably catch a few of the typos you missed.

Revising May Not Be As Much Fun…

I’ve started a closed Facebook group for a couple dozen folks. They have agreed to beta read the first half of my WIP, The Search for Stagehand Jesus. Here’s thelink. Some folks have started posting their feedback already, but most seem to be reading the whole chunk first. Or they’re like everyone else in the world and crazy-busy with their own lives. Otherwise I can’t understand why they haven’t dropped everything they care about to read part of my book. But seriously, I’m grateful for their support and optimistic about what could happen. Since I figure I can’t thank them enough, I’m doing it one more time here.

Also, anyone reading this post who’s curious about the group should feel free to observe from the outside. You can see the activity without joining. Or, if you’re interested in a more active role, ask me for an invite. I’ve got folks from all of my different worlds mixing together in there. If they really engage, it could be fun.

And knowing people want to read what I’m revising is a heck of a motivator. Unfortunately, it’s also a pretty effective paralyzer. Since I created the group, it feels like I stagger between these two states most of the time. But I’m making progress on my revisions. Slowly. As usual, I blame things like my having to write this blog when I don’t work on The Search for Stagehand Jesus, but I know better. It really just boils down to priorities.

When I prioritize my WIP, it gets my attention and effort. When I don’t, it doesn’t. It’s that simple (and frustrating, since this realization leaves only myself to blame when I let the work go undone).

My most recent distraction has been NaNoWriMo. I know lots of people who signed up to write the first draft of a novel this month, and I’m following their progress through Facebook posts. (When exactly did Zuckerberg take over the world?)

I was sorely tempted to sign up myself.

Because first drafts are such fun! Generative writing is magical: that feeling when the fingers fly over the keyboard (or the cramped hand scratches it out across an empty page) is what got me into writing as a kid. There are no mistakes or bad choices in first drafts: all the new ideas are exciting and the characters get to do what they want.

But I didn’t sign up for NaNoWriMo because I’m revising. I’m not generating a new story. And starting a new project would mean deprioritizing my current one. You know, like I always do. No. This time I’m pushing past the second draft and into the realm (hopefully) of a polished and marketable manuscript. I’m done adding to that file drawer of abandoned first drafts. My goal is to finish this round of revisions by the end of the year. That way I can be ready to feed it to my beta reader friends on Facebook. And maybe even start pitching it at the next Austin SCBWI Conference.

Happy Holidays indeed.

#FearOfTwitter

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Twitter has made me into a cyber Jekyll and Hyde. And, like Stevenson‘s character(s), I really only have my own self to blame. On the one hand I love the idea of tweeting about the random occurrences and/or minor (hopefully one day major) accomplishments that make up my life. To paraphrase Tom Bodett, I am often my own favorite writing topic. But, on the other hand, I have this visceral aversion to what feels like airing my laundry in public. Even when it’s relatively clean. Like many writers I am both shy and desperate for attention. Like Jekyll and Hyde, I am a man divided by my own deepest yearnings.

As a writer and editor who would like to eventually stop being a stagehand, I know it helps my novel selling chances to at least have the foundations of an online platform already in place. I’ve even overcome my Luddite leanings enough to embrace Facebook, which I’ve come to enjoy.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same thing about Twitter, which I suck at. I opened a Twitter account (@bpwilsonlit) a while ago but haven’t really done much with it. It’s not that I actively avoid tweeting or reading my feed; it’s just that I tend to forget about its existence. So most of my days go by without a single tweet or retweet or favorite from me. Worse, when I do end up tweeting it’s only ever to promote a blog post or book review. In other words I break one of the fundamental rules of social media by only interacting with my Twitter followers when I want something from them.

Starting today I am resolved to change that. I am going to force myself to tweet at least once a day about something that has nothing to do with my writing/editing career. Right now that probably means I’ll be tweeting pictures of my ongoing front yard terraforming project (#CompletedStoneSteps). If you’re more internet savvy than me you’re probably thinking I might be better off with a Pinterest orInstagram account since I like to share pictures. And you’d be right, except I’m already on Twitter. So cleaning up the mess I’ve made there seems like a better use of my time. Besides, I feel that my demonstrated social media ineptitude dictates a slow online expansion. Let me get me my ‘Twitter legs’ first, then I’ll move on to whatever’s no longer the hot new social media trend.

How’s that for a sales pitch? Irresistibly pathetic? Then feel free to follow me @bpwilsonlit.

Wikipedia Envy

I recently read a post on Facebook from an author friend. She shared some unexpected news: someone had immortalized her on Wikipedia. The author in question wrote how it felt kind of odd to read the entry.

I had never really considered what reading about myself on Wikipedia would be like until I saw her status update. I imagine it opens up a whole host of conflicting emotions.

And I had to admit that I desire a Wikipedia entry of my own. I know it’s silly and vain of me, but I’m not going to lie. Achieving Wikipedia status appeals to that basic human need in me to leave a mark on this world. Even if it’s a tiny little virtual scratch.

Wikipedia justifiably generates many detractors because it is crowdsourced. But it’s precisely Wikipedia’s neo-populist model that makes it a useful indicator for a writer, or any artist, who has decided to create for public consumption. A Wikipedia entry carries an implied proof that at least one person reacted strongly enough to an artist’s creation (in my friend’s case, it was a novel) to go to Wikipedia and generate a new page. Further, other people have agreed with the first person’s assessment enough to add to the entry and link to it. It’s validating to be immortalized in what has become the world’s encyclopedia.

But, unlike a traditional encyclopedia, Wikipedia presents a whole host of ethical dilemmas:

Is it okay for the subject of an entry to go in and edit his or her own page? Can an unknown like me bypass the work legitimate notability requires by simply starting my own entry? What differentiates justifiable, healthy self-promotion from crass, cynical manipulation of the crowdsourcing format?

Having the ability to edit one’s own encyclopedia entry is a can of moral worms, but, truth be told, I worry my biggest problem would be curtailing the amount of time I spent going to my entry to see if anyone had changed it.

Actually that’s not the worst possibility.

What if my hypothetical Wikipedia entry died an “orphan,” without any articles linked to it? What if I never met Wikipedia’s minimum “notability guidelines?”

What happens at that point? Do the Wiki gatekeepers just remove you at three a.m. when no one’s looking?

How horrible! You get up in the morning and go to check on your little Wiki-corner of the world, but it’s gone. Erased from the Wiki world.

That kind of rebuff might prove too much for the flimsy structure that is my writer’s ego.

Maybe my lack of “success” is a good thing. At least at this point. Maybe I’m not quite ready to be carved into the heights of Mt. Wiki. Maybe I need more time and experience to toughen myself up. Maybe joining the world’s gallery of notable names might be too stressful for me, at least at this point in my career.

Maybe instead of wasting my imagination on these monumentally hypothetical musings, I should try to keep myself focused on more concrete, immediate goals like finishing this short story I’ve been stuck on for a couple of weeks.

Hmm, I think I might be onto something.

Do You Do Online Writer Forums?

Since finishing up with school I’ve joined a few online writer forums. I won’t name them because I’m going to talk smack about them. For a long time I avoided any kind of online forum/open chat room, more because of suspicion than any direct negative experience. But I was conflicted, because I like the idea of a place where we people with a common interest can gather and talk about that mutual interest.

I finally forced myself to sign up for three, at random.

I don’t recommend doing it that way. As always, you should do your research.

One group I joined is very, very quiet.

The second is filled with one-on-one personal conversation: “Hey, how you doing? I’m fine. What you been up to?” There may be useful information being exchanged, but I gave up on sifting for it.

Some online writing forums seem to be dominated by alpha-dogs.

I must confess I’ve become a bit of a lurker on the third forum. I can’t help it. It’s fascinating. The group is dominated by an alpha who rules with ruthless authority. Someone asked the alpha-poster about his credentials once, implying he shouldn’t weigh in on matters he obviously knew nothing about. A protracted and super-defensive display of credentials ensued. The alpha-poster bombarded the upstart with post after post after post, listing the arguments for his expertise in the matter. I really thought he was going to post his entire CV.

The whole experience reminded me of a recent Writers’ League of Texas panel where zombie novelist Rhiannon Frater said that the heyday of the online forum has come and gone. And she should know; she started her authorial career in online forums. If I remember correctly, Frater felt all those kinds of useful discussion groups have moved to Twitter. So I guess I’m going to have to get over my old-man-fear of new things and explore the Tweet-verse next. If you’re like me and remain reluctant to immerse yourself too deeply in the waters of social media, I offer you the argument Chuck Sambuchinomade during a small group session at the last Writers’ League of Texas Agents and Editor’s Conference (Sambuchino runs the Guide to Literary Agents blog, among other things). To paraphrase, he said Facebook and Twitter (and all social media, really) have replaced the world’s newspapers.

 Chuck Sambuchino

Chuck Sambuchino

Whether that thought terrifies you or brings you joy, I think Sambuchino’s right. Social media platforms, in all their ever shifting shapes, are where more and more of the book buying population go for their current events. If you want to make a living as a writer (whatever that means to you), you have to have an online platform. You have to learn aboutGoogle Analytics. You have to write online with SEOs in mind.

And you have to engage your readers where you find them. There’s just too much going on all the time for you to reasonably expect an audience to come to a you.

As Rhiannon Frater advised the WLT Third Thursday audience member who said he didn’t have the time to “waste” participating in the online world: “Don’t try to sell books, then.”