The April Platform Challenge Anniversary: Who Knew?

This post celebrates the first anniversary of the MNINB Platform Challenge, April 2012, and all the good things that have happened since!

On April 12 of last year, I wrote:

I’m writing this post as an assignment after being away from the blog for too long. Every time I’ve logged on lately and have seen the dates of my last posts, I’ve felt embarrassed and a little panicky. Should I give up the blog entirely? How will I carve out the time to write frequently, or at least regularly, without neglecting what I ought to be about: revising a novel and working on short stories?

Seeking answers, I’ve been participating in Robert Lee Brewer’s Platform Challenge during the month of April. Robert has created a series of exercises intended to help writers wrangle their online presence into shape. In the process I’ve done more Facebooking and tweeting and read more blogs than I could have imagined. A “platform”—significant interaction with others (on the Internet and otherwise) with the purpose of building a following—seems necessary these days, even before you publish a book.*

When I wrote those words, the Platform Challenge was approaching the halfway point. I had kept up with the daily tasks, but I still felt pretty lost.

I had set up this blog in 2009. I’d written a grand total of one post in 2009, none in 2010, and a real run of posts—three—in 2011. Obviously, my online presence wasn’t working. Then came the April immersion into all things platform, with Robert cracking the whip and a whole lot of other interesting writer-type folks along for the ride.

Now here we are . . .

Blogging in August
Blogging in August

If you’d asked me last April if I would still be here today, I would have said no. But I’m finding my niche: writing about writing, writing memoir, posting photos and favorite links and even my own poems or short fiction occasionally. I’ve hosted some terrific guest posts and conducted an author interview. I’ve written a couple of guest posts myself (thank you to the hosts who gave me that opportunity). I’ve spread my wings.

The platform challenge didn’t cure all my insecurities and bad habits. My biggest failing? I’m still not good at keeping an editorial calendar. (I faced long ago that I’m a “pantser” where writing fiction is concerned. That’s true here, too.) I’m not crazy about Twitter, but I’m getting better at using it, and I enjoy the Wordsmith Studio chats when I have time to get there. I’m a slow learner on Google+, and I’m still a weakling when it comes to Pinterest and LinkedIn. I just discovered StumbleUpon.

So much to learn! And we have to choose what suits us best. I’m doing that.

Memoir and Me

I have to tell you about two extraordinary things that happened here. During her Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge in October 2012, Jane Ann McLachlan established a huge goal—to write a post for each of the first twenty-five years of your life. Impossible, I thought; I could never do that. Once I started tapping into memories, though, they came so fast I could hardly keep up and write them down.

I look back on that experience as a breakthrough moment for me as a writer. I didn’t think I could write memoir. I discovered that I could. And since much of my fiction has its roots in autobiographical elements, that month of exploration proved invaluable.

Discovered—Almost!

The second extraordinary thing: A couple of months ago, an agent contacted me. Yes. Contacted me, not the other way around. She had found this blog, and based on what she’d read here, she asked what I had that I could send her. I responded, and she asked to see a full manuscript. She didn’t take on the book — : ( — but still, it happened.

It could happen again. It could happen to you, too.

There’s a lesson in this bit of luck. I do consider it lucky, even though this agent turned out not to be the one. It’s an example of platform at work. Had I not participated in the Platform Challenge, had I not stuck with the blog, had I not grown my online presence, that particular agent encounter never would have happened. And every step takes us closer to our goals.

The Cyber-Circle

Wordsmith Studio
Wordsmith Studio

When we first took on Robert Lee Brewer’s Platform Challenge, most of us knew nothing about each other. But we worked on Robert’s assigned tasks, explored, shared, grumbled a little, and after April, we stuck around. We got to know each other better. We became friends. We shared our strengths, our weaknesses, our pet peeves, our writing hopes and dreams, our disappointments and successes. Some of us have even shared the personal—both good and bad.

We’re a big bunch of BFFs, most of whom have never met.

Extraordinary. And we keep adding to the circle.

Here’s my earlier take on this remarkable cyber-circle of friendship:

And then there’s the new world of cyber-friends. Friends, you say? Are you skeptical? That’s all right. I was, too, in the beginning . . . We may have started out with the goal of increasing our online presence and creating a “platform” so that as we publish and hopefully, someday, really need a platform, we’ll be ready with the website and the Facebook Writer’s Page and a Twitter account and a nice number of connections across the Web. But as we’ve gotten to know each other better, we’ve formed bonds. We don’t all know each other equally well; we don’t all share the same goals; we might not recognize each other if we were all thrown into a crowded room together. But we are connected. What we care about—our writing, mostly, but also our successes, our failures, our significant life moments—we have come to expect to share with these other folks whom we may never see in the flesh.**

So the Not-Bobbers became the Wordsmith Studio gang. I won’t say the rest is history, because we’re still making history. Our own. Still growing as writers and as a group.

I’m glad I leapt into the challenge last April. Funny, isn’t it, how one small decisive moment can change your life?

So thanks, Robert Lee Brewer. And to those who had the vision to see the community of writers we might become, I say thanks to you, too. You know who you are.

Happy anniversary and congratulations, Wordsmithers all. We are growing a good thing.

* “A Platform Is Something You Stand On,” April 12, 2012

** From “So Many Streets, So Many Connections,” July 26, 2012

So Many Streets, So Many Connections

Photograph of Virginia Woolf , 1911 – 1912. Oil on board, by Vanessa Bell. In the public domain.

I have lost friends, some by death… others by sheer inability to cross the street. 
 Virginia Woolf

I just finished reading an essay, “Girlfriends,” in Anna Quindlen’s Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake. In her memoir Quindlen passes along Virginia Woolf’s wise words, above. Those words struck me hard. For, you see, I am at an age where I have lost friends to death, although you might say age has nothing to do with it, and that’s true. Friends, or God forbid, family, can be snatched from us at any age, at any time; witness the recent unspeakable event in Aurora, Colorado.

How Wide Is the Street?

Having gotten those morbid thoughts out of the way, I’d rather focus on the other part of Woolf’s quote. We lose friends, Woolf suggests, “by sheer inability to cross the street.” Those words stunned me. How many times have I let friendships languish out of inertia? How often have I been unable, or unwilling, to “cross the street”?

I thought immediately of a good friend–we used to be “besties,” as the young ones might say–whom I haven’t seen in months. We haven’t even talked on the phone or emailed. I’m mystified by this neglect of a long-time friendship. I’m afraid we’ve drifted away from each other because of political and religious differences, and there’s no way one of us can convince the other she’s wrong. Even though we have “agreed to disagree,” those differences have cast a pall on our friendship. And yet, why have I not crossed the street, called one more time, and suggested we get together? I have not, and it’s a shame.

Then there’s my dearest childhood friend who writes me long, lovely, handwritten letters occasionally, newsy notes about her and her husband and what’s going on in their lives.  When we do talk, maybe once a year (why not more often?), we always pick up where we left off, as though not one of the events of our later lives has intervened. We might as well be girls again, sleeping over and giggling–or crying–about boyfriends. That’s a rare friendship indeed. My response to those long letters she writes? She’s lucky if she gets an email in return. She deserves a better friend.

And there are the friends in my book group (we call it “the bookgroup,” as in the only one). Some of us “go way back”; others are relatively new friends with whom I share a great love of books. We don’t always agree; in fact, we have spirited discussions when we meet. But we respect each other. I think it’s safe to say we love each other. We would cross the street; indeed, we have. (One of those friends shared the Quindlen essay with me. Thanks, J—.)

Coffee cup

A Whole New World

And then there’s the new world of cyber-friends. Friends, you say? Are you skeptical? That’s all right. I was, too, in the beginning. Yes, I use Facebook to keep up with my dear ones. Otherwise, Facebook “relationships” seem superficial, at best. And yet, if you’re lucky, a comaraderie develops over time as acquaintances open to each other through common interests; as they sense when someone needs a good word; as they listen (figuratively, yes); as they offer themselves unselfishly, laugh together, and cry together.

This is particularly true of writers, I think. I’ve become associated with a group of writers  through Facebook and other social media. We may have started out with the goal of increasing our online presence and creating a “platform” so that as we publish and hopefully, someday, really need a platform, we’ll be ready with the website and the Facebook Writer’s Page and a Twitter account and a nice number of connections across the Web. But I believe, as we’ve gotten to know each other better, bonds have formed among us. We don’t all know each other equally well; we don’t all share the same goals; we might not recognize each other if we were all thrown into a crowded room together. But we are connected. What we care about—our writing, mostly, but also our successes, our failures, our significant life moments, both good and bad—we have come to expect to share with these other folks whom we may never see in the flesh.

Let’s Have a Cup of Coffee

Yet we are, in a real sense, capable of “crossing the street” for each other. It’s not the same as sitting across from that old friend I miss a lot, having a cup of coffee, and catching up, or writing that long overdue letter, or having a pithy book discussion that ends in good will and laughter. It’s not the same as showing up at the home of a friend when somebody is sick or there’s terrible news.

But give us time and technology! We may just get there.

How important are your friendships, “in the flesh” or otherwise? Let me know your thoughts!

“If I could write the beauty of your eyes” —William Shakespeare

A few days ago, I launched my Writer Page on Facebook.

Novel note card, April 2011

Over the last six weeks or so, I have gone places I’ve never gone before—on the Internet, that is. No, I have not been visiting naughty websites. I’ve been doing something the publishing industry calls “Building a Platform.” Note the caps, a signifier of importance. It seems a platform is important for writers. Even those of us without a published book are encouraged to go ahead and start putting ourselves “out there.” So that’s what I’ve been doing under the fabulous leadership of one Not-Bob, or Robert Lee Brewer, who led the My Name Is Not Bob April Platform Challenge.

April, you say? Yes, the challenge ended when April did, but the momentum continues.

I was already a Facebook person, and I “did” LinkedIn. I had signed up for Twitter, added Google+ and Red Room, and I’ve been visiting my fellow platformers’ blogs like crazy, with great admiration for their ability to write posts (daily, some of them; wow), juggle jobs and kids and lives and still write their novels or poetry or memoirs or whatever is dearest to their hearts.

My final goal was to create the Facebook Writer Page. Did I dare call myself a writer and make it a public declaration? When I finally held my nose and dived in, it wasn’t all that bad. In fact, it was fun, and many friends and fellow writers dropped by quickly and “liked” the page, so it’s gotten off to a good start.

Something interesting surfaced in the midst of all that. When I started to create the page, I had to choose a category from among businesses, organizations, nonprofits, brands, and such. I considered all the options and decided on Artist, Band, or Public Figure. I’m not an Artist (well, that one’s close; I like to think I am, with words); I’m not a Band; and I’m certainly not a Public Figure. (Notice those caps again.) The ah-ha moment came when I held my breath and clicked on Artist and saw I had choices there, too.

What kind of person am I? What’s my identity?

Two of the options were “author” and “writer.” Hmmm. Author sounds a little stilted, I thought, so instinctively, I went with writer. After all, that’s what I call myself these days.

It started me thinking. I’m a former English teacher. I should know the distinction between those two words. Writer is more generic? An author is someone . . . more established? I finally gave in and looked them up. Here’s some of what I found.

(If you hate it when people quote the dictionary, you should maybe stop here.)

According to Merriam Webster: an author is “one that originates or creates; the writer of a literary work (as a book). Author originates from the Middle English auctour, from Anglo-French auctor, autor, from Latin auctor promoter, originator, author, from augēre to increase.” The word dates from the 14th century.

A writer is “one that writes [refers to the definition of write] as a: author [one and the same? Really?] and b: one who writes stock options.”  The word traces to the 12th century.

So the word writer pre-dates author, but it doesn’t have the fancy pedigree.

My Dashboard dictionary on the Mac defines author as “someone who writes books as a profession” and writer as “a person who writes books, stories, or articles as a job or regular occupation.”

Are we splitting hairs here?

Let’s look at the word write. Merriam Webster begins with the simplest definition—to “form characters or symbols on a surface with an instrument (as a pen)”—and progresses  to “to set down in writing; to be the author of; to express in literary form.” Ah, getting closer. The example that follows is a line from Shakespeare: “if I could write the beauty of your eyes . . .”

So which am I? I think I’ll stick with writer.

A writer puts marks on a page, yes. She makes words, yes, and symbols, sentences, paragraphs, pages, chapters. Stories, memoirs, novels, poetry. She records the world as she sees it. She creates people and places and worlds that didn’t exist before.

A writer makes her mark on the world. That’s what I’d like to do. So call me writer, please. That’s the word for me.

Here’s a question for you: how do you see yourself? Do you call yourself a writer or an author? Is there a distinction in your mind? I expect there’ll be different opinions. I’d love to hear yours.