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.


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

Kasie Whitener: Can People in Heaven Read Facebook?

The Writerly Life welcomes Kasie Whitener, whose post delves into the impact of social media on our most personal—and sometimes most painful—moments. Kasie blogs at Life on Clemson Road, but she also teaches and is at work on several fiction projects. Learn more about her at the end of this post.

Can People in Heaven Read Facebook?

My Facebook newsfeed:

I ❤ POTUS! Leigh Johnson Reed changed her profile picture (and my cousin’s beautiful mug). Day 141 for my friend on assignment in Liberia: a picture of her dinner. A picture of Sarah Palin with a snide comment about John McCain picking her over Mitt Romney for vice president. And a ton of “TGIF!!!”

Then, “RIP, Kellye.”

And, “You’ll be missed, Kellye.”

We’ve become a culture that does everything publicly.

Our politics are online: we comment on blogs, share fair-and-balanced articles. Our humor is online: we re-post pithy phrases laid over 1950’s cartoons (“Not all women are moody. It’s just that some of us have had enough of your bullsh**”). We share YouTube videos, clips of Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert.

Our business is online: we fan our employer, Like achievements and re-tweet specials and events to our customers. We’re LinkedIn to everyone we’ve ever met while wearing business casual dress and pretending to care.

We shop online, too: eagerly consuming hand-painted wineglasses, children’s clothing and anything and everything that’s been monogrammed (though that may just be a Southern thing).

Our families are online it’s the only way we’ve ever seen our cousin’s cute new baby. Our faith is online: we Like Bible passages and resurrection images and baptism photos.

So it is a natural progression, right? that we would mourn online? That our tribes, our communities, our families, our “friends” would experience with us the tragedy that has befallen us. After all, we went through theirs.

“I’m so sorry!”

“You’re in my prayers!”

“We love you all so much!”

Someone’s dog was euthanized. Someone’s cat went missing. Someone’s car was broken into, home burglarized, sister divorced, kid diagnosed with a terrible disease, father fighting prostate cancer, great-grandmother passed. People suffer and we suffer with them.

“Praying for you!”

Social Media Network
Image courtesy of

At the same time this Facebook sharing is both disturbing and confirming. First, it disturbs me that these tragedies find their way into the same medium where we’ve posted Little League Baseball scores, kitten videos, and quotes from the Dalai Lama. How is “rest in peace” appropriate here when just yesterday I wrote, “Go Tigers!” in the same space?

Jewel Blitz wants to share my top score. Amazon wants to tell people I bought a new book. Target lets everyone know I Like it and Jiffy Lube wants to tell people Brando got his oil changed. All of this news goes into my Facebook status update.

So how is, “She will be missed!” appropriate in the same place my RunKeeper App just said, “Kasie finished a 3.75 mile run in 38:22.04”?

I tweet and Facebook repeats: leadership quotes, articles about editing, Clemson sports updates, book reviews and blog posts. I wouldn’t think to Tweet, “Kellye died.” So why would I put it on Facebook?

Are these wall posts meant to offer comfort? Her sister, Kerri, is reading messages from hundreds of people who knew Kellye, people Kerri may have never met. She’s reading how loved her twin was, how many lives she touched. Do those messages on Kellye’s page help Kerri heal? Shouldn’t they? Isn’t that why they are posted?

Or are they another example of our own over-inflated sense of self-importance? Those people who ignore the fact that yesterday this same status update said “I Hate Mondays” and use it today to share their sadness are stuck in their own moment. Facebook is nothing if not self-worship.

Still the sharing is somewhat comforting and I hope wherever Kellye’s faith took her she has access to Facebook. But really, I wish she knew while she was here what a tremendous impact she was having on all of us. I am inspired to tell the people I know how important they are and what good work they are doing.

The power of social media is in the sharing of this tumultuous experience called life. And part of that experience, tragically, is that one beautiful, wonderful, funny, determined girl is no longer with us. And we’re suffering. Together.

I don’t know that blogging about her is any better than Facebooking it, so there’s my disclaimer. What do you think? Are people abusing social media by broadcasting their pain? Or is it the necessary evolution of this new global world?

Kasie Whitener

Kasie Whitener is a freelance writer and professor of English at Strayer University and Midlands Technical College. She’s a member of the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE), the community, and the Wordsmith Studio. She tweets @KasieWhitener and Facebooks. She blogs at Life on Clemson Road and is currently writing a collection of short stories to submit to literary journals during their acceptance window in the fall. She has several novel projects all of which deal with the moment the late David Foster Wallace described as when a fish recognizes what water is.