Social Writing

writers-block
Image by Drew Coffman via flickr

I appreciate that in writing about “6 Underappreciated Skills for Social Media Professionals,” Evan LePage includes writing as one of those six.

If you do social media, you spend a lot of your time writing.  Short tweets and posts, captions and comments are all important – and not without skill and design when done well – tasks of a social writer.

The obvious writing task is blogging which is generally a kind of journalism, technical writing or an essay.

As the author points out, even our growing visual networks, such as Instagram and Youtube, require titles, tags and captions and those are all important factors to getting found online and pushing engagement.

I still have to point out to people that working online also requires a lot of reading. Students in my online graduate courses who are new to that kind of learning environment are often surprised (not happily) about the amount of reading and writing required to do well.

We are becoming more and more digital, but reading and writing are not going away, though they are evolving.

Social Media For Authors

It’s rare to find any published writers that don’t have their own website. Publishers usually create some kind of pages for their authors, but you really need your own place to promote yourself, your writing, your readings, workshops and appearances, and probably to share some samples of your work.

coben

Mystery writer Harlan Coben has a very good author site that is obviously professionally maintained. He has his own Facebook account, plus one for the books. He is on Twitter and he uses Instagram.  Harlan is a friend and former student of mine and I know that he does much of his own social media. His website points you to all his social media (including an old-fashioned email newsletter – know your audience – not all of them are on social media) and the social media points you to the website.

We are past the time of having to explain why a website is important, and are now pretty deep into the time when any writer – novelist, non-fiction writer or poet – also needs a social media presence.

You don’t necessarily need to be on all the social networks. In fact, even though it is advisable to take possession of your name real estate in all the big networks before someone else does, you probably can’t put out enough content to make all of them seem active unless you have help.

Besides having a truly personal account, having a closed or open Facebook group is a good way to share information, events, photos, reviews and press. Depending on target audience, the chances are much better that readers will check their Facebook – or other social networks – more frequently than your website. Those social posts may drive readers to more in-depth material on the website such as a book preview.

Instagram is the visual place to be, though some treat it in the same way as Twitter (which has also become more visual from its early days) with hashtags and short messages.

Of course, there’s also LinkedIn and Pinterest and plenty of others out there and on the horizon. But again, don’t over extend yourself. LinkedIn is a purely professional, yet still social network, and you would think a professional writer should be there. Yes, have a profile, but that’s not where your readers expect to find you. You would be spending you time better by being in GoodReads which is populated with readers and allows you to do things like offer free book giveaway promotions.

All of this might be handled by someone else – a publisher, agent, publicist – but for the majority of writers reading this, it’s all up to you.

I am still a believer that most social media needs to point to a website where more significant content is found.

My own predilection is for poetry, so I look at a lot of poet sites, both as a reader of their work and as a designer of websites. They range tremendously from simple, homegrown, self-maintained sites, to slickly designed sites. The latter type is often infrequently updated, which is not a good thing. A good test is to check their page for readings and other events.

I checked 7 poet sites in my bookmarks to see what’s new or updated.

Marie Howe‘s site is nicely designed, but hasn’t been updated in 3 years.

Maria Mazziotti Gillan‘s website has up-to-date book information and a complete bio for others to use. Her event updates are on a complementary blog that is updated at least once a week with readings, workshops or her poetry.  (I know that because I’m the one who maintains the site and blog.)

Laura Kasischke has a good basic site, and Laura Boss has a simple, but clean and updated website.

taylormali.com has a very nice site but shows no “gigs” upcoming or in the recent past.

kevinyoungpoetry.com is a good, modern site and up to date in content, and so is the site for robertpinskypoet.com. The fact that their URLs are not kevinyoung.com and robertpinsky.com means someone else grabbed that very important piece of their identity real estate. That is often done as a business venture with the aim to resell it to the author or celebrity. A domain/URL will usually cost $15-25 a year, but resales frequently go for $5000 and up. Get it while you can…

Robert Hass has only a site done by his agent barclayagency.com/hass.html but no personal site – but roberthass.com is owned by someone – probably not the poet Robert Hass.

The Paradelle

paradelle cover

It has been more than two decades since I encountered the paradelle. It is a modern poetic form which was invented by poet Billy Collins. I first heard about it when I spent a week with Billy in a writing workshop held on Long Island, NY.

Billy had invented it as a parody of the villanelle, which is a well-established and complicated form. He told me that he fully intended to get the form into very official The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics.

He first published his own paradelle, “Paradelle for Susan”, in The American Scholar where it garnered some angry letters to the editor from readers who missed the parody aspect and just thought it was a terrible poem that never should have been published. His favorite letter was from a mother who included her young daughter’s own attempt at the form that she thought was better than Collins’ poem.

Billy Collins claimed in his book, Picnic, Lighting, that the paradelle was invented in eleventh century France.

“The paradelle is one of the more demanding French fixed forms, first appearing in the langue d’oc love poetry of the eleventh century. It is a poem of four six-line stanzas in which the first and second lines, as well as the third and fourth lines of the first three stanzas, must be identical. The fifth and sixth lines, which traditionally resolve these stanzas, must use all the words from the preceding lines and only those words. Similarly, the final stanza must use every word from all the preceding stanzas and only these words.”

In trying to follow those rules, Collins ended up with a final stanza containing the line “Darken the mountain, time and find was my into it was with to to.”

Well, the form did take on a life. Some poets, including myself, acknowledged the parody but took the form seriously, writing their own paradelles.

I took the word as an imaginary place of escape and the home of one of my blogs where I escape to and write on weekends.

Billy wrote later about the form that he “considered using an already existing form, but I figured enough bad sonnets and bad sestinas are already being written these days without me adding to the pile. . . . The paradelle invites you in with its offer of nursery-rhyme repetition, then suddenly confronts you with an extreme verbal challenge. It lurches from the comfort of repetition to the crossword-puzzle anxiety of fitting a specific vocabulary into a tightly bounded space. While the level of difficulty in most verse forms remains fairly consistent throughout, the paradelle accelerates from kindergarten to college and back to kindergarten several times and ends in a think-tank called the Institute for Advanced Word Play. Thus the jumpy double nature of the paradelle, so unsteady, so schizo, so right for our times.”

I wrote the paradelle below about the two years before and after I had lost someone close to me. It is included in an anthology of paradelles, The Paradelle, from Red Hen Press.

 

TWO YEARS

The heart softens with winter,
the heart softens with winter.
Time strengthens your thin body,
time strengthens your thin body.
Your thin body strengthens.
Winter time softens the heart.
Oak and sage edges the river,
oak and sage edges the river.
Rock breaks the water, its rings survive,
rock breaks the water, its rings survive.
Sage, oak and rock survive the breaks.
The river water rings its edges.
From a year without you beside me with the pain,
from a year without you beside me with the pain.
These selected moments surface,
these selected moments surface.
You beside me without the pain,
surface from a year with these selected moments.
The river rock softens its edges with time.
Oak at the heart strengthens as the rings thin.
Sage survives the winter pain.
Your body breaks the water surface beside me.
These moments selected from a year with
and without you.

Kenneth Ronkowitz

Gabriel García Márquez on Writing

“One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent many months on a first paragraph and once I get it, the rest just comes out very easily. In the first paragraph you solve most of the problems with your book. The theme is defined, the style, the tone. At least in my case, the first paragraph is a kind of sample of what the rest of the book is going to be.”

“Ultimately literature is nothing but carpentry. Both are very hard work. Writing something is almost as hard as making a table. With both you are working with reality, a material just as hard as wood. Both are full of tricks and techniques. Basically very little magic and a lot of hard work involved.”


One Hundred Years of Solitude
Cien años de soledad (Spanish Edition)

[Note: Gabriel García Márquez quotes are from The Paris Review interview conducted by Peter H. Stone. García Márquez’s then-teenage sons translated his answers into English.]

The Evolution of Revision

Either this post should be titled “The Evolution of Revision” or “The Revision of Evolution.” Both fit.

It was inspired by a website, On the Origin of Species: The Preservation of Favoured Traces, by Ben Fry.

I am a Darwin fan, but, like most people, I think of his theory of evolution as a fixed notion – something finished. But the site shows how the theory and Darwin’s book, On the Origin of Species, “evolved” over the course of the editions he wrote, edited, and updated during his lifetime.

His first English edition was approximately 150,000 words and the sixth was 190,000 words.

Some of the changes are just minor refinements, but some are real shifts in the ideas.

Darwin brooded over publishing the book for a long time, so there was plenty of time for changes. He had his basic theory of “natural selection”in 1838, but twenty years later he was still not ready to publish his theory. Why?

Reasons usually given include his fear of religious persecution or social disgrace. He knew what his clergymen naturalist friends and his very religious wife, Emma, would think about it. He was also ill. He had published a paper (on Glen Roy) that was embarrassingly wrong, and that may have made him skittish. But it’s not that he didn’t publish during those years – he did, just not The Theory.

The second edition of Origin has the addition of “by the Creator” to the closing paragraph. Fry notes on his site that the phrase “survival of the fittest” which is so well-known and connected to Darwin and his theory of evolution, actually came from British philosopher Herbert Spencer and didn’t appear until the fifth edition of the book was published.

I discovered Ben Fry by way of his book, Visualizing Data, which is about computational information design. It was one I suggest to my students of visual design as a good hands-on guide about how to build a data visualization. With all the data swirling around us these days, being able to help people visualize it is important. His website on Darwin’s book is a good example of doing just that.

Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species: A Graphic Adaptation

Data Flow 2: Visualizing Information in Graphic Design