Guest Post: By No Means an Expert
“I sit, in my desolate room, no lights, no music / Just havoc / I’ve killed everyone / I’m away forever, but I’m feeling better…” – Sugar by System of a Down
A strong line from a song always puts me in a great writing mood. All writing, good or bad, has a beginning. It may start with a concept/idea: Santa Claus must defend the world from vampires on Christmas Eve; or a feeling: sad; scared; lonely; brave. Once a story begins, it usually takes on a life of its own.
The tale weaves itself into a tapestry of rich character development, witty dialogue, and the occasional plot twist (Rudolph was the head vampire all along? Say it ain’t so!). Hearts and souls pour into this magnum opus. The life created from this Franken-story leaps off the page. Eventually, the author sits alone with this masterpiece. Uncertainty settles into a creative mind as the struggle begins to find out how to get the words out to the world. What do 99% of all new writers do? To the interwebs, Batman (and by “To the interwebs” I mean run Google search for editors/publishers).
This holy grail of stories is sent off to at least two dozen randomly chosen editors; and that BuzzFeed article you read about how to write the perfect introduction letter is sure to give this manuscript an edge. Assuredly, one or all of the editors will fall in love with the pages and boom paycheck city! Two dozen rejections later a writer’s hopes and dreams are dashed on the rocks, buried beneath the waves, and carried far out to sea (back to 3rd shift at the bottle cap counting factory).
One question remains, why did I even start writing in the first place?
In the short time that I have been pursuing a writing career, I’ve noticed the story above hangs like a boat anchor attempting to drag down every author/writer. It’s the big, evil bogeyman feared by everyone. Your heart and soul are on display for all to see only to be rejected, “…we are not accepting stories of this type at this time…” or “…Thank you for your submission. We are going to pass on your story at this time…” It’s almost a horror story within itself.
Questions arise: How is success defined? More importantly, how can writers lay a positive foundation that will help them grow as an author and network with the people who can provide the best help?
A few months ago, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Stuart Conover (if you’ve read anything on the horrortree website you might know who he is) and sharing an overpriced Starbucks beverage (Venti Chai Latte is my favorite). We talked about many things: horror movies, books, writing, his website, my website, future writing plans, why a stranger known only from social media can meet with him so easily. I told him about my plans to lay a solid career foundation built on quality writing and making networking connections with other readers, writers, and authors.
The one topic we discussed that struck a chord was about social media and its relationship to the writing world. There is no better way I have found to push ideas and stories than to turn to one of the many available platforms. The communities are robust and can be intimidating for a beginning writer. I was lost in the ocean for a few months before I found a comfortable groove.
Arguably, the most popular social platforms available for writers I’ve experienced include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Wattpad, Google+, and SnapChat. The primary one I utilize is Twitter. It speaks to my humble beginnings in flash fiction. It forces me to choose words that carry the most considerable impact, the best descriptions, and utilize the proper tags. Over time, I have assembled a group of writers, authors, publishers, copy editors, and enthusiasts that show support when I need it and they are not afraid to call me out on any writing missteps.
My usual writing routine includes daily story posts in my social account (@ArthurUnkTweets) and vain, ego-driven attempts to write original content on my blog (https://arthurunk.com) once a week. I enjoy putting in work daily and making connections with other writers/authors across all genres. We share stories, successes, fears, failures, and information about the overall process of writing.
I did not realize it at the time, but I’ve become heavily involved with various writing communities. I could expound on each social platform at length discussing the pros and cons of each and churn out a 10,000-word article, but today I’m going to focus on just one, Twitter (and attempt to keep it under 2,000 words).
Twitter best falls into a category known as flash or micro-writing. There are no rules for what you put out into the world but be prepared to receive unsolicited feedback and the occasional troll. Twitter is a free platform for anyone to use and I often see publishers and independent authors push books, stories, and ideas out to the public. The writing process on Twitter is different because you only have 280 characters in which to write a story. It is half an elevator pitch at best; a blurb of a blurb.
The popularity of what I write on Twitter is relative to the quality of content; the hashtag used, the amount of material produced, how often content is created, and interactivity with the community at large. In other words, I write a lot of words, I tag it according to the subject, prompt word, or genre I’m writing in, I’m commenting on others’ writing, and responding to comments on my written work. It can seem overwhelming, especially if you try to follow this regimen of spending anywhere from an hour to two hours every day writing and responding.
“Hey Arthur, I heard you mention hashtags. What the heck are hashtags and how exactly can they help me?” I’m glad you asked random person I just made up (being a fiction writer gives me the latitude to create whomever I want, whenever I need to).
Hashtags are the lifeblood of Twitter. Essentially, it’s a keyword or phrase written preceded by the number symbol (#) or hashtag as the kids these days call it (#Excited #Family #Writing #Robots #Science #Hashtag). Things get even more fun when you include multiple words and phrases (#SorryNotSorry #EatAtJoes #DadLife #AsManyWordsInARowAsYouCanThinkOf). Each hashtagged word turns into a search link (and words like “hashtagged” get added to my personal dictionary because Word doesn’t recognize it as a real word). Clicking on the link lets you see who else is writing about the same subject. The # helps your work appear in other newsfeeds. Remember on Twitter there are only 280 characters to express a story or idea. Tag what is relevant to the written subject or theme. One or two works fine; beyond that, you risk compromising your message.
Hashtags are one of the most important things to get your writing noticed on Twitter. Unless you have a million followers, then anything written can get lost in the Twitterverse without the proper tag. I regularly search out specific hashtags to support the writing communities I follow: #vss365 (very short story 365 days a year); #SockItTueMe (stories based on new prompt words every Tuesday); #SciFiFri (weekly science fiction stories every Friday); #SlapdashSat (no themes, no prompts, just stories); #SeduceMeSunday (romance or erotica theme with a weekly prompt); and many, many more. My level of interaction with the writers and authors who participate is critical in building and keeping relationships within those communities and the writing community at large.
If you are an independent writer and not on a social site, you are missing out on a golden chance to connect with the people who read your work and build a solid fanbase. There is something special about being able to communicate with someone who is creative. You can gain insight or express gratitude. It is comforting to know that there is a human connection to the words written or the hand that holds the brush. A few people who like my style of writing contacted me via Direct Messaging and ultimately hired me for a few writing projects.
If there were no such thing as social media, I would still want to be a writer. I write for an audience of one unless someone has commissioned me to write for them. I also regularly participate in a few other flash communities on the web: AdHoc Fiction, Microcosms, HorrorTree, Spillwords. I don’t place all my eggs in just one writing basket.
In my humble opinion (IMHO as the millennials call it), there are no hard and fast rules on how to leverage a social media account to your advantage. The following are suggestions that I apply to stay true to myself and generate the type of success that I am looking for:
– People respect professionalism, always present yourself in a professional manner
– Never insult your fanbase
– Keep your profile public
– Always use hashtags on Twitter, but don’t overuse them
– A well-placed picture or .gif can help get your work noticed just like a good book cover
– Participate regularly
– Respond to comments (even if it’s just, “thank you for your support”)
– Do not ever try to be fake or fool the community
– Remember you are using the platform to write, not debate, don’t get drawn into unwanted arguments
– Be prepared to receive negative feedback
– Use the block button liberally
– Watch out for bots and scammers
– Try to use proper grammar and syntax, but realize that you will still make mistakes
– Proofread your work, then reread it, then read it one more time before hitting send
– Don’t work so hard to be unique, be genuine and the right people will notice
Most of what I’ve written here may seem like common sense to most, but I have been guilty of violating several of the above-imposed rules at one point or another. I have a plan for my continued success, and I strongly encourage anyone reading this to make a plan that fits your style. Writing can be a terrible storm that leaves several bodies in its wake. There are a chosen few that have learned how to weather the storm and ride the waves to great success.
If I knew for a fact that nothing I ever wrote would ever be published, I would still write. Writing is my escape from reality and my main therapy tool to stay sane. I am grateful for every opportunity, but I understand that behind every success there is a foundation of many life experiences, hard work, and discipline. Above all, I remember that I am by no means an expert…yet.
Arthur Unk lives and works in the United States, but dreams of a tropical, zombie-free island. He hones his drabble skills via the Horror Tree Trembling With Fear (Dead Wrong, Flesh of My Flesh, The Tale of Fear Itself, and others yet to come) and writes micro/flash fiction daily. His influences include H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and life experience. You can follow his work from all around the web via his blog at http://arthurunk.com or read his many, many micro-stories on Twitter @ArthurUnkTweets.
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Stuart Conover is a father, husband, published author, blogger, geek, entrepreneur, horror fanatic, and runs a few websites including Horror Tree!