Wednesday, September 8, 2010

On "Social Media" and "Internet Presence", and How to Write (practically)

Yesterday I went to a meeting of the Willamette Writers Group. Karen Karbo , a multi-published writer with whom I took a memoir-writing workshop at the beginning of the year, was giving the talk. 
It was about her concerns regarding emailing, blogging, facebooking, twittering, and all the myriad other "social networking" tools that have appeared in our lives and everybody feels obliged to use. 

Karen was both encouraging and disparaging about the whole thing, but the gist of the talk was (I'm not quoting verbatim, just summarizing) that these things can, and often will, suck you dry: as a writer, you need as wide as possible a mental space made of peace, reflection, solitude, deep thinking; now, these technological tools do not encourage the creation of such a space—rather, they are too quick and too fleeting, like ripples on the surface of water. 
So it  would be best for us, as writers, to use them in moderation; even better, try and get someone else to do it for you if you can. 
Remember that, in a good day's work, you still don't have an unlimited bounty but only a certain number of words at your disposal—use them wisely, don't waste too many on things you will regret later, or things that will not last long. 
Karen's final suggestion was to do your real writing on a computer that has no internet on it, or even write by hand. 
This resonated with me, as I do know that my writing by hand always yields a completely different product from my typing at any manner of keys: something more immediate, more gutsy, more personal, from deeper within my psyche. So I'm glad I never got rid of my old MacBook, and intend from now on to use it as a more modern typewriter. I
 would still rather write by hand all the time, but the thing is that I'm a very fast hand-writer yet a lousy typist, so it takes me too long to transcribe what I write by hand. I have several notebooks full of insights, thoughts, germs of ideas for stories and essays, phrases, paragraphs or even entire pages I meant to use in my writing, yet I have not managed to transcribe many of these into my computer so that I can expand on them, or just keep them archived.

On another level, though, the talk made me feel quite depressed because it encapsulated my misgivings about this technology: I may be too old, but I still hanker after a time when we could just call each other up, or meet, instead of forging connections via email and other sites. Of course I'm very grateful for email because without it, I'd still be waiting for the elusive letter from my many friends scattered around the globe (though there was a certain, irreplaceable thrill about that—not to mention the loss of the tactile and sensual experience given by the choice of writing paper, the envelope, the specific handwriting of each person, etcetera). And of course, without the internet, I would have probably never met some of the interesting people I've made connections with, nor would I be writing this blog.

Still, what gives me pause is the fact that, as Karen mentioned, today it may not be the best writers/books that get attention, but rather the ones that are better at self-promotion. A sad thought indeed for those of us who still want a real depth of feeling and experience to be encapsulated in a book, or movie, or other artistic production.
As Kafka said, "a book should serve as the ax for the frozen sea within us". A tall order indeed, in these days of quick and cheap thrills, when a book is more likely to serve as diversion on the daily commute and become recycled after only one reader...

Another worrying aspect of this phenomenon is that even authors with multiple publications to their name are now required to get on this "social media" bandwagon by their agents, publicists or editors; yet in their case, thanks to their relative fame, they will have an already-built-in audience once they are on the internet; fans and followers will google their names and find their websites or blogs or Facebook page.
But where does this leave the rest of us who haven't published, aren't famous, and yet still need to have a "presence on the internet"? 
What kind of presence do you really have if no one reads your blog anyway? How is that different from sitting alone in your room writing?

Gentle Readers, I would love to hear your voices on these issues.

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