Social media gets a bad rap for its ability to distract from the more nobler cause of writing, but my writing life would be dismal without it.
I have spent the past few months gathering a jumble of words into a coherent submission for The Richell Prize For Emerging Writers. My entry will compete with hundreds of others and I’m realistic about my chances, but the process made me realise how important social media was to meeting a deadline. I couldn’t wait a whole year for the next opportunity and I didn’t want to chicken out when I began to question my writing abilities. So I made myself accountable on social media and just like The Beatles song, I nailed it with a little help from my friends. The deadline, that is. The jury’s still out on whether I nailed the submission! These are some of the strategies that helped me cope with the looming deadline:
Belonging to an accountability group has been the single most important factor in making me sit down to write when I didn’t feel like it. Many times I found myself avoiding the computer when inspiration was lacking, but having already committed to the group that I would complete a minor step towards the larger goal, I felt that at least I should switch the screen on, and before I knew it the words were flowing again. This accountability group has also been invaluable when I needed technical advice. (Fellow lollygaggers – you are awesome!) I highly recommend forming or joining an accountability group. Facebook is the perfect platform for one.
Engaging with other writers on Instagram who were working towards the same competition deadline also helped keep me on track. And when I posted three entries during the last sprint of my Richell submission I received an overwhelming response. It didn’t feel like I was doing it alone. Without social media, writing can be such a solitary exercise and I would probably have opened a packet of Tim Tams in celebration when the words ‘thank you for your submission’ popped up on my screen. Instead, I posted a photo of the confirmation on Instagram and the congratulations flowed in.
Australian author, Elizabeth Foster wrote an interesting article recently about overcoming negativity bias. She asked the question:
‘how do we hold on to positive news for more than a millisecond? How do we train ourselves to focus on the good stuff, rather than just ruminating on the bad?’
Feedback via Instagram filters through over a period of days. One of its benefits is that you can cheer on others at your convenience (often in my case, in my PJs at 6.15 a.m., or when I’ve got a few minutes spare waiting for dinner to cook). When you post your own ‘big news’, little messages of support come back throughout the day, like the reassuring bleeps of a life support machine. Elizabeth’s article stresses the importance of focusing on the good for more than one millisecond. Instagram dovetails with this concept nicely and a few words or a single emoji can be enough to make someone’s day. The bookish community in particular is incredibly supportive. I might add though – this isn’t a one way street. You can’t expect an outpouring of support if you haven’t engaged with other people’s accounts.
Twitter is where I first came across the Richell Prize. It’s a quick-moving platform bursting with links to helpful information. But I had to smile when I heard Val and Al refer to Twitter as being like ‘water cooler chat’ on their So You Want To Be A Writer podcast. Home alone in front of the computer, I need a bit of water cooler chat every now and then. Twitter is the perfect platform for short conversations and over the past few months has been useful for updating progress with fellow entrants.
I don’t like to renege on a commitment and created a category on my blog called Words From The Avenue to keep myself accountable to writing goals. By making my goals public I figured I would be less likely to back down when doubts about my abilities crept in. I also enjoy reading blogs of writers much more advanced along their journey and can see the benefit in having my journey documented. You never know where your tentative steps will take you.
I received a lot of support when I wrote a blog post about needing to take a break from working on my submission so close to the deadline. The reassurance that this is not only normal, but a vital part of the writing process was affirming and I was able to tackle the final stage of the submission with renewed, guilt-free energy. By putting myself out there and engaging with other writers who had been though this themselves, I am now more trusting of my own writing process.
I found my writing group via social media and they are very supportive of members reading out submissions that require critiquing. (Writing WA has an extensive list of writing centres). Receiving immediate feedback on the particular section of writing I was working on was invaluable. Without the group discussion that followed each reading session my submission would have been in far worse shape. They made notes on the copies I’d provided – often picking up the same areas for improvement, asked questions that highlighted I hadn’t provided enough backstory to a scene, and told me what it was in particular they liked about my piece. Some of the group’s members are active on social media and discussions about my manuscript sometimes continued beyond the weekly meeting. (A dare to include a reference to a ‘dragonfly tattoo’ writing prompt that resulted in hysterical laughter one week comes to mind).
The more often I discussed my goal on social media, the more committed I became to achieving it. I encourage you to put yourself out there. Share your dreams and goals. Instead of worrying about people asking, ‘what makes you think you can do that?’, you might be surprised by how many people cheer you on.
Social media has made the competition’s entry deadline a fun challenge, rather than a chore. And whatever the outcome, I’ll have my tribe to commiserate or celebrate with. I don’t have to go it alone. I’ll get by with a little help from my friends.