A Series of Unfortunate Events

by RS on December 3, 2014

I’ve posted before about my love/hate relationship with Facebook and not using the filter. After three incidents, I finally decided it was time to limit my time at the virtual water cooler. Without getting too much into the dirty details, here are three vignettes that pushed me to make this decision:

The Curious Incident of the Thin-Skinned Writer

A writer friend (someone I briefly dated in the mid-1990s) posted a photo of himself and a former girlfriend circa 1980s. His entourage commented about the photo, and I added my own light-hearted remark. It didn’t sit well. An angry message from him said my comment was petulant with bitter undertones. How he managed to interpret it that way is a mystery, but instead not responding, I wrote back and told him not to be so thin-skinned. Three or more messages followed, and by then I was fed up with his nit-picking that I informed him he wouldn’t hear from me again. Apparently, he felt the same way. We both deleted, blocked and unfriended at the same time.

The Thin Facebook Line

Last month I wrote about the UnConference and the friendships that were formed online were solidified in Salem.  What I left out was a painful incident on the last day of the UnConference. There’s no question that I’ve overshared my woes on Facebook, but  be told I lacked “self-integrity” felt like a dumped bucket of ice water.

After the shock and mulling it over for a week my conclusion was the following: my fault for stupidly crossing my own personal boundaries, but if you disagree with a person’s choices and don’t want to be friends there’s a simple solution—don’t interact with them online or in person. There’s no need to cross boundaries and be hurtful.

Looks Who’s Not Talking

Porter Anderson recently wrote two pieces, The Gate We Should Have Kept: And Was Mystique That Bad? and  Writerly Mystique Vs. Self-Exposure: Mind The Gap.  He laments that we’ve lost our mystique because we’re blathering on and on about every detail in our lives. In my Facebook writing groups, many were offended by his comments. In one piece, he singled out the UnConference, and appeared to miss the point of a specific session on Voice led by Meg Rosoff, but also the UnCon itself. Some interpreted his piece as, “you have nothing to say so shut up.” While others thought, specifically with social media, that he had a point.

I sided with the latter (in fact, I think I may have been the only one in the UnCon group to agree with his lament). There are aspect of social media I like: the camraderie of experienced and novice writers; the opportunity to meet my online friends in person; to discuss craft, books, and share information about the publishing industry.

However, the other stuff—the incessant noise (wherein I also contributed ad nauseum), the need to be “out there” all the time, the food pictures, the talk about illness, the kids, the abused and tortured dogs, and the hours wasted yammering online became too much. I ran away to the woods to escape the noise so I could write in peace, but as it turned I brought it with me via Facebook.

Facebook Anonymous: The Four Step Program

For about a week I mulled whether I should deactivate my account, but because I belong to the Writer Unboxed community, I’m a co-moderator of Pitches & Plots, and more importantly, there are a number of people who are family, friends from childhood, college and the UnCon, whom I don’t want to lose touch with,  so I decided to keep it live but with limited access.

To kick the social media habit, I created the following guidelines: First, no more posting anything personal. Second, unfollow friends (not unfriend) so as to not see their updates and hide the newsfeed using FB Purity. The reasoning behind this: you see one interesting post and you’re sucked in the vortex of the newsfeed. Third, use an app to block access to social media (Shout out to Self-Control and for backup BlockSite). Fourth, delete all social media apps on your phone and tablet.

It’s still early to tell if curtailing social media will work, but so far the only noise I hear are the dogs barking. I’ve worked out a system where I’m unable to access Facebook for at least twenty hours. In the mornings, prior to setting the blocking app, I check my page, respond to any comments made directly to me, provide an update to this experiment (ironic, huh?), log out and set the apps. I have Facebook Groups on the tablet, I check it and add my two cents on interesting posts in the evening The result: I’ve spent less than an hour per day on social media.

These series of unfortunate events became relearned lessons–jokesy comments can be misinterpreted; oversharing can bite back; and really? You have nothing better to do with your time?

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What If?

by RS on December 1, 2014

Since returning from Salem the only writing I’ve managed are four articles for HAND/EYE. Otherwise, with the exception of the previous blog post, I haven’t written a word for Julius.

I love my story, the quirky characters, especially the relationship between Corinne and Alvah, but I’m stuck. The middle sags so much that it needs more than just sucking in—I’m considering liposuction and Biggest Loser bootcamp.

There are a couple of issues going on between me and the story. First, I absorbed so much information during those five days at the UnCon that it was overwhelming. There’s quite a bit in Julius that works, but there’s also a lot that doesn’t. If I change one aspect how much will that change the story? A lot? A little? Or will it still remain the same and continue to have the same or even more problems?

I spent seven years reworking the damn story and when I question certain elements—more often than not—my answer is, “I don’t know how I change this. It’s out of control.”

Suffice it to say when I returned home and reviewed the manuscript, I faced a deluge of “It’s out of control” and that’s when I questioned if I could ever finish this blasted novel and leave readers wanting more from yours truly.

No joke here, but I had some serious doubts.

After three weeks, I decided to set aside Julius—not abandon it—but work on something different. Something that would have a broader appeal with themes that my audience could indentify and question. But what? That was the potential six figure advance question. What did I have in my arsenal that could make this a story I wanted to write, keep me and potential readers interested?

In my old Scrivener files, I found an outline to a story I fiddled with three years ago; it was supposed to be bonafide tear jerker, but I hated the protagonist. Cold, unsympathetic, bitchy. Who would care about her if I disliked her so much? I filed it way and forgot about it until recently.

Reviewing the notecards, I knew there wasn’t anything worth saving except three characters. I spent about a week wondering if I had anything to work with and then I recalled that one of the main characters—loosely based on a Hungarian actor who had a series of career setbacks—had been orphaned during WWII. That was all I knew and that’s when I allowed my imagination to soar.

I asked many “What ifs” that led me in several directions. When I discovered the kernel of a story that made me to want more, I began to narrow the themes I wanted to explore. More what ifs followed that eventually introduced a new character whose voice needed to be heard. Another discovery: the story needed to be told from three different view points.

My reaction? Excitement. I’m chomping at the bit to get started.

What if. . . what if. . . what if? Who knew those two words would lead to so many possibilities.

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The Un-Conference Kitty

by RS on November 12, 2014

Image: AMI Wallpapers

Image: AMI Wallpapers

A week ago I was in Salem, MA, attending the very first Writer UnBoxed UnConference. During the first evening, I sat at a table with a group of people I’ve been online friends for at least three years. We were a motley group from all over the U.S., but also from Australia, Canada, and Spain.

Before the start of the conference, we communicated via the Un-Con page on Facebook. At some point there was an informal poll about introverts and extroverts, and it appeared the conference would be attended by a majority who are shy and reticent by nature.  And yet, I believe many of us fibbed. With the exception of one person out of eighty attendees, we were a boisterous group with enough words spoken to fill pages and pages of books. Now I am dubious when a writer says he or she is an introvert (and I should add that I’m not as aloof as I’ve claimed in the past).

Before leaving for Salem, I was nervous. Skittish I would miss the turn-off to the Mass Pike and end up somewhere in the deep south (I didn’t). Anxious whether my roomie and I would get along for five days (we’ve become friends). Uneasy about the WIP and how long it was taking me to write (so what? There are others in the same situation). These were silly worries, but I had real apprehension about who we are online versus who we are in the actual world of hard knocks.

Eighty writers. Think about it for a minute. Eighty individuals with a knack for observation and eavesdropping. Eighty people who use real settings, real problems, real people for inspiration to craft a story. Eighty artists with opinions about good versus bad writing. Eighty coffee drinkers; eighty imbibers of spirits; eighty neurotics of varying degrees.

I’ve participated in workshops and writing groups in the past—both on and off-line. I stopped attending because many fostered a mean-spirited competitive environment. The first workshop I attended one writer proudly announced she never read a Stephen King book. Her scorn for King and his readers set a nasty tone for the entire workshop, dividing the class into those who read horror and popular fiction versus those who read literary fiction. Did I get anything out of it? Just a $600 hole in my checking account.

In another workshop egos were bundled in neat packages along with the notebooks and sample WIP pages. Cliques formed (the instructor led one); harsh and unconstructive critiques ridiculed both the story and writer felt like those ALS buckets of ice water dumped on you. Another $600 hole in my checking account with the added hurt and humiliation.

Suffice it to say I was nervous about spending so much money for what could  amount to an unstatisfactory experience. The surprise—and a breathtaking one—was all egos where checked at the door. Published authors shared their trials and tribulations about writing, marketing, and frustrations about the industry. Newly agented writers shared their stories of rejections until they landed a prized agent; writers who were struggling to get their stories right commiserated. There was no genre snobbery. We were all united. We were all equals. Our online selves were no different from our offline selves. We were and continue to be genuine, or borrowing Therese Walsh’s term: velveteen.

Therese Walsh, co-founder of Writer Unboxed, The Facebook Writer Unboxed Moderator Team—Vaughn Roycroft, Valerie Chandler, Heather Reid—have nurtured a community of writers where we feel safe. No head or guilt trips; no public shaming. Instead we share our concerns about a competitive business; perservering and continuing to tap away at the keyboard; our insecurites and struggles; our stories. No judgments, but encouragement to keep writing. The same spirit we have online was alive and thrived in Salem.

I have $1000 less in my checking account, and although I didn’t play in the nightly poker games, I feel as if I won the entire kitty.

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