Monday, September 17, 2012

Books, Blogs and BFFs: How One Thing Leads to Another


By David Abrams

When I come to the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop on Oct. 19, I’ll be sitting at the front of the room next to four of my best friends I’ve never met.  Lydia, Barbara, Anne, Brenda and I have never met in person, but we are as close as any strangers can be in this connected and wired world.  The five of us have been active members of Book Pregnant—primarily on Facebook, but also collaborating on this blog. 

Books are my BFFs
When we finally rendezvous in Myrtle Beach, there will be hugs, cheek kisses, and exclamations like, “Ohmigod, so that’s what you sound like!”  We’ll have some catching up to do, but not much…because by that point, we’ve pretty much spilled everything about our lives to each other within the confines of our private Facebook group.  Well, almost everything.  These ladies still don’t know all my secrets—like my vasectomy or my teenage obsession with Captain and Tennille (which, OOPS!, now they do if they’re reading this blog). 

Though we all started as strangers, we came together as fellow writers through the Great Mosh Pit known as the Blog-o-sphere.  And that’s what I’ll be talking about when I come to the SCWW in Myrtle Beach: how to network with your fellow authors via a blog. 

Blogs are as diverse at the authors who write them.  That’s probably the most “duh” thing I’ll write all day.  But it’s true.  And here’s another trite truism: blogs are like snowflakes—no two are exactly alike.  When you start a blog, it’s your blog; it will have your personal stamp on it; you’ll maintain control on how often you post; you’ll be steering the direction of the conversation, the tone, and the personality of the blog. 

What may not be as obvious is how a blog can enrich your life as a writer (if you let it, it can also become a ball and chain dragging you down and pulling you away from other writing projects….but that’s a whole other topic of discussion [“Paxil Popping Bloggers Who Overcommit and Other Tales From the Psychiatrist’s Couch”]).  For me, the most rewarding benefit of starting a blog—especially a books blog—is that you’ll get to meet kindred spirits on-line and sometimes—if you’re lucky like I’ll be in South Carolina—in person. 

One of the things I’ll be focusing on during my presentation at the conference is how a blog can serve a bridge between you and the unseen writing community on the web. 

I’ll use my own blog as an example simply because it’s the one I know the most about.  Besides, it’s always easier to discuss parenting techniques by using your own kids as examples rather than those urchins belonging to the grubby, beer-swilling, lottery-playing couple who lives in the trailer down the road from you, right?  I know my blog like I know my own children. 

I started The Quivering Pen on May 2, 2010 full of spunk and hope.  In that first, now-embarrassing post, I wrote: “I am standing on the threshold of the first draft of my second novel.  I am days away from typing the final period of Fobbit: a Novel.”  As you can see, The Quivering Pen was founded on the idea that everyone on the Internetz would be fascinated by watching me, The Writer, at work.  It would be like I was sitting in a glass booth with a typewriter on the corner of 4th and Main. 

In those first few days, the blog was like a jalopy with a loose steering wheel as it careened without brakes down a mountain pass.  My initial blog posts consisted of a quote from Tobias Wolff (something about writing taking “stamina and self-mastery and faith”), a brief examination of palindromes, and a silly little sermon about my reading habits called “The Island of Readers, Population: 1 (Me).”  Those early days of The Quivering Pen basically consisted of me sending short telegrams to the rest of the world, saying, “Is anybody else out there?” 

You’ll probably do the same when you start a blog, and that’s perfectly okay.  It takes time to get your sea legs, to point the compass in the right direction, to build a following.  Your blog will probably grow slowly and will be all arms and legs and bumping into things at first.  Be patient with it.  Make those mistakes (which, at the time, will seem like the most brilliant things you’ve ever written) and find your readership. 

The day I think The Quivering Pen really grew up—put away its tricycle and Legos and started talking in a deeper voice—was when I started a weekly series which continues to this day: My First Time.  (Yeah, it’s all about attracting readers with the tease of sex.)  On the blog, I say My First Time is something “in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands.”  The first My First Time appeared about 10 months after I started the blog and it was a guest post by Caroline Leavitt called “My First Humiliation.”  To this day, Caroline and I have never met, though we’ve been on-line acquaintances for years—even before I started the blog.  I can’t remember who suggested the idea of  “My First Time,” whether it was Caroline or me, but whoever came up with it was brilliant (so I sort of think it was ME).  I thought this might be something that readers would be interested in—hearing about the beginnings of writers, how they came to be who they are. 

I came up with a list of every writer I “knew” (in the Facebook sense of the word) and wrote a standard email to all of them which very politely and earnestly begged them to send me tales of their “virgin experiences.”  The response was overwhelming and soon I had a steady flow of guest blogs coming in to me. 

This was the catalyst which started a more intense dialogue with my fellow writers.  Having the fellowship of other writers (to borrow a word from my father, the Baptist preacher) was like gold in the bank.  As we all know, there can be inspiration, encouragement and intense networking whenever two or more writers get together.  Blogs can easily be the pivot point for those relationships.

And that’s exactly what we’ll be doing when we all come together in South Carolina.  I can’t wait to share the rest of my blogging tips with you.  And the best part is, I’ll be surrounded by my new writing BFFs Lydia, Barbara, Anne and Brenda. 
David Abrams is the author of Fobbit (Grove/Atlantic), a comedy about the Iraq War. His short stories have appeared in Esquire, Narrative, Salamander, The Connecticut Review, and several other publications. He lives with his wife in Butte, Montana.


5 comments:

  1. Can't wait to meet you in person and hear "the rest of your story..."

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  2. I'll be at SCWW! Can't wait to hear the Book Pregnant panel unleash a torrent of publishing secrets and the way we can all become successful writers. ; )

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  3. I love this post, David! I was pretty intimidated by the whole blogosphere/social media thing, but now, two years into blogging, tweeting, and all that jazz, I'm about to go on a writer's retreat with another writer I met through her blog. We've been exchanging manuscripts, critiques, publishing tips, etc. Love the idea of your "First Time" column, too. I'll definitely check it out. And Caroline Leavitt?! She's the goddess of generosity, reaching out to all writers. You couldn't be in better company.

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  4. Blogs are like snowflakes--love it! Can't wait for SCWW. I'm bringing lots of hankies for the tearful greetings.

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