‘Social’ Media: Muse Abuse

 author, authors, book, critic, criticism, critique, e-book, e-reader, ebook, publishing, publisher, writer, writing, Jane Friedman, VQR, Virginia Quarterly Review, University of Cincinnati, University of Virginia, UVA, Charlottesville, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google, Laura Hazard Owen, paidContent, reading, Joe Wikert, Mike Cane, Don Linn, Jenn Webb, Kat Meyer, pundits, Department of Justice, DoJ, legacy publishers, Apple, lawsuit, Bookigee, WriterCube, Kristen McLean, TOC Latin America, Buenos Aires, London Book Fair, Mike Shatzkin, Mathew Ingram

 

Nay, ’tis strange, ’tis very strange, that is the
brief and the tedious of it.

All’s Well That Ends Well, II, iii

 

Here in The Prime of Miss Jane Friedman, I surely hope you took in the comments following the excellent Writing she Unboxed here yesterday.

Fiddler on the You Know What was invoked at one point. Sunrise, sunset. And the comments still are trickling in.

So, you know, it happened about the time I fell off that lump of concrete we call a platform. Looked ungainly (when do I not?) but we were all unbalanced, not to say staggered, by the industry study our good colleague Donald Maass brought in, particularly its assertion that “the greatest influence on book purchases, by far, are store displays and word of mouth.”

Word of mouth, sure. We all know that. We got it by word of mouth. Especially from Otis Chandler’s mouth. He runs Goodreads. He has to hope that word of mouth thing is true.

But stores? Stores? I think they meant bookstores. What bookstores? Authors are supposed to be doing advance work for their books in stores?

The only person I know who’s even seen the inside of a bookstore lately is Jonah Lehrer. And that’s only because Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (I miss Brace & World, don’t you?) seems to have read this same study and sent him, bodily, on a tour of every single remaining book emporium in the country. Imagine. I think he was back in time for a late lunch.

 

It’s amazing how debilitating this platform vs. writing business can be.

In those comments after Friedman’s piece, Jan O’Hara confessed, bless her heart, “I’m not always sure what is the writing and what is platform.” Not to worry, Jan and her “tartitude” are being looked after now by capable and compassionate professionals. She’s resting comfortably, and I know we’re all holding her in our thoughts.

Thank heaven Brother Michael Hyatt rowed at least a small boat ashore, pointing out, “The problem I see with this – and the challenge for writers – is that you have to build a platform long before you need it.”  This was a goodly moment of grounding, even if that’s really just a sandbar, don’t tell him.

Michael Larsen felt the need to tell us that “there are many reasons why now is the best time ever to be a writer.” Gosh, was I snoring? I mean, do you ever wonder why so many people keep saying that to you? It’s getting a little Huxley, isn’t it? Take your Soma yet? Not since “weapons of mass destruction” have I heard a phrase repeated so frequently.

So — with Don and Jane battling the concrete dust, what a sight, Jane yelling “online amplification!” and Don carrying on about “bricks and mortar!” — I forgot what I was doing, silly me, and wandered into another story about Sherry Turkle.

Turkle, in case you’re not familiar with her work at MIT, is described in Sherry Turkle’s Chronic Digital Dualism Problem by David Banks as “probably the longest-standing, most outspoken proponent of what we at Cyborgology call digital dualism.”

Need me to slow down? No problem.

 

We start here: We’re being slammed from one controversy to another in publishing.

  • There are traditional publishing and self-publishing, and any number of hybrid approaches between them.
  • For many, there’s still some question of ebooks and print. Personally, I’m done with this one. To me, they’re all electronic because even something on paper can be produced POD, print-on-demand. I prefer anything and everything on my Kindle Fire. But to others, “this ebook thing” is still a big, scary deal. In fact, I’ve chatted with friends in England about how so many people there seem to see ebooks as synonymous with self-publication. Many Brits talk of traditional publishing “vs. e-” as if major publishers don’t produce ebooks; and as if a self-publishing author can’t hand you a hardback or paperback copy of her book.
  • Then there’s free vs. deeply discounted vs. not discounted vs. … well, who knows what an ebook is really supposed to cost? (No one does, don’t let them “expert” you on this one. We simply need a new standard of pricing.)
  • Of course, there’s platforming vs. writing, as we left Jane and Don wrestling with yesterday. That one is so maddening that in something of a peroration, we find Friedman, herself, understandably declaring, “Some days I feel grateful I’m not a new writer!”
  • And then, there’s what we’re on about today: My area of noise-making here at Writer Unboxed is “social” media. That gives us the battle of the online and offline life. On-grid and –off.

And that’s what we’re talking about now. Our constructs on the grid and off.

 

author, authors, book, critic, criticism, critique, e-book, e-reader, ebook, publishing, publisher, writer, writing, Jane Friedman, VQR, Virginia Quarterly Review, University of Cincinnati, University of Virginia, UVA, Charlottesville, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google, Laura Hazard Owen, paidContent, reading, Joe Wikert, Mike Cane, Don Linn, Jenn Webb, Kat Meyer, pundits, Department of Justice, DoJ, legacy publishers, Apple, lawsuit, Bookigee, WriterCube, Kristen McLean, TOC Latin America, Buenos Aires, London Book Fair, Mike Shatzkin, Mathew IngramThe platforming that got us all so riled here yesterday is largely a thing of the online life.

The sites, the blogging, the tweeting, the guesting, the updating, the commenting, your analytics, your diacritics, your soporifics, that’s all done on-grid. It is intended, of course, to be connecting.  You are, according to word of mouth, connecting to your community.

Your weepier Kumbaya friends from the book club would prefer I spoke here of “sharing.” In their sobbing lexicon, you are “sharing” yourself with your readership, real or imagined. It’s still done on the grid. And so is what the hand-wringers love to call “reaching out.” That means telling or asking somebody something. Les misérables feel more charitable and “share-y” if they use the term “reaching out.” It’s still done online.

In fact, unless door-to-door platforming brings out the Mark Twain in you, then you’re probably doing a lot of your career online. (Clemens’ books were sold door-to-door by salesmen in the nineteenth century. Good times.)

As I covered in Writing on the Ether this week, once you get onto the grid and into your online life to any serious degree, sharing and reaching out, sobbing and bonding, you start running into the work of Turkle and others in her field.

OK, so we’re ready to move on. Here are the theoretical underpinnings of my coming thesis.

 

On my left, the “digital dualists.”

Digital dualists believe we’re all being pulled apart. Torn asunder. There’s your real self and there’s your virtual self. The digital dualists say that our abilities to have healthy, rich relationships in the real world are being undermined by our engagement in the social-media world. We’re all turning into fey flighty floaties fonder of our fingerwork than anything else.

When you “do your social media,” as Jim Cramer puts it, you’re ducking into a den of Internet iniquity. You craven addict, you.

 

On my good right, “augmented reality.”

This is the countervailing body of thought. This group says that rather than being frittered away by digital duality, your life on the grid is blessing you with an “augmented reality.”

Social media theorist Nathan Jurgenson puts it this way in Cyborgology’s Digital Dualism versus Augmented Reality:

Our reality is both technological and organic, both digital and physical, all at once. We are not crossing in and out of separate digital and physical realities, a la The Matrix, but instead live in one reality, one that is augmented by atoms and bits. And our selves are not separated across these two spheres as some dualistic “first” and “second” self, but is instead an augmented self.

The camp preparing to march on the Turkle-ites is led by sociology researcher Zeynep Tufekci of Harvard’s Berkman Center. She says “real life” may just be the problematic side of things, not your grind on the grid.

Tufekci has a fine new essay at The Atlantic here, headlined Social Media’s Small, Positive Role in Human Relationships:

Social media’s rapid rise is a loud, desperate, emerging attempt by people everywhere to connect with *each other* in the face of all the obstacles that modernity imposes on our lives: suburbanization that isolates us from each other, long working-hours and commutes that are required to make ends meet, the global migration that scatters families across the globe, the military-industrial-consumption machine that drives so many key decisions, and, last but not least, the television — the ultimate alienation machine — which remains the dominant form of media.

If I had to choose, I’d side with Tufekci. Who can resist a name with a “kc” instead of a “ck” spelling? And we’ve really heard enough of Turkle’s lament. Her book Alone Together came out at the top of 2011, feels like it’s been holding the door open for a decade.

But.

I don’t have to choose. Neither do you. I’ve got an idea. (Run for your life.)

 

The creative world handles relationships differently.

As we take our seats gingerly in the intimate Theater of Porter’s (not Jonah’s) Imaginings, I’m reminded of my days as an Equity actor.

When happy about it, actors will admit to you that relationships are more like carry-ons for them than checked baggage. Some in the theater (I will dutifully indict myself here) tend to pick up and put down people more readily than most other folks might. We rarely think of our relationships as research for roles (which, in acting, is really the study of oneself), but they are just that. And, as such, we can at times be fickle, feckless, fancy men of short duration in your life.

We like our significant others to fit neatly into the overhead bins. And we may blithely deplane without them when we land in Paris.

Not all actors. If you are one, I’m sure this doesn’t apply to you. In fact, I’m sure I’m the only one in the world who is like this. Class action is unnecessary, sit back down.

Moving on to other art forms, I think we can see similar patterns, not only in deeper relationship but also in regular workaday contact and discourse. I will offer you:

When we see workers in sister creative disciplines handle life around them as such brightly aware participants, we aren’t bent out of shape by it. We understand they’re seeing us and others from a point of aesthetic and conceptual remove. Sure, if you marry this, you may find yourself perplexed at times, but for the most part, the observational and interpretive elements of an artistic approach to life make sense for creative types.

 

author, authors, book, critic, criticism, critique, e-book, e-reader, ebook, publishing, publisher, writer, writing, Jane Friedman, VQR, Virginia Quarterly Review, University of Cincinnati, University of Virginia, UVA, Charlottesville, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google, Laura Hazard Owen, paidContent, reading, Joe Wikert, Mike Cane, Don Linn, Jenn Webb, Kat Meyer, pundits, Department of Justice, DoJ, legacy publishers, Apple, lawsuit, Bookigee, WriterCube, Kristen McLean, TOC Latin America, Buenos Aires, London Book Fair, Mike Shatzkin, Mathew IngramI propose that as time-challenging as platforming is, its benefit to writers is as much research-oriented as sales-directed.

As we discussed in an earlier post here at Writer Unboxed, we work with certain elements of persona on the grid. For all the usual protestations of “I’m just being myself,” we’re not really quite being ourselves online, and that’s fine.

Turkle complains, “Human relationships are rich; they’re messy and demanding. We have learned the habit of cleaning them up with technology.”

This is inaccurate, particularly for writers. I’m not about to take Turkle’s messy life and clean it up for her.

No, in my online career, I’m busy manipulating a chat here, an exchange there. Yes, manipulating. At my keyboard. I want to see what moving parts I can jostle and tickle and hold down and coax or trick or force to tell the stories I need told. I’m not doing this to anyone’s detriment. Every courtesy and care of offline life is in place. But online, I can isolate a streak of character, a tone of retort, a sweet refrain. Surgically striking, isn’t it?

I think the gridly life, the stuff online, is particularly well-suited to this because we work in persona, we can cover more ground with more people, explore interaction and reaction without having to get married and have those disastrous families.

Do you ever seem somehow to forget yourself and think about or treat a dear friend as a character in your current project? Actors certainly do this. I think writers do, too. I think they need to. The closer to Earth you can get your people-research, the better.

You try, we all do, not to hurt others with this odd position in the life class. Yet sculptors are, after all, the ones who have to stare for 15 days at someone’s left pec. And worse. Or better. Depending on your preferences.

The online context, our lives on the grid, Profs. Turkle and Tufekci – yea, even in the service of platforming – may just be something a bit different for those of us who make things from life than it is for others.

I think Turkle and her fellow digital dualists are too het up about a separation of online and offline lives. Sure, it gets weird at times, but how are you enjoying your tech revolution otherwise?

And I’ll much more gladly sit down with Tufekci because I think she’s likelier to understand me when I say that what and who I encounter on the grid augments my artistry.

Can you spend too much time online, to the detriment of your writing?

Well, can you spend too much time offline doing things other than your writing?

So let’s be careful when we carp about this vast digital dimension opening up at your feet. The line’s getting pretty skinny between legitimate complaint and muse abuse.

Your turn: Do you find material for your writing in your online interactions with the community? Ever feel as if you’re studying your colleagues as much as you’re exchanging ideas with them? Do you have any examples of character traits or story ideas you’ve picked up in your online life? Or am I just freaking out of my mind?

 iStockphoto/PeskyMonkey

 

 

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About Porter Anderson

@Porter_Anderson, BA, MA, MFA, is a journalist, critic, and speaker specializing in publishing. A Fellow with the National Critics Institute, Anderson's "Porter Anderson Meets" live Twitter interviews are conducted weekly with the hashtag #PorterMeets on Mondays and run in London's The Bookseller magazine on Fridays. He is also The Bookseller's Associate Editor for The FutureBook, a sister site focused on developments in digital publishing, with #FutureChat live Twitter discussions on Fridays. Anderson works with BookExpo America (BEA) to program the uPublishU Author Hub, which had its debut at the 2014 BEA. And he is working with the Frankfurt Book Fair on special programming for its new Business Club suite of events and facilities, a first in the 2014 Buchmesse. More: PorterAndersonMedia.com | Google+

Comments

  1. says

    Gosh, Porter, where to begin? Do I need to dig out my copy of “An Empty Space”? Or just re-read my social psychology textbook? But I digress…

    I fall in line behind you, Porter, in the research-oriented benefits of my online life.

    Initially? Yes, I thought I was simply “building a platform”. I saw it as separate from my “real” writing. It had a slightly mercenery, more than a little selfish purpose. In fact, I went to great pains on my blog to not reveal too much of myself.

    Finally, kicking and screaming, I drank the kool-aid. The blog posts that resonated the most with my readers were the ones where I wrote from a very personal place.

    The contacts I made online became friends. But they became more that potential sales: they became fodder for my writing. Ugly word, fodder. Perhaps inspiration is more accurate.

    They’ve given me an unending source of hard data (both publishing world and topic) and anecdotal evidence for my book. Make that books, plural, a development I blame on you, at least in part.

    They’ve given me support and encouragement and the occasional smack on the back of the head when I find myself temporarily derailed. If it were not for my online life, I would be lost, literally lost in this still-new drastic change of profession. I owe my accompishments, thus far, at least to the following:

    Embracing the online world, as a un-ending source of material and information for my writing and the business side of my career.

    Accepting that good writing is good writing, whether it’s in print or online.

    Never forgetting that for as much as I’ve learned, I know nothing. That’s why I follow the Porters and Janes of the world.

    As for your acting life, Porter…been there, done that. I laughed out loud at your description of yourself because it reminded me of a lot of the actors I’ve known. Don’t worry, I won’t hold it against you.

    Oh, and I lied at Stecchino’s: Fiddler is the musical that means the most the me. Sometime over Campari and vodka I’ll tell you why.

    Well done once again, Porter. Take a bow.

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    • Porter Anderson says

      OH, those bowing days are long gone, Viki (not since my costume fell off during the curtain calls for “Travesties,” but that’s for the Campari and vodka, too). Ready for that Campari right now. We’re in the midst of Tampa’s annual Dragon Boat Regatta today and Asia Fest is going full-blast where the Republicans will be for their convention in August. The flamingos are hopping, here in the Tropic of Porter. :)

      Thanks for the superb comment, and I know first-hand how much you do seem to bridge the two worlds (the Turkle & Tufekci … there may be an attorney’s practice in that name, or a frozen yogurt flavor, next to tutti-frutti).

      Only thing I worry about is when you talk about the Porters and the Janes. It’s really just the Jane. Otherwise known as Porter’s Brain, you know. :)

      It really is quite a seamless and critical merger of interests, the on- and off-grid, isn’t it? I don’t know how Thomas Hardy wrote a word.

      Cheers, and have a great weekend!
      -p.

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  2. says

    Oh Porter, I lay awake much of the night trying to make sense of the Friedman-Maass-everyone else writing vs. platform debate and here you are, making sense of it for me. Or at least giving me lots more to think about. As to your question, in my online life, until recently restricted to Twitter, I have observed distinct personality traits in some of my online friends (as I fear, ahem, as I’m sure they have in me). Haven’t used any of that material in stories yet. But yes, the online world is one vast water-cooler and who are we not to drink?

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    • Porter Anderson says

      It has to say something about us all, Mary, that somehow drinking of one form or another comes into every comment. We’ve just had Viki (who knows my fondness for Campari) talking that and Kool-Aid and here you are headed for the watercooler (you’ll be our editor, then, as the designated sober member of the team).

      Thanks for your kind words, I’m delighted if some of my ravings help clarify anything from the grand chatter of yesterday (which I thoroughly enjoyed, of course — nobody gets ’em going like our Jane!).

      Yes, those personality traits are distinct, delightful, AND deliverable. All you do is muse a bit (don’t abuse) one of your favorite surfacing traits in an online colleague and imagine how it manifests in the life of a character you’re working on. And bingo, you have a marvelous model for one of your people at your fingertips. To paraphrase the old Yellow Pages ad, let your fingers do the talking .. and they’ll surely talk back to you.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!
      -p.

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  3. says

    A little ways into your rant and I lost interest in the subject and found interest in the way you think and write. It was a wonderful romp of a cultured mind. Your referenced…
    * Shakespeare
    * Fiddler
    * Huxley
    * Soma
    * Kumbaya
    * The Matrix
    * Thomas Eakins
    …to name but a few.

    The checked/carryon relationship mention was inspired.

    You threw in…
    * fey flighty floaties
    * het up
    * peroration
    * surgical strike

    And bemoaned the loss of Brace & World as I miss Pierce, Fenner & Bean after Merrill Lynch.

    Question: Do you always write like this or only when you’re off your meds?

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    • Porter Anderson says

      Good God, Alex, did I really cram all that into one post? This is Writer Unhinged again, isn’t it, I knew I enjoyed myself too much. :-)

      Thanks for your amazing words of praise, and yes, I fear it does rather come out this way all the time. You should see my grocery lists.

      And after Merrill. Now I’m getting the horrors. Keep looking up so a piece of Goldman doesn’t hit you on the way down.

      Lovely, generous comment, sir, I may engage you to catalog more of my palaver at some point … otherwise, I could break the Ridiculous References Barrier and set off a bad boom.

      Cheers, sir, bests for the weekend!

      -p.

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  4. says

    We sort of like it when you’re out of your mind; no worries there.

    I can think of at least one time when someone’s crazy real-life scenario, read on Facebook, made me think, “That could make for a good story one day.” That said, I highly doubt I’ll ever do anything with it.

    But.

    Life on the grid also teaches me a lot about people–their good and bad sides, their complex selves, their dreams (realized and dashed). And I see and learn much from reading about the experience of other authors–their trials and triumphs, tricks and tips. It is most definitely worthwhile to hang here now and then.

    But.

    Yes, you can spend too much time online, to the detriment of your writing–just as easily as you can spend too much time offline, to the detriment of your writing. We writers, we can find 1,001 ways to avoid sinking into the deep. Because it’s off the grid, and it’s often lonely, sometimes frightening.

    But.

    We do it anyway.

    You’ve also reminded me that I need to go to the bookstore this weekend. Thanks for that. Write on, Porter!

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  5. says

    Oh, you had me when you mentioned the importance of word-of-mouth and bookstores. But what followed was probably one of the most comprehensive analyses I’ve seen of the whole social media schmear. I haven’t digested it all yet, but when I have, I suspect I’ll continue to side with you.
    Now I have to turn off my Internet connection and write. Because, in the end, that’s what we do, isn’t it?

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    • Porter Anderson says

      Well, Richard, in one handy comment you’ve bested me on the brevity side and gone right to the heart of the matter — who can even deal fully with a Writer Unboxed post with so much great input sending us back (rightly) to our writings?

      BRAVO for jumping back to work. My whole schmear (wish I’d remembered that marvelous Yiddish as I wrote this) will be waiting when you get back, meshuga as ever and knee-deep in great comments from fine readers like you.

      Thanks for spending time with me on this and for such kind words on getting through it. Bests with the writings this weekend!
      -p.

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  6. says

    Now that you helped me to self-identify as a “weepier Kumbaya-type” writer, I thought I’d ‘reach out’ to ‘share’ my agreement. I ’embrace’ your notion that who and what we encounter on the grid augments our artistry. I feel especially fulfilled by my weepier Kumbaya gridly interactions. I try not to become cravenly addicted to the point of obsessive screen checking, but I find the grid gives me just enough validation to face the yawning pit of my self-doubt. It’s all about balance. After all, if I never produce anything, there’s nothing to be praised. What a dead end that would be.

    I’d offer you some validating praise, even a virtual hug, for your online output here, but I know your online persona is a bit more stoical than mine. Aw, to heck with it–great post, Porter!

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    • Porter Anderson says

      Huge group hugs all around, Vaughn, I’m not above the flattery of Kumbaya Kindness when it’s offered so generously. Thanks for reading, commenting, AND supporting everybody else here at WU with your major work herding us big cats around the Ether of our endeavors.

      I feel more than graciously validated and grateful for it, too. We’ll just keep an eye out for Ms. Turkle (tip me off so I can start running) and ferret forward in good faith.

      Cheers, and good weekend!
      -p.

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  7. says

    I just want to know if you wrote “bless her heart” in the true Southern vein. ;)

    That was a dynamic discussion, wasn’t it? That there’s no clear consensus within industry leaders is heartening, in a way. One can’t do it wrong when there is no clear right.

    Re your question about online life fueling writing: Yes, absolutely, though for me that extends more to non-fiction than fiction. I can glean principles and story concepts from the ether, but for grounding in reality, I need the flesh-and-blood variety of human.

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    • Porter Anderson says

      Well bless your heart, Jan, and yes that is said in SUCH a Southern way, I cannot tell you. Remember I’m Charlestonian (which is a Deeper Southern origination than even South Carolinian, you know), so I get off those murmurs all day.

      You’re right that there’s so much to be had for non-fiction as well as fiction from this marvelous medium, totally. And consensus, conschmensus — writing well IS the best revenge, as the great man told us.

      Cheers, and thanks so much for reading, commenting, and carrying on. :)

      -p.

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  8. says

    Porter,
    Lots of stuff to ponder here. I haven’t found any characters through social media. At the risk of sounding like a Kumbaya type, for me social media is much more than platform building. It’s about learning, growing as a writer and engaging in a meaningful way with other writers and readers. It’s not a zero sum game. It is integrated into my life along with family, work (the paying job), and writing . People who spend their entire day online would find some other addiction if the Internet didn’t exist. It is all about finding the right balance. Thanks for a provocative post.

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    • Porter Anderson says

      Aha, now here’s the journalist talking! Hey, Chris, and thanks so much for reading the post today and taking the time to comment.

      You’re exactly right that the social media aren’t zero-sum. In some cases, I think journalists recognize this faster that some others, simply because we learn that, yes, “everybody has a story” but those stories are inevitably informative, helpful and enlightening. And you find them in the oddest places, the strangest assignments, the most unexpected events coverage … amazing how that works, isn’t it?

      The Net has that kind of feeling for me. For example, Cyborgology is relatively new to me and I found it by chance when Jane Friedman mentioned something good she’d read there. It’s a constant and delightful round robin, in that sense. The more you put in, yourself, in terms of showing up, staying in touch with your online community, and responsive to needs you can help with, the more you find it paying you back in surprises and fascinating potential.

      This isn’t Kumbaya at all, just the wisdom of canny use of a big resource. Kudoes for being so adept at it!

      Thanks again, and good weekend, hope your weather there is improving, you guys had a rather strange week in that department, I think.
      -p.

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  9. Bernadette Phipps Lincke says

    I find that my limited brain fully catches your references sometimes only when I’m down to the next paragraph. Your writing rant reminds me of the way Robin Williams tells jokes in a monologue. (He’s on to the next joke when I’m just absorbing the one before).

    As for all those scientists trying to figure out the ramifications of the internet–why take them at their word? The only thing they’ve ever discovered is that they can’t agree on anything–except that the more stuff they discover the more stuff remains to be discovered.

    I just finished a book (an eBook actually) by David Eagleman about what science has discovered recently about the brain. The old theory was that each part of the brain was responsible for a task. One part for memory, one part for thinking and so on. However, scientists have now come to realize that the brain is not that cut and dry. One part of the brain in it’s time can play many parts (beyond that they can’t agree on anything else, let alone what consciousness is…and so on… because there is just so much more left to discover). Perhaps that is true about everything, including the internet. Perhaps, we can’t define what the ramifications the of internet are exactly, because like the brain, the internet at any given time can be used for a multitude of things, and we are just in the process of discovering what some of those things are.

    As for your question “Do you ever seem somehow to forget yourself and think about or treat a dear friend as a character in your current project?” All the time. :) Maybe because a writer is in part actor, part director, part set designer…maybe because like our brains, we as writers play many parts.

    Thanks for your insight. I always enjoy reading your posts on WU.

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    • Porter Anderson says

      If it makes you feel any better, Bernadette, my own “limited brain” only catches a lot of my references once I’m on to the next paragraph!

      And if you and I can pull off this marvel of a delayed understanding, isn’t it astonishing how grand our minds are, limited as they might be? :)

      Love your use of Jaques’ “All the world” phrasing from “As You” on the playing of many parts. Most days my all too modern version of this is “how many parts, oh Lord, how many?” But it’s a marvelous concept, aptly applied.

      While we’re on the topic of our brains, let me recommend Jonah Lehrer’s new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works. Tons of new research involved there, and what Jonah brings to the table this time (it’s his third book, you know) is as much a matter of faith in the look-away to get the mind going as it is the sort of desperate focus we all keep trying to aim at things. Many parts.

      Thanks for reading and for commenting, great to have you. I’m guessing here, but if you’re not familiar with it yet, you sound like the kind of person who’d also enjoy my weekly column at JaneFriedman.com — comes out on Thursdays. It’s called Writing on the Ether, and it has a handy internal table of contents so you can jump to the parts you’re interested in, check it out. Latest edition (from Thursday): http://ow.ly/aAaNz

      Take care and don’t play too many parts. :)
      -p.

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  10. says

    Porter, you’ve pinned me down like an insect. I felt a little defensive for a moment, just for a flash. “I don’t use people online like that!” But as soon as the words fluttered through my mind, I realized that of course I do. Of course I manipulate my online interaction. Of course I am a “persona” in the Twitterverseyfacebookasphere.

    However, was it Hitchcock who said, “Fiction is life without the boring parts?” If so, I think this may be extended to social media. Our interaction online has power. Short, purposeful, potent bursts of communication that can engage people in meaningful ways, and plant seeds for fiction and for life. (Not to mention all of the actual people I’ve met and befriended in life based on our initial online connection.) Because of this, there is real value in these interactions.

    So yes, I’ll own it. No more defensive flare-ups here.

    As always, your posts provide rich, thought-provoking material. It is a pleasure to interact with you in our augmented reality.

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    • Porter Anderson says

      Now MY favorite Hitchcock line, Erika, is: “Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.” :-)

      And God knows I do, with these hellacious posts about which you’re so unfailingly kind. Remind me to get a large check off to you in the mail, I should be paying better for these compliments.

      Seriously, I can’t tell you how much I enjoy our interactions, too. You’re talking a very smart thing here. The fact that our on-the-grid communications are staged, if you will, as Hitch set his scenes, to produce those “short, purposeful, potent bursts of communication” you aptly describe, we’re able to present ourselves and our ideas to each other the way we’d probably rather do in Sherry Turkle’s “messy” real life (not hers in specific, of course, poor thing, but in the messiness she’s assigning to all our workaday worlds). When you and I tweet, as we were doing this week, my walking of the dog and your less engaging moments need not get in the way. We distill what we want to say to each other to the essential comment.

      I still love the 140-character limit for that reason — and God KNOWS, I don’t write short, as anyone can see here. But it’s one of the three or four major reasons I’ve made Twitter my lead online medium. It does me good (and makes my audience suffer less, Hitch) to be forced to narrow whatever madness I’m on about to just the brass-knuckle punch I need.

      And as if all that aligned logic weren’t enough, yes, as you put it so well, it’s simply “a pleasure to interact with you in our augmented reality.” How glad I am that my reality is augmented with thinkers like you, I’m lucky — and would never have found you and so many others if my life were lived totally off-grid.

      Cheers, and thanks for helping to take the idea down the street a bit farther!
      -p.

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  11. says

    This is positively inspired, and will be fodder for thinking for days (and longer). I want to go back and read all the articles you referenced.

    For, now I’ll simply say that I have been encouraged and inspired by people I’ve encountered online. The writing sites have helped me improve my writing and have encouraged me to persevere. In other places I find quirky characters and weird ideas that I tuck away in the back of my mind, where my subconscious can go to work churning the mix into ideas.

    My experience mirrors Victoria’s. I started out trying to focus on my writing and not my personal life. The posts that get the most attention are those that are of a more personal nature. Now that I’m comfortable with the pseudonym, I’m less reluctant to write about my personal experiences.

    I totally agree that a balance of online and offline life is achievable. In my opinion, the online part enhances the offline as much as the other way around.

    You never fail to make me think. I also agree with Alex, this piece was particularly wonderfully written. Thank you.

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    • Porter Anderson says

      Hello, Meredith,
      Many thanks for your very kind comment!
      I like your formulation of the point, that in your experience, “the online part enhances the offline as much as the other way around.” I think this is likely true for many more people than actually realize it. Most of us probably arrive at the beginning of our social-media lives with an expectation that “real” life will suffer from our online time, which is necessary in order to mount a career. When it turns out to be not the case, it’s easy to miss that point and continue to think, as we did going in, that there’s a deleterious effect in place.
      So, congrats on being so thoughtful and aware of your experience.
      Many thanks for your kind words and, again, for reading and commenting!
      -p.

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    • Porter Anderson says

      Ha! Love this, Dan. Yes, indeed, it’s not the spoon that bends, but yourself. And more and more, what each of us has to learn is … how to bend. (If somebody now comes up to me and says “Mr. Anderson” in a really wheedling way, I’m jumping out of my skin and sending the bill to Keanu.)

      Thanks much for your kind words!
      -p.

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    • Porter Anderson says

      Hey, Kristan,

      Thanks for the comment – yeah, balance seems to be the great, elusive goal for so many of us, and so few seem to actually achieve it. This is very hard to get these days, particularly when various media begin to develop the ability to change and reschedule our plans (news events, surprise developments in publishing, etc.). There’s a kind of odd kinetic quality to a lot of data nowadays, making it hard to “spot” what we want, as dancers do when spinning on stage, and stay focused on it.

      So more power to you with the balance you’re achieving, even the bid for it is a lot to be proud of.
      -p.

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  12. says

    You had me at “the creative world handles relationships differently.” I even did a blog post a couple of weeks back about social media relationships, and it was similar to your post here, today. I am not understanding why everything has to be in the extreme.

    To me, social media relationships are what they are. In the “real” world I can have close relationships, or superficial relationships. Some people in the real world I interact with solely because I have to, or because I need their cooperation. Does it make me a bad person? No. We all have those types of relationships. We can’t be all warm and fuzzy with everyone in our lives.

    The internet can give rise to friendships, or stay on the superficial level. Everyone I talk to (face to face or online) has stories where an internet connection developed into an offline friendship of some sort.

    I got to meet an online friend I met through WU last week at the Pikes Peak Writer’s Conference (Hi, Stacy, if you’re reading this!) Other people at our table asked us how long we’d known each other, because we seemed like old friends. It was kind of hard to answer the question. I have to say I was surprised at the easy camaraderie we fell into. Maybe it’s because we’re both friendly people, but it’s an example of friendships being what they are, and what we make of them.

    I don’t think of the not-close relationships I make on the internet as manipulation, so much as a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch your back.” I love the internet for allowing me to meet so many different types of people. It’s a starting point, an introduction. Where it goes from there depends entirely on where I want to take it. I don’t think that’s so different than in the “real” world.

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    • Porter Anderson says

      Excellent perspective here, Lara, and I think that in many cases the quid-pro-quo (you scratch mine, I’ll scratch yours) approach to online relations is exactly the RIGHT arrangement.

      There’s a tendency for us to think of such things as mercenary but in fact, the transactional relationship is clearly a fundamental format for our online lives.

      In “real” life business, that’s acceptable. And yet many would say it was rude or shallow or selfish in the online world. And, of course, it’s nothing so negative at all. Particularly in the realm of moving information about one’s work around, the ability to exchange a leg up, to offer mutual assistance — even to exchange audiences, if you like (“I’ll get your news to my crowd if you’ll get mine to yours”) is completely healthy and legitimate.

      So congrats and thanks for the good object lesson.
      -p.

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  13. says

    Porter,
    I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t have you to entertain and inform me on a weekly basis about the current publishing world we live in. Although I initially fought the “gridly life”( i.e.why would I care what someone I don’t even know is eating for lunch?) I now claim my online presence as a valuable means of connecting with so many incredible people, ones I would never have known had it not been for all the available channels. And these people are now my friends and colleagues who enlighten, enrich,inspire me to keep doing what I’m doing. I like Jane’s quantifiable description of 10-25% for platform-building because I still think concentrating on writing craft is the foundation of my platform. I appreciate all the links and resources you always provide so I can find my own way through this maze. I rather enjoy the idea of an”augmented self” that has resulted from taking the plunge into “the grid.” Thanks for orchestrating such a thought-provoking and stimulating post and discussion, Porter. I agree with @victoria_noe, take a bow (not that I’m trying to resurrect that great Stecchino debate :-)

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    • Porter Anderson says

      No, we mustn’t get back into that Stecchino debate! But glad to hear that the links and ideas are working for you, Kathy, God knows you’re a faithful reader, and I totally appreciate it.

      If you find it hard at times to explain to folks who don’t have much of an online life how this is valuable, you might try the “searchable discovery” argument. It goes this way:

      If I wanted to be in touch with a lot of people who are struggling through this absurd, dithering, overly debated digital transition that publishing is dragging us all through, and if I didn’t have the Web to do that, two things would be true: (1) It would be very hard to find such people (I’d have to go through university lit departments, etc.), and (2) there simply wouldn’t BE many such folks in my immediate area. In fact, only in Brooklyn will you find the concentration of publishing people we know NYC to have. Otherwise, if you can’t reach beyond your geographic setting and any other physical limitations that might apply (such as how are you going to find them, knock on doors?), then you’re in trouble.

      The Web, on the other hand, makes a community like the publishing festival both discoverable and searchable. (1) We can discover such people, and (2) we can search out the pertinent ones to what we’re doing.

      This practical reality, I find, can help the non-initiated understand a lot better why publishing, in particular, is such a good example of an Internet-mad industry.

      For us who know no explanation needed!
      -p.

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  14. says

    This is my first time here, and I’ll be back, for better or worse. I have to admit, reading all the comments of people much wittier and better at expressing it than me is a lot like my sons, who play peewee hockey,would feel getting thrown into an Islanders game. It’s much faster, but I can adjust.

    Still not clear on what “platforming” is. Also not clear on why people are so in love with turning nouns into verbs. It’s not a pet peeve of mine but it’s a dissonance in my brain.

    On the topic itself, I guess you can call me a “new” writer. I’ve been doing it for years but starting to get serious about it now in my mid-forties. The more I read that back to myself, the more cliche it sounds! Anyway, I use social media for connections and ideas – sometimes too much for my own good. I try to to spend too much time tweeting until I’ve got a few posts or chapters written though.

    Great article though.

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    • Porter Anderson says

      Hi, Patti,

      Thanks for reading and for commenting, welcome to it!

      Just to put your mind at ease, “platform” IS verb. Merriam-Webster carries it this way:

      Main Entry: 2platform
      Function: verb
      Inflected Form(s): -ed/-ing/-s
      transitive verb
      1 obsolete : FORMULATE, OUTLINE
      2 : to furnish with a platform
      3 : to place on or as if on a platform
      intransitive verb : to speak from or as if from a platform

      And definition 3 is not far from what we mean in publishing by having an author platform, or platforming yourself. Your platform is how you communicate to your readers. That may mean a whole host of online and offline efforts, or a very few focused ones just online or just offline. For the overwhelming majority of authors these days, it means a basic site, usually iwth a blog, and a Twitter and/or Facebook and/or Google+ presence.

      What you “do” on your platform is develop your connections with the community of what you’re writing about. So that people in your field — say it’s windsurfing — get to know you as a member of their interest group and become familiar with your views and ideas about windsurfing. Then when it comes time for you to sell a book, you have a ready potential audience. They already come to your blog regularly to learn your latest thoughts on windsurfing, they’ve met you in person at various windsurfing regattas, they know and like you as a friend who helps them with equipment and technique issues, and they’re happy to find out you have a book out because they’re ready to know you as an author.

      That’s platforming. It’s more a feature of nonfiction writing than fiction, but can be applied, and probably should, on both sides.

      And one of its key values comes when you start “shopping” a book around to, say, agents or publishers. They’re going to ask you “What’s your platform?” What they’re asking is, “How many people already know you as something of a specialist in windsurfing and would like to buy a book by you about it?”

      Two important people to follow and learn more about platforming from:
      (1) Jane Friedman, mentioned in this post and the leading specialist on issues for the writer in the country today. You find her at JaneFriedman.com
      (2) Dan Blank, who teaches a set of courses designed to help authors understand and create platforming that suits their own situations. You find him at WeGrowMedia.com

      All the best, and thanks again!
      -p.

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  15. says

    A deftly wrestled topic as always from the tropic of Porter. And your question lances into the very core of creative life. Everything is material, no matter where it has come from. That’s not heartless, it’s a natural quest to understand and truth can be anywhere – even in The X Files. Sorry, everyone who’s ever known me, I’ve always been studying, way back from when I was an embryo. I thought that’s what everyone did.

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    • Porter Anderson says

      Hey, Roz,

      Thanks for jumping in here, and yes, you’re one of our most adept at moving across the various membranes of “real” and virtual life and colloquy in the service of your work. I’m constantly surprised, myself, at how so many people do seem to see such deep distinctions in their on-grid and off-grid lives. Not least because I do live in the Tropic of Porter — and very much by choice — I’d have almost no daily interaction with publishing people if I were dependent on terrestrial means. There are some very, very major authors near me here but they, like me, are busy with their own work and lives and there is, to my mind, no comparable “real live” counterpart to the sort of dip-in, dip-out nature of online communication.

      As a lot of folks know, I use, in fact, a system called RescueTime.com that curtains off whichever parts of the Internet I want to suppress for precisely how long I want, from minutes to hours or days. In that way, I manage my own time for writing. The specific function in RescueTime for this is called FocusTime, and here is my referral link, which anyone can use to give the system a try free — http://ow.ly/aAMFU . I highly recommend this for writers.

      But even this techno-solution for concentration is, of course, nothing more than closing one’s office door in the flesh-and-blood world. So I guess at times I just find it quite strange how wild-eyed everybody gets about the net at all.

      It’s here, we’re on it, next question. :)

      As you know.

      Cheers, and thanks again!
      -p.

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  16. says

    Call me an old fogey (I just turned 24, after all), but I don’t think strings of 40 characters are sufficient to represent the complexity of /human/ characters. Sure, it cuts out the messiness. It seems efficient, and you get the illusion of meeting a lot of people in a short amount of time.

    But by the point that someone has filtered themselves into a written media, been disassembled and passed through various computer terminals to be delivered to yours, and reassembled in your own brain, they’ve been reduced to a flat caricature. If I were to use that diluted dribble as “inspiration,” it would be like a flesh-and-blood person sending me a stick-figure drawing of themselves, and then I try to use it to paint an accurate portrait in oils.

    My approach to writing is that I try to observe and experience reality, and then put it into words. I don’t want to build fiction upon fiction, basing my own imaginary people on the imaginary ideals that invisible “friends” emulate on a Facebook wall. I write about emotion, thoughts, sensations and impulses…the things people don’t or /can’t/ express well. In effect, I write about the very messiness lost in translation.

    Sometimes people say or do really dumb things online, and I can steal those for a laugh. But otherwise, the best inspiration people can offer is the tiniest hint of who they are, which I’d have to plump up with my own experiences and imagination (which would be awfully arrogant, if you ask me). Imagine an actor who based his stage portrayals not on lovers and friends, but on people he only talked to over the telephone. Or a choreographer who tried to mimic the dances in animated movies.

    Far from offering the opportunity to isolate strains of truth, I think anything written online should be treated with suspect. I much prefer to cut out the filters and go straight to the source.

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    • Porter Anderson says

      Hi, TK, and thanks for jumping in !

      I’ll offer you just one prediction here — and I do this with nothing but respect for what you’re saying: You will someday come to understand that even what you “know” and “experience” in the flesh-and-blood world? — is the fiction of your own imaginings.

      Even if the Internet were not here, even if no digitized versions of our images and emotions and thoughts flew onto our screens all the time, even if you were living a century ago, you would STILL be interpreting every single thing you hear and see through the suppositions and guesses of your own perception.

      We don’t know anything. It is all our own interp. Some people dream in black and white, you know.

      If you have 50 in-person meetings with somebody, you’ll observe a certain set of mannerisms, traits, gestures, vocal patterns, etc., sure. But, hey, what if they’re online for hours every time they leave your in-person sessions? Maybe they’re gamers or researchers or building great communities of readers for their books. Whatever and whoever they are in those online sessions is a part of them, too, and you’re seeing none of that in your face-to-face meetings.

      What I’m saying is that neither the on-grid nor off-grid world is all there is to anybody. As far as I know, no one can actually LIVE in cyberspace. But the reality today is that a lot of folks do spend a lot of their “real” life doing things online.

      Do those collected hours and weeks and years not count?

      Try not to be too hard-lined in your ideas. It’s something we all do when we’re 24. We look back later and wonder how we ever missed the vast stretches of “gray area” between the blacks and whites of what we once thought was so unquestionably clear.

      And enjoy yourself. Even if you disagree with every single person you meet and are sure you know better than they do about everything, there’s no need to swat aside and sneer at the rest of them. They may not be wrong. You might be wrong.

      Because, as I started by saying, you will come to change your mind — and on many, many, many, many points.

      And there’s no shame in that. We all do it.

      Save this comment string and call me in 20 years.
      :-)
      -p.

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  17. says

    An enjoyable, eclectic post! I do spend more than enough time online interacting with authors, readers, and anyone else. We writers, I think, reach out wherever and to whomever we can!

    I don’t get any material from what I see other authors post. I prefer to watch as people react to life and gleen material from their experiences.

    Thank you!

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    • Porter Anderson says

      Hi, CT, thanks so much for reading me here and commenting!

      Sounds to me as if you have a great understanding of what you’re doing online and how you use it to your advantage. Perfect. This is what everyone needs to do — sort out what the grid can offer them and how to get that in the right amount of time. You may be closer than most of us to success on this, so more power to you! :)

      -p.

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  18. says

    Do you find material for your writing in your online interactions with the community?

    So far, no, not really. At least, not as far as building characters (I write fiction). I’m trying to use it to find ideas for blog posts. Still it’s struggle. Twitter, in particular, is inundated with link after link. Hard to even have conversations when all I can find as links. Plus, it’s too little to tell much about people, and sometimes the barrier of words to the real person does change things. I was reading the other day about how social turns off a social filter. If we’re talking to another person in person and we hit on a subject that’s inappropriate, we’ll get cues and stop. In social media, it’s already gone and done. Probably why we’ve had people intimately describing what medications they are on, and writers having very public meltdowns! I’m not sure I would want to use that in my characters!

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