‘Social’ Media: Your Shadow Career?

 Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn, Steven Pressfield, Steve Pressfield, The War of Art

Sometimes, when we’re terrified of embracing our true calling, we’ll pursue a shadow calling instead.

And how does a shadow career relate to a real career?

That shadow career is a metaphor for our real career.

Something that supports what I meant to do. Good training? Yes, it sure is. This will come in handy. After all, I have to prepare, lay some groundwork, ramp up, get my eye on the prize, reach out, share, connect, engage, interact, throw around some more clichés. Because it wasn’t built in a day, was it?

Its shape is similar, its contours feel tantalizingly the same.

Doing it. Getting it done. Hitting my marks. As good as.

But a shadow career entails no real risk.

So I can fail at it. You can, too. No problem. We’re all supportive. And you know how much they talk about the value of failure. Best thing that could happen, from the sounds of it.

Are you pursuing a shadow career?

Steven Pressfield is a favorite of mine. That’s him I’m quoting, from his new book.

But he may have written an even more elusive, eloquent adumbration into his new book than he knew.

About us. His fellow writers.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn, Steven Pressfield, Steve Pressfield, The War of ArtPressfield’s new book is Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work, just out this summer. I’ve listed it in Reading on the Ether for a while. It’s not coming off that list any time soon.

I wish I liked the title better. Sounds like one of those Brian Tracy biz books, doesn’t it? Maximum Achievement: Strategies and Skills That Will Unlock Your Hidden Powers to Succeed. Or Reinvention: How to Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life. Always with the subtitles. Always with the inspi-vational implication that you have to belieeeeeeeeve in yourself, Lena Horne.

Nothing against Brian Tracy, by the way. I just counted 25 different success-o-rama books to his name on Amazon before I stopped. And he’s not bad, have you ever read him? When that’s what you need, Brian’s your guy.

Steve Pressfield? Very different animal.

Just to be sure, you do get his concept about a “shadow career,” don’t you? Here he is again with a couple of good examples:

Are you getting your Ph.D. in Elizabethan studies because you’re afraid to write the tragedies and comedies that you know you have inside you? Are you living the drugs-and-booze half of the musician’s life, without actually writing the music?

OK, so we get this. And we know he’s right.

Just to stave off the question I have for you a little longer, let me say a couple of things about Pressfield. Man, do I love this guy.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn, Steven Pressfield, Steve Pressfield, The War of ArtPressfield wrote a predecessor to Turning Pro, and I’d be surprised if you’re not familiar with it: The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles.

I hope you’ve read it. Released in 2002. Ten years ago. Be sure to appreciate the title’s play on his work in military-historical novels. Art of War. War of Art. Sweet.

If you ever have to command a few legions of your own, you want Pressfield’s cell number.

In The War of Art, he introduced his concept of Resistance, capital R. Everything short of doing your work is Resistance. Your own insecurities will costume themselves in about a million guises to keep you from achieving what you set out to do. It’s a constant battle. Which adds up to war. That’s Resistance. It wants to stop you (your own doubts want to stop you) from doing the work.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn, Steven Pressfield, Steve Pressfield, The War of ArtIn fact, when Pressfield did a sort of recap of the War of Art last year, he titled it Do the Work. He published it on Amazon with Seth Godin’s Domino Project, which is why the title doesn’t appear on the cover. Godin thought this was clever and made it a consistent feature of books published under the short-lived Domino aegis.

An aside for Godin-ites: Without any reference to Seth whatever, mind you, Pressfield in his new Turning Pro has a couple of interesting tribal references. Including:

When we truly understand that the tribe doesn’t give a damn, we’re free. There is no tribe, and there never was.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn, Steven Pressfield, Steve Pressfield, The War of ArtUnlike Do the Work, Turning Pro is no recap.

It’s full-on Pressfield 10 years later. Smarter, more refined. More focused. Authoritative. Self-published, by the way.

And it’s Pressfield, I think, chased by a couple of maturing shadows of his own, after several more books and the Glory of our Digital Disruption, which I hope you’re enjoying as much as I am.

Mind you, I don’t know Pressfield as well as I’d like. We’ve had a couple of emails back and forth but no chance to meet. I’d love it if we did. This is one of the people you want to have dinner with sometime.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn, Steven Pressfield, Steve Pressfield, The War of ArtBut a shadow of his own? OK, here’s my guess:

It’s damned hard to get Pressfield’s readership for Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae to “come on out,” as they say on local TV ads, and buy his creative-struggle books. And in the same way, it’s hard to get us creative strugglers to cram copies of his mercenaries-on-the-move thriller, The Profession, into our Kindles, right? Let alone The Virtues of War: A Novel of Alexander the Great.

So I wonder if it ever feels as if one line of books is a shadow to the other? I mean, yes, there’s also The Legend of Bagger Vance. Middle of the parking lot there, I guess. Did you know it has a subtitle, too? “A Novel of Golf and the Game of Life.” Steve, Steve, Steve, about these subtitles, remind me when we have dinner, we’ll talk.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn, Steven Pressfield, Steve Pressfield, The War of ArtA part of Pressfield’s appeal for me is the muscularity of his writing. Stay with me, ladies: women are more than fine with his work, don’t get me wrong, and his muse is resoundingly a she, by the way, he goes on about her as such, very clearly. In fact, you might enjoy his Last of the Amazons. It’s not about people in Seattle.

All I’m saying is there’s something beyond a warrior here. Pressfield is more a warfarer (I made that one up, don’t waste your time looking for it). I’m trying to say he has a masculine scope to his competence, a man’s perspective, a fighting spirit. It’s good.

Until he punches me in the face.

And if you read Turning Pro with your mind open and your heart on hold, you may need to check your teeth, too.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn, Steven Pressfield, Steve Pressfield, The War of ArtIt’s that shadow career thing. Ready?

What if your author platform becomes your shadow career?

Pressfield doesn’t ask you that. I do.

What if our fine gurus and mentors and big shots and digitally maddened industry leaders trying to hang on for their pensions have whipped everybody up about platforming so much that writers are turning it into their excuse, their surrogate vocation, their addiction, their Resistance, their shadow career? — the preoccupation to doing the real thing?

Pressfield:

The addiction becomes the shadow version, the evil twin of our calling to service or to art. That’s why addicts are so interesting and so boring at the same time. They’re interesting because they’re called to something — something new, something unique, something that we, watching, can’t wait to see them bring forth into manifestation. At the same time, they’re boring because they never do the work.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn, Steven Pressfield, Steve Pressfield, The War of ArtStart talking platform around writers. What do you hear? Endless complaints about how much time it’s taking, so much energy, a creative time-suck, publicity recast as connection, aspirations transmuted into service-to-community, a following you hope to God becomes a readership, reciprocity hailed as professionalism…and the last time anybody can remember doing any writing? — it was their grocery list.

My life used to be a shadow novel. It had plot, characters, sex scenes, action scenes. It had mood, atmosphere, texture. It was scary, it was weird, it was exciting. I had friends who were living out shadow movies, or creating shadow art, or initiating shadow industries. These were our addictions, and we worked them for all they were worth.

One of the intriguing things about Pressfield, both in The War of Art and now in Turning Pro, is his willingness to tell you with aching honesty that he’s been there ahead of you.

There was only one problem: none of us was writing a real novel, or painting a real painting, or starting a real business. We were amateurs living in the past or dreaming of the future, while failing utterly to do the work necessary to progress in the present.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn, Steven Pressfield, Steve Pressfield, The War of ArtAnd that’s why we all need to rethink, every day, where we are with things.

  • Are we going where we think we’re going? Or are we addicted to being on a parallel track?
  • Are we building readership and bona fide community around our ideas and our art? Or are we gassing our best energies out into the Zuckersphere?
  • Are our platforms supporting our work? Or has our work become the rationale for the platforms?

You may be fine on all counts. I hope you are. I hope I am. Because, you know, any good idea — and I’m not saying that platforming is the wrong idea, far from it — but any good idea can be overpowered by our zeal to support it, nourish it, bolster it…and, as Pressfield is warning us, to get away from the harder stuff, our artistry.

The only thing tougher than the dreaded work-life balance issue may be work-platform.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn, Steven Pressfield, Steve Pressfield, The War of Art
Steven Pressfield

Our platforms are, in most cases, built and operated these days, of course, in the social media (still a plural word, damn it). That’s a feature of each column I do here at Writer Unboxed.

So hey, I’m looking up the word “tweet” here in Turning Pro on my Kindle Fire to see what my future dinner buddy has to say on the topic of Twitter…ah, here it is:

The amateur tweets. The pro works.

Uh-oh.

| | |

So what do you think? Ever feel as if you’re a platformer who’s trying to write a book — instead of an author who’s trying to platform? Ever think the distractions of digital simply cannot be contained and eventually will reduce us all to sound-bitten maniacs? Ever feel as if your platform-ery is the biggest thing standing in the way of your book-ery?

Main image: iStockPhoto / sack

 


A late update: Anastasia Ashman, in reply to Writer Unboxed’s Therese Walsh’s grand tweet, has made this very wise comment within hours of our posting time:

I agree with her. What I want to recommend is that each of us must decide. Indeed, daily engagement might be superior for you to creating books, she’s right. I’d argue only that the important thing is to make a conscious decision on this — as opposed, as Pressfield has it, to letting addiction and Resistance cause you to slip into something you didn’t choose.

I will put it this way to you: Decide. Don’t default.

 

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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

    Porter,
    Love how you reframe the argument of “To platform or not,” as a diligent process of refining not just your writing, but your efforts to create meaningful relationships and readership. To quote you:

    “Are we building readership and bona fide community around our ideas and our art?”

    That we can’t get away with fooling ourselves that Tweeting is writing. But, that doesn’t mean that Tweeting can’t have a profound effect, if one is laser focused on specific goals.

    Thanks.
    -Dan

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    • says

      Thanks, Dan, and congratulations, again, on your first Writer Unboxed post yesterday!

      Yes, the question Pressfield puts in front of us here can be cast as one of honesty, as you say, testing whether “one is laser-focused on specific goals.”

      I do think, however, that he gets beyond us on this one a bit. Let me give you this example: You go to the doctor’s office. There’s a nurse there so good that you’d rather get her than the doc. She’s been there so long that most of the patients feel this way. She’s extremely highly placed in this practice … a place she began working years earlier, training first as a nurse before (she planned) to become a doctor, herself. And yet she’s not becoming a doctor. Not anymore. Somewhere along the way, it’s become about being a better nurse. Better and better nurse. She still tells herself and everyone else that being a physician is what she’s there to do. But without even realizing it, she has stopped doing that. And get this: She’s helping people. Totally. Healing, supporting, caring.

      In the same way, I think we can be “building readership and bona fide community around our ideas and our art,” as you quoted me putting it … without realizing that we have lost our way. We can go off-track, lose the plot, start becoming better platformers. Better and better.

      Like better nurses who meant to be doctors.

      See what I mean? See what I think Pressfield means?

      We each have some hard thinking, assessing, careful self-monitoring to do. “What was my purpose here? Who was I going to be? Yes, and I’d make a dandy airline pilot, too, with the right training. But is that what I want?”

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting. As someone who trains folks in platforming, I know this is a critical issue for you.
      -p.

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      • says

        Porter,
        This makes me endlessly curious about YOUR OWN decisions around this (does platform take you off track, at the expense of writing.) As I read your amazing #ether posts each week, your flurry of Tweets sharing great stuff, your Writer Unboxed posts, your conference coverage, and so many other things…
        -Dan

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        • says

          Ah, well, Dan,

          Despite the generosity of your endless curiosity, lol, you know that my policy — and I do not recommend this for others, it’s simply my best course — is to clam right up when asked such things and never speak of my own work process. For me — and, again, probably only me in all the world — it’s when I start to speak of myself that the floor opens up underfoot and the jaws of Distraction Hell gape wide and I end up having lunch with Dr. Faustus instead of dinner with Mr. Pressfield.

          Rest assured, “all that and more,” as we say in TV news, is under way. But it’s silent running for now and will be until it’s not. :)

          To quote Maestro Jean Genet:

          I say no more and walk barefoot.

          -p
          @Porter_Anderson on Twitter

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  2. says

    Thanks for the book recommendations to add to the arsenal.

    I’m really going to have to think about this. Hard.

    Great post, Porter.

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    • says

      Thank YOU, Angie. I was just telling a friend who DM-ed me on Twitter (don’t tell Pressfield! lol), that I think it’s fine to read Steve’s new one, Turning Pro, first, if you haven’t yet read The War of Art. You may then want to read The War of Art, as well, because it’s terrific all by itself (there are no reversals between that one and the new one, so no pitfalls to look out for there) — and seeing the progression of Pressfield’s understandings is fascinating. But Turning Pro will position for you every one of those tough questions we all need to confront, if you’d like to just jump right in there.

      I’m with you. Thinking hard. Thinking hard.
      -p.

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  3. says

    It’d be difficult for me to fully explain here just how entwined my writing journey is with your future dinner buddy and his gospel, but I’ll give you a brief synopsis. In the months after 9/11, when my whole world seemed to have been turned like a fallow field, I decided I needed to read more again (I’d been a busy boy, playing at business all the live-long days). One of the first books I picked up was Gates of Fire. Very good happenstance, that. I was awed by the workmanlike power of the writing. (I remain so impressed by this workmanlike attribute, I recently wrote a blog post on it. Yeah, blogging instead of actually working, but…)

    About this same time I began to entertain the idea of writing again (after a 25 year hiatus). I started reading his advice to writers on his website (before he even blogged, I think). Then he came out with War of Art. It was the only writing craft book I read before or during the writing of my first draft of book one of my trilogy. At the end of War of Art, he asks, “Are you a born writer?… In the end the question can only be answered by action… Do it or don’t do it.” I decided to do it. Never looked back.

    I’ve read every novel (favorite is Tides of War, btw), and I consider him one of my biggest inspirations. I think I’ve been able to persevere in part because of him. I think because that warrior ethos is such an ingrained element of the roots of my work, I have mostly avoided the shadow career he describes. Don’t get me wrong, everyone here (especially here) knows I’ve spent my share of time dallying on the grid, and I’ve not always won each day’s battle with Resistance. But I remain secure in my belief in the work. The work is what brung me to this crazy-making dance. I’ll have to hang my hat on it, and in the end it won’t matter how many clever tweets or fb statuses or blog posts I write.

    Thanks for sharing one of my writing mentors with my tribe (who may not give a damn about me, or may not really exist, but I still think they’re swell–inculding you, Porter, even if you don’t think we exist, either). At dinner, tell him he has a fan that feels his journey is entwined with his inspirational outlook.

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    • says

      Your comment, Vaughn, resonates in about 80 ways, all good.

      Yes, for those of us who cleave close to this maestro, the inspiration that one single of his “warfaring” (I’m liking my term) novels can impart is lasting, palpable, instructive, alive in some way, sentient in our memories beyond just a good read or a way with words we might admire. This, of course, is the result of the excruciating diligence with which Pressfield couches his work. And that, of course, is the dusky diamond he fights for in his own War of Art daily. I hear you. The novels are writing guides in themselves. If you’ll pardon the pun, I’d fight for this guy, just on the basis of his Alexander work.

      But Pressfield, noble warfarer for us and about us and especially in spite of us, has his own gullies to avoid.

      For example, he does blog. He does platform. He does it well. But with difficulty. It is a necessary element of battlefield preparation and analysis, I think, for him — at times you see him working through his concepts via the blogs, most recently his study of what he calls the “All Is Lost” moment and its importance before a turn to professionalism — he’s been at that one for weeks. So it’s not that blogging doesn’t feed the work at all. And yet, the time commitment? He’s too gracious to write at the end of a post, “And there’s another goddamned hour I just had to spend on cultivating my audience,” lol, but I wouldn’t hold it against him if he felt that way. I’d understand. Take care to note, I don’t know if he feels that way, not for sure. But from those around him and having observed him carefully for a while, I have a hunch. Love-hate, I’d say, the blogging. I get that. I really get that, rather badly I get that.

      Another example. Having been in touch with his folks he works with just a bit, I know that platform-y events are almost anathema to him. By events I mean, say, conference appearances, interview work, panel participation, etc. You don’t see him on the circuit. He has written expressly (express Pressfield, if you will) about how he turns down virtually all speaking engagement invitations. I’ve watched him turn down two high-value guest-post invitations from powerful sites near me. (I wasn’t requesting that he guest, myself, but I did help ferry the request to him from someone worthy.) As gracious as the day is long, mind you. Could not have been nicer. But firm.

      And the reason I mention these things is that to some degree, Pressfield may not be as aware of a tribal presence, should there be one, as he might be if he had The Tweetmachine all fired up and the bloggeria flipping the comment burgers and the Facebookery baking up some new niece and nephew pictures and the YouTub scrubbing down those videos of the cat named Achilles. (You know, I’m sure, that the City of Sparta has made Pressfield an honorary citizen, right? A Spartan by acclimation. I mean, how cool does this get?)

      But whatever is behind Pressfield’s tribal comments, in other words, I can’t clearly read yet. I confess, I weary of the tribe thing. Good contacts are good contacts, and I’m grateful for you and every other one I have. But if you read our New Guy on the Block Dan Blank when he took on Seth Goes to Kickstarter? Whoa. That tribal thing, that persmissioning thing, that community thing … just took a sharp turn. Sharp, sharp turn. Here, I covered Dan’s apt aria on the Ether and you’ll find the link to his original there: http://ow.ly/cz4Vg — I got some Roz Morris in there, too. Major General Roz Morris. These days, we can’t call anybody an Amazon without fear of having to talk about free shipping, but Morris is some kind of warfarer, herself, in the battle de publishing, and I’m impressed with what a trooper she is.

      If anything, I think the bottom-most line in any session in the Pressfield war room is that however we may commit ourselves to our armies, our brothers and sisters in peril, our big brass’ orders and our leave-no-guy-behind allegiance, we’re all, finally, alone in our tents and the work happens then and there. Not in the pickup games or the cookouts or the slinging of the RTs. It’s finally mano a mano and the only mano in the room is mine. Or yours. Or his.

      If I could get out of my tent with half the output that Pressfield does, I’d be his happiest grunt.

      Semper fi, Vaughn.
      -p

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      • says

        Thanks for the Ether link, bro. I’d missed it, and it’s interesting stuff. By whatever name, I grateful for good contacts like you, too. And I’ll trade Kumbaya for Semper fi any day. Great conversation today, as usual. Thanks again.

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      • says

        Porter – thanks for mentioning my post on Godin. I have another doozy coming soon – one I have been considering for months.
        -Dan

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        • says

          Looking forward to the doozy, Dan, sounds great. And yes, I’ve enjoyed calling many people’s attention to your Godin-Grinder. I believe that even some tribesmen are gladdened to see someone occasionally mention emperors and very sheer clothing when Seth Speaks.
          -p.
          @Porter_Anderson on Twitter

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  4. says

    You zinged the strings of my heart with this one, Porter. I’ve been fretting too much about ‘platforming’ and neglecting ‘writing’. I espouse to be a writer, after all, not a platformer. It’s back to the desk for me. Thanks.

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    • says

      Whoa, I’m taking both your notes here, Alex, and don’t apologize for “espouse.” If you don’t marry that thing, it’s going to elope with you, so don’t ditch the nuptials, your writing will see you down the aisle and back, lol, no escape.

      But, seriously, thanks for reading and responding so generously.

      Here’s the thing: Neither I nor even Pressfield, this man I love, can tell you that you’re doing anything wrong in your platformery. Every iota may be right, may return untold riches to you some day, may deliver you into the hands of the Pulitzers and onto the digital shelves of whatever we think libraries will look like in five years.

      Nobody knows. But caution is recommended. Soft shoulders ahead, as they say on the highways.

      The concept and deployment of author platforms is still new, and somewhat experimental, crazy as that sounds. It seems clear that it’s the right thing. And don’t miss the fact that Pressfield got the jump on a lot of us (he earned it, way badly) and had himself in place via traditional publishing for a long time before he and his longtime associate Shawn Coyne decided to take Turning Pro to market on their own self-publishing imprint. Coyne was instrumental in getting Pressfield into print way, way back when the dust of Thermopylae was still settling. So there’s a cushion here of many years of hard-won cred that now serves Pressfield — who deserves everything it brings him — and we may not have that.

      Therefore, kindly don’t throw over all your platforming “because Porter said it’s time to forget it,” lol. Just think about it, as I’m doing.

      That work-platform balance. Your battle awaits you, sir.
      -p.

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  5. says

    Do over: I ‘aspire’ not ‘espouse’. Wrong word. Hmmm. Maybe that’s why my works are not flying off the electronic shelves.

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  6. says

    I must read this book!

    I know that had several shadow careers before I ever got serious about writing. Having a career to consume all my time and energy and get lots of positive feedback from colleagues was the best possible way to avoid doing the real work that I felt called to do. I still have a day job, but I know that my real vocation is writing fiction.

    These days I need the occasional kick in the pants to stay focused on writing fiction and not spend so much time reading blogs online that tell me how I should do social media and build a platform.

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    • says

      Hi, Meredith,

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

      I’m with you, I can identify several things that easily qualify as shadow careers for me — in at least one case, I can even see a shadow-to-a-shadow career.

      You’re not alone in needing that kick in the pants. We’re all lucky to have Steve Pressfield kicking us, cajoling us, raising the alarms when we need to hear them, and I, for one, am very grateful to him.

      Again, my thanks, and be good to yourself. It’s a long march, but a grand one.

      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson on Twitter

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  7. says

    Porter,
    Thank you for an excellent, thought-provoking post. I have thought a lot about the amount of time I am spending o my blog relative to writing fiction. There is a real imbalance I need to address. My word count is way down and I know many writers are struggling with this balance. I must read Pressfield’s work. Thank you so much for raising this issue and keep up the great work.

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    • says

      Always a pleasure, CG and an honor when you read me and respond.

      Go ahead and read Turning Pro first. I’m recommending that to several folks who are asking this morning. If you want to also read The War of Art, by all means do — and, personally, I love seeing the progression over a 10-year-leap of Steve’s concepts from “War” to “Pro” — but Turning Pro is, as I was saying, his most refined and considered saying of his truths yet, and you won’t go wrong if you want to start there.

      We’re all struggling on this one. One great comfort we owe ourselves is the knowledge that we’re the first in history to stand on the morning of a normal battle-d’ecrivant, only to discover this array of digital paraphernalia waiting. Are these cannon good? Or will they blow up in our men’s faces?

      We don’t know. Don’t let any guru tell you that she or he is such an “expert” in social media that she or he knows what it can do or can’t do or will do or won’t do. We don’t know. And the reason to so jealously seek out this balance of work and platform is that our industry’s rush to digital could end up wiping out a lot of what might have been powerful creation. OR it may help us sail that good stuff to the moon and back, glimmering our work into the hearts and minds of the millions.

      We don’t know. And we each have to make our best guess. While the battle is raging already.

      Alexander would have said something masterful and enduring. So far, all I can come up with is, “Sheesh.”
      -p.

      @Porter_Anderson

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  8. says

    Yep, and here I am, reading delicious, enticing blog posts instead of writing.

    It’s called procrastination in my world. The idea beckons, the editing awaits, but I’d rather not . . .

    Shadow lives and shadow worlds and shadow works.

    Thanks for the nudge and the insight.

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    • says

      My best to your battle, Normandie (fabulous name, by the way).

      Take heart in one thing: We’re the first “warfarers” in this business, as I was saying to CG in a comment, to face the onslaught with this odd array of digital paraphernalia set up beside us, here on this fabled bluff above the battle… or the bluff of procrastination, as you very skillfully note. Never before have writers had to look at such a glittering arsenal of seductive weaponry as the electronic platform-tools give us, with no sergeants-at-arms to tell us if these damned weapons are any good. Maybe they’re the best thing since a catapult. Maybe they can make a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher look like a bubble blower. OR maybe they’re gas canisters about to release right in our own faces. Or grenades with the pins already out.

      This is wicked dangerous stuff and we do NOT have the guidance we need and we WON’T have the guidance we need for a long time. There’s not a lot of data harvesting going on so far to tell us if platforming works. We’ll have it one day. We’ll have data on how many toothbrushes a resident of Richmond, Virginia, will own in three years soon if we want it. But at this point, the arrival of “big data” is not ready to turn its power to our needs and help us figure out if the industry’s demands that we platform are right or wrong.

      So we march at night. Never wise. Sometimes necessary. Right now, necessary. Keep your eyes open and your wits about you, is all. The shadows are everywhere. It’s hard to requisition a flashlight in this outfit.
      -p.

      @Porter_Anderson

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  9. says

    I’m glad I was just stupid and unaware enough to build up a tiny blog community (and I mean tiny), to write a couple novels, have them published, before I realized I had to have a “platform.” Otherwise, I may have flailed (hey! flailed is failed without the l-huhn) about like the cliched headless chicken (sorta how I do now with Soc Networking). Because it is always about the writing for me. Might as well cut off my right arm, because I require both to live how I need/want/desire to live.

    Everything else is about building community, having a way to connect to the outer world, since I can be reclusive here in my mountain cove little log house. Slowly slowly, one book at a time, one reader at a time, I built a small “community of readers and writers and friends” without even realizing that was what what I was doing.

    When the awareness and understanding came of what “Platform” meant/means, when I began hearing about “using social networking as a tool,” then it became a part of my job to do my best–there is a difference from the above. You know, part of the job that we aren’t so good at but we stumble-de-bump through it best we can and hope for the best (as I told Dan below!)?

    lawd. See, it’s just hard not being Me. Which isn’t to say I can’t learn and grow, it just means I’m always going to be the kind of personality I am, and from that springs the footprint I leave on the social network; but even more important, it’ll always be about the writing for me – right arm and all that jazz.

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    • says

      Keep it right there where it is, Kathryn. You’re a natural warfarer, that’s what your telling us here (warfarer, not wayfarer, as flailing is not failing). Got some skirmishes under your belt before anybody told you that was a uniform you were in. Good. Means you have a leg up on a lot of us and a sense for the balance that’s probably more acute than the rest of us can claim.

      It’s just me here but I say you’re there. March to that drummer. She’s got you covered.
      -p.

      @Porter_Anderson

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  10. says

    Thank goodness I Googled adumbration before professing this dummy’s admiration for my best friend, Resistance. I can always count on him to help me search out a deal on the best lululemon writing pants, and for all of my brilliant tweets! (He’s kind of been an ass lately, though, and I’m thinking about breaking up with him.)

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    • says

      Dee!

      You know, I love keeping Merriam and her husband Webster in business, so I do like to toss an “adumbration” or two into each post, hope to see the word in all your writings now. :)

      And yes, our very good buddy Monsieur Resistance has been “around too much lately,” as Noel Coward would have told him, and I’m growing tired of him, myself. Only in recent moments of quiet Campari, I mean contemplation, have I noticed that mon ami Resistance may be masquerading as Lord Platform. Quel surprise!

      It just gets better, doesn’t it, Dee? 8,000 ways to go troppo in this job.
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson on Twitter

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  11. says

    This kick in the pants is timely, oh yes it is. Over the summer, with the kids home, I get more than a little distracted and can’t concentrate. Even so, I’ve been feeling that I’m turning into a hobbyist who talks big. I need to do the work.

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    • says

      Natalie, thanks for reading and commenting, and yeah, no, you speak for one large army of us.

      The big talk sneaks up, doesn’t it? Before you know it, the hot air is all there is. As I’m saying in response to an excellent tweet from Anastasia Ashman (I’ve added it to the very end of the post, if you want to look back), the main thing is that we get conscious about what we’re doing and actually decide, not default without even realizing it.

      All the best, Natalie, and thanks again!
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson on Twitter

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  12. says

    I acknowledge that I am both an amateur living in the past and dreaming of the future. There was a time when I didn’t have to try to write, I just did it and to my surprise people loved it.

    The more people loved it, the more I tried to figure out what they loved about it, the less I wrote.

    It’s scary and painful to start over and I am frequently answering the siren call of social media rather than doing the work. Thank you for the wake up call.

    I will say that this site is not a place I go to do shadow work, it is a place I go to get reassured that I have things in common with other writers who have made it past the stage I’m in. Your post certainly reassured me.

    Thanks! Back to work.

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    • says

      You’re right, Michelle (and thanks for jumping in), Writer Unboxed is, truly, a place of reassurance for many. Time spent here is sustenance for a lot of us, and I think that Steve Pressfield would be the first to point out that the places we need to be are the places that DO actually support — not take away from — our own actual careers.

      Steve, himself, is a masterful blogger and has learned over time to share the development of his concepts with his readers at StevenPressfield.com (as do his terrific associate and editor Shawn Coyne and his marvelous communications ace, Callie Oettinger). But Steve is wonderfully conscious of his online work, the time devoted to his blog vs. what he does for his creative work and — as I was telling Vaughn Roycroft, he turns down speaking requests and other things (and certainly is no tweeteur, lol) to focus.

      Much to learn, but your experience (reminds me of my early acting days … then I started studying!) are a great bellwether to what you need to do, meant to do, still can do. Keep thinking about it. Whatever you choose is great. Just be sure to decide, not default.
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson on Twitter

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  13. says

    Wow. This is brilliant and just what I needed to read this morning. I’ve been struggling with feeling guilty about NOT wanting to ‘build platform’ and focusing on the writing.

    How crazy is that?

    It kind of reminds me of the self esteem movement in the 90’s, where we couldn’t let kids experience failure or risk wounding their tender egos. When in fact, all we ended up doing was divorcing the outcome from the work.

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    • says

      Your comparison to the self-esteem push isn’t bad, Lisa, and at many points I’m afraid I’ve been the unpleasant guy standing around pointing out that singing Kumbaya together while holding hands doesn’t get the writing done. If anything, there is, already, a softening of the rhetoric from the industry on platforming. Not that the platform-mongers were wrong. We DO need visibility in this market to sell anything. We DO need to reach out to readers because the formal structures of distribution and retailing ARE coming down around our ears and nobody but nobody is going to find your book if you don’t help to wave it around.

      I’ll give you these terrifying figures from Laura Dawson, one of our best people, she’s the recognized czarina of metadata, and brings us these numbers from Bowker, no better source:

      In 1998, there were roughly 900,000 active titles listed in Books in Print. And today there are 32 million.

      That’s your competition. 32 MILLION titles. The odds of this battle are almost incomprehensible. Leonidas, himself, might have hung back from these Hot Gates.

      The big wins you see often seem capricious, right? They are. Something HAS to win because the media need focused, sharable points of interest to sell content (and thus make advertising money). So somebody does have to be a bestseller. But does it happen on merit? Well, did 50 Shades of Grey deserve, as literature, to be the runaway it is?

      In a world in which merit cannot be counted on (“just write the best book you can and you’ll be read” is NOT true), we do need force multipliers. That’s a platform. I can’t tell you you’re excused from platforming. Wish I could. Wish I could say it to all of us. But we need every advantage — native soil helps, training, good equipment, so are the social media that good equipment? Or do we have to spend so much time manning those cannon that we forget to march on to Salamis?

      It’s a mess, frankly. We’re all in uncharted territory and NO TEACHER OF PLATFORMING or anything else can truthfully tell you what will or won’t work. It’s too soon, these techniques are as yet unproven, and the operation of the social media draws directly on the energies the writer in past ages poured into the writing. There’s a direct conflict here for each of us to confront.

      Please don’t see me as giving you a free pass. I just need you to think. We all need to think, keep our eyes open, try to stay flexible and ready to change course if the balance of work and platform isn’t panning out.

      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson on Twitter

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      • says

        Porter–I completely agree with everything you’re saying. And thank you for your incredibly thoughtful responses, not just to my comment, but to the entire thread of comments.

        It’s that damned elusive word, balance, again. You’ve given me incredible food for thought and I’m off to write my own blog post on the topic, and then I’m going to take a hard, long look at how I use social media.

        The truth is, I believe I’m using platform building as an excuse when the writing gets hard, or I get discouraged. There’s something akin to a drug high when I see that little notification icon on g+ or get an @ response or RT on twitter. I know there’s a problem when I’ve frittered away my writing day checking for mentions.

        The social media work needs to support the writing, not the other way around.

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        • says

          You’ve pointed out a key element of the attraction here, Lisa — in our social-media platforming, we often can see a reaction, a result, much faster than we can in the sprawl of long-form writing. We work for years on a book, while the platform can turn a response within seconds. That’s a very hard thing to face, a virulent form of Resistance. None of us needs to condemn ourselves for finding this so hard. We have to win, but without beating ourselves up. This rival for our best work is formidably seductive and addictive. (Steve goes into addiction at some length in Turning Pro.)

          Thanks again!
          -p.
          @Porter_Anderson on Twitter

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  14. says

    This post hit me in the heart. I am going to have to think about this because the idea of a shadow career resonated with me so much. I’m afraid that’s what I’m doing, not just with my platforming, but my job, too. Doing “almost” what I want to do, but not really. Saving only a little time for what is I’m supposed to be doing. Thank you.

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    • says

      I had that same feeling. Since I’ve always known that I wanted to be a writer, I never thought a “shadow career” was a trap I’d fall into. But when you have bills to pay, and a family to contribute to, and friends climbing corporate ladders, etc. — it’s hard not to feel the pressure, not to give into it to some degree.

      The consolation is that many writers juggle these things. We will find our way too.

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      • says

        Hey, Kristan, thanks for your good comment, and for reading!

        You’re so right, the pressures of daily existence outside the actual writing life can be terribly hard to handle and can easily contribute to someone getting into lots of shadow situations.

        One of the greatest examples of all, of course, is athletes who go to college, only to find that their sports scholarships — which “normal life” requires them to take to pay for school — overcome their educational missions. Years later, they may find themselves well down the road in unsustainable sports careers with almost no prep for the non-sports careers they intended to get into originally.

        And yes, it’s a helpful thing that so many writers struggle with this, at least we’re not alone. But I think we all have to be more open about the challenge. It’s worse for many than we hear very often because a lot of us don’t feel we can say, “You know I’m really drowning right here on my own platform, which you think is such a great success.” But it needs saying. And we’ve all got to be truthful about this and share the concern — while not getting into that bad bull-session complaint-club problem that can ALSO hang us up. So many difficult elements of all this.

        Not easy. Keep trying. Stay alert. My new slogan: “Decide, don’t default.” :)
        Thanks again!
        -p.
        @Porter_Anderson on Twitter

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    • says

      Tina, I feel for you —

      In one of the network positions I was in while still with Time Warner news outlets, I watched one employee after the next following promotions offered as they came (who wouldn’t? — more money, prestige, title, authority), only to be drawn farther and farther from the career track they’d arrived expecting to take. Many ended up with that “how did I come to be doing THIS?” experience years later in aspects of the operation they’d never have chosen consciously.

      I’ve started coining the phrase “decide, don’t default” today during these discussions, thanks to so much good interaction with our readers like you.

      We all just have to get hold of this problem and not slip into some odd direction without even deciding whether that’s what we wanted.

      Thank you again!
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson on Twitter
      http://ow.ly/czt8z on Google+

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  15. says

    A little Porter and a cup of coffee and I’m awake, alert and ready for the day!

    Two years ago when I started blogging I kept a close eye on time management. I did one post a week until this January when I added another day. I thought it was silly to be building a platform when I hadn’t even written a novel, so kept it to the minimum. I didn’t ever have the blog growth I’ve seen some people have that post more often, but I did finish my first novel, and I’m still blogging, so I believe I did something right.

    I’ve noticed I use social media interactions as a way to avoid working – but it’s always my choice. I’m cognitively aware that I’m wasting time to avoid confronting that plot point that just won’t come, (kind of like right now!) so I don’t think it’s a shadow career. I lump social media into enjoyable activities that can become excellent diversions, if I let them. It’s up to me to manage it. And yes, sometimes it is a challenge to manage! :)

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    • says

      Lara, it sounds to me as if you’ve done a better job with this than many have, congrats!

      I’d suggest only that you keep that super-awareness in place as you go into and out of social media. We all know its mission for us when used well, is to get us in touch with our readership, cultivate our audience, learn to write as a member of that community. But “mission creep” is an insidious thing, as we know from so many of our military operations in recent times. And before you know it … that soc-med time you’re spending on the grid is no longer supporting much more than itself.

      My new mantra during these great comments is “decide, don’t default.” Being aware is everything. So glad you are, keep that up!
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson on Twitter

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  16. Helen W Mallon says

    Social media was sucking my soul. I had almost
    Stopped reading books. Writer suicide. I’m much happier without worrying every stinking second about my platform. It takes discipline not go there. for writers, the Internet can be the junior high dance from hell. Resist! Write. Read. The rest is trust.

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    • says

      Exactly, Helen,

      And I love your “junior high dance from hell” analogy! :)

      I’ve found so many fine professional contacts online for myself that I can’t overlook the importance of platforming in my own case. And yet the demands of this useful thing are very high and, like everyone, I’m struggling to evaluate where I am with it and how I’m handling its presence in the mix of what I”m doing. A daily bit of due diligence.

      Thanks for reading and commenting1
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson on Twitter

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  17. says

    Love Pressfield. Just finished Turning Pro myself. Yesterday, in fact. Like you, I thought it was a deeper explanation of War of Art, and it will be one I reread on a regular basis as a way of staying honest with myself.

    What makes it so profound for me is that he DOES have a solid, well-regarded writing career outside of the hope-focused writing, so it’s wisdom I trust at a deeper level.

    “Ever feel as if you’re a platformer who’s trying to write a book — instead of an author who’s trying to platform?”

    Yes. I was lost there for a while. What’s worse, I started to feel I wasn’t very good at it, and so not only was I wasting time that might have been spent writing, I started to think there was no point. If I couldn’t craft a tweet that anyone would care to read, what business did I have writing a book?

    Faulty logic, yes? But I bought it for a good while, along with a few other whoppers, and I was miserable. At some level, I also knew it was faulty logic, but rolled around in it. Eau de victim is a convenient way to stay in amateur mode. Yes, you can quote me on that. Might make a nice tweet if I say so myself. ;)

    Am I a Pro yet? It’s probably a bad sign that I’m not sure. Ask me in another few months. What I know is that I’m choosing to choose now, so if I’ve got low Vitamin D levels from skulking in the Shadow, it won’t be a surprise.

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    • says

      You know, Jan,

      As many good lines as you have in this comment (I’ve been tweeting them all day), the best is your last line about “choosing to choose.”

      Somewhere during the day of discussion with so many people, I started using the phrase “decide, don’t default.” And that’s your “choosing to choose.”

      The really big point of Pressfield, when you think about it — and I’m so glad you’ve read Turning Pro — is about getting conscious of what’s going on. Conscious of the Resistance, conscious of the addictions, conscious of the difference in what we meant to do and what we really do.

      And yes, the amazing way that bad logic can get hold of us. Proves how incredibly vulnerable we can get in this process, really anywhere along the way. In fact, consider that the whole industry reeks right now of your “Eau de Victim.” Not to add to an author’s sense of victimization, but it has to be an additional pressure to labor under the weight of the attitude, held by many in the fading traditional publishing apparatus, that the digital disruption has somehow attacked or unfairly undermined them. This is hardly everybody in the “old industry,” mind you. But there are some. And that dark energy, in turn, is exacerbated by the unhelpful rage of some of the self-publishing crowd. (So proud of the way a few of that community handled their letters to the DoJ, as covered this week on the Ether http://ow.ly/czu6M .)

      Then add this, from Laura Dawson at Bowker — the numbers I think we must all try to make our peace with:

      In 1998, there were roughly 900,000 active titles listed in Books in Print. And today there are 32 million.

      My point being that even in the happiest of settings, the kind of conscious, resistance to Resistance that authors must try for is hard. Add to it these additional industry-level emotional-weather fronts, and you really do have a severely challenging setting in which all our authors are writing and working. I say they’re heroic troopers just for getting hands to keyboard, and the more aware they become of the pitfalls Pressfield helps us spot, the better they’re prepared for the battle.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting, and all YOUR fine posts here at WU, as well!
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson on Twitter
      http://ow.ly/czt8z on Google+

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  18. says

    As a relative newbie, I appreciate the post and the subsequent comments. I’m doing the sponge thing and soaking the wisdom.

    I can’t help thinking it reminds me of my roles, for many years, as mom and working woman– balance, priorities, keeping the true goals in mind. Lots of flies that could be swatted. Lots of good things I could answer “yes” to, but only few that will move me forward.

    Thanks for expanding my insights.

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    • says

      Excellent point, Julie, it can very well be a question of learning to say “no” at times — and when.

      Not that far from what family people must handle many times a day, an apt analogy. In fact, anyone trying to protect a mission or goal structure will recognize the components of this dilemma.

      And it’s in that recognition — the becoming conscious of the Resistance that can trick us so easily — that we have our best hope of finding a way through.

      Thanks so much for reading and responding!
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson on Twitter
      http://ow.ly/czt8z on Google+

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  19. says

    I took a class on social media for writers. Just about every writer jumped in and started blogging three times a week and diving into Twitter. About 4-5 months later, many of them announced they would be going on blog hiatus so they could get back to their writing. And then there are those that seem to be a Twitter zombie: Liiiinnnnkkkss! Need links to send out! And from some people, it’s so much that I wonder how much writing they’re actually doing.

    I actually don’t enjoy Twitter. I’m an introvert, so the idea of a virtual cocktail party does do much for me. Sometimes it’s fun, but most often, it’s work. So I set up my Tweets in the morning (when I’m also definitely not going to be writing anything) and I’m done for the day. My focus on platform has been in a different area — getting stuff out on submission and getting visibility. I can’t compete on Twitter — not with all those writers send out link spam and cluttering things up. But they can’t compete with me if I get published while they’re tweeting.

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    • says

      Sounds to me, Linda, as if you’ve been very canny about this.

      Congrats on having such a good routine that works for you. This is more than many folks can claim.

      I know those folks, too, who seem to be everywhere on social for a time, then finally have to withdraw and try to work. In a way, I think they’re showing some good chutzpah, just to know they need to jump ship.

      The “zombies,” as you call them, these are the real addicts, as I’m sure Pressfield would point out to us. For them, there’s little meaning left to what they’re doing, just a rote impulse to keep the Twitter feed going.

      Clearly, we all need workable, sustainable ways to approach this. While I applaud your getting so much material out for submission, I’m not sure that’s developing potential audience, is it? Or maybe it is and I don’t follow you. Good industry contacts are wonderful, and certainly moving around material, shopping around your work, can do that. But the general goal of platforming is readership, people normally not associated with the selling of your manuscript on submission.

      Nevertheless, you sound confident and sorted on this, so more power to you. Making sure your approach works for you is the most important thing of all, so have at it, and thanks again for reading and commenting!
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson on Twitter

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      • says

        Published writing is the ultimate form of promotion. All the tweeting and blogging to build readership isn’t going to make any difference if there isn’t anything to read beyond the blog and 140 words. One of the things that kept coming across to me in reading about blogs and Twitter is that you have to produce good content to get people to come and stay interested. Wouldn’t a good flash fiction story count? Or a tip on a computer site? Why wouldn’t it be?

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        • says

          Ah, I get you now. I thought you meant the actual submission of the work (to agents or publishers) was a form of platforming. And while it sort of is, at least in terms of getting your MS known and looked at, of course, it’s not the same as the public outreach we normally refer to in platforming. And yes, quite right, of course, your work itself IS your best platform, absolutely. As Steven Pressfield’s fine, fine oeuvre shows us. We’re on the same page. Thanks again, Linda!
          -p.
          @Porter_Anderson on Twitter

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  20. says

    Thanks for the post!

    Twitter is a medium. It’s not used as a medium by everybody, but it is most interesting to me when it is used that way. Also, blogs. These are devices for self-expression. Like a novel, or a poem, or a song. People know when you’re using these mediums as a “platform.” It’s insincere and it doesn’t work, and I think it’s best to just avoid it if that’s the goal. The medium isn’t for everybody. It works well for some, but not for others. Just as novels do. And poems.

    Writing and platform are inseparable. They have to be. And I think every writer needs to sort that out herself. Framing the discussion around certain activities being “pro” and certain others being “amateur” seems like an old-media way of thinking about it. Everything is “pro” if you take pride in it and make it that way. Also if you are honest and offer yourself to the world, no matter how you do it, then you’re doing it. You’re being pro. Charlie Kaufman’s speech to screenwriters really drove this home for me. It’s well worth a listen for any writer:
    http://guru.bafta.org/charlie-kaufman-screenwriters-lecture-video

    (Also, “Futuretainment” is a great book on the reality of our current new-media reality and how exciting it is to be a part of it.)

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    • says

      Hey, David, thanks for reading and for commenting.

      I think I’ll have to disagree with you — cordially, no right or wrong here — that the professional and amateur designations are old-media. In fact, if anything, I think we need them more than ever. Since Andrew Keen put out his first book, the Cult of the Amateur ( http://ow.ly/czhcW — another long subtitle, I warn you, lol ), this effort to disparage professionalism and hold up amateurism as somehow the superior posture has led to a massive amount of low quality work being dumped on markets … in literature, in music, in art, journalism, in so many aspects of life in which the experience and training and perspective of true pros is so important to every effort in cultural growth and depth.

      In fact, I think that bad direction is on the wane. Granted, Keen has come out with another book, this time warning the world of the privacy dump going on in Digital Vertigo ( http://ow.ly/czhly — a very fine book if you have a chance to read it). But you don’t hear nearly so much snarling hatred for professionally credentialed people as you once did. I think we’re maturing in that sense and remembering the world has room for, and needs, careerists and enthusiasts, both.

      Taking pride in something, alone, doesn’t make a pro. That’s the “think system” made famous in that old musical, “The Music Man.” Thinking about being good at something doesn’t make you good at it. The paying of dues and the achievement of credentials can still mean a great deal in the world.

      And how we use the time of our career lives, the subject of this post, is the question here today.

      Thanks again, good to hear from you,
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson on Twitter

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      • says

        The “think” method espoused by the good Professor Harold Hill had to do with learning an instrument. It was about acquiring a skill. I don’t think you can “think” yourself into talent and that’s not what I meant to imply.

        However, presenting yourself as a professional, which is what I’m referring to, is not about how well you play necessarily. It’s about being professional. It’s about a state of mind. It’s about your habits and your dedication and your seriousness.

        It’s not about how much money you make or how many followers you have or what brand of pants you wear.

        That’s what I was referring to. That and the fact that framing the discussion in terms of “Twitter” or blogs being a “shadow career” instead of something that can contribute positively to a writer’s career is an “old media” point of view. A point driven home by the fact that we wound up talking about “The Music Man.”

        The people I follow (and actually read rather than scan) on Twitter are writing just as good sentences as anything found in a book. They’re not just talking *about* writing or posting links to things.

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  21. says

    I think I’ve taken the “shadow career” notion even farther – mainly out of necessity. I’m a publicist, and PR work has so much in common with writing: getting that spark of an idea, writing about it in a way that will touch others, then spreading the word about it. And spreading some more. Using social media to do so, too. Even taking on clients for pure social media projects. And always the bursts of thrill that come from creating something and telling others about it.

    Yeah, it’s totally a shadow career. But it pays the bills! Just as authors who are platforming are hoping, at some level, to ultimately do by marketing their books. Because when it comes right down to it, who can actually write without a roof overhead?

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    • says

      Hey, Sharon, thanks for reading and responding — and boy, can we do this one sotto voce, because I am RIGHT in the boat with you:

      My career as a journalist, remember, means I’ve dwelt in the Valley of the Shadow, too. For a mere three decades. Journalists cover others. And as lucky and grateful as I’ve been to cover some spectacular others who make their contributions on a global scale, the job remains a career of shadowing those in the sunshine, the newsmakers. It’s an extraordinary thing that takes a few years even to register in a journalist’s mind, as I think it can take a while for a publicist to catch on to this, too. Our successes are the raising up of their successes.

      If you get into the Capitolini in Rome and see the Caravaggios there, you may not even realize how elaborate and beautiful their frames are, they’re mere shadows to the luster of the work, itself.

      So yes, we frame things, we make them visible in new and glorious ways, and much of that can be shadow careerism — I’m still fond of eating, as I’m sure you are. There may be no solution that’s good for more than a day at a time. Or perhaps each of us over time will come to terms with a way of working, of handling the conflict.

      We’re still so early at this. PR and publicity work (I also was an account executive with a PR and ad firm for several years) have been in place a lot longer than this concept of authors self-platforming. We don’t even know if the platforming gig is going to provide the marketing boost we think it can. There’s always a killjoy ready to jump up and remind us all that no one has been able to prove much of a connection yet between social-media showboating — I mean platforming — and sales.

      Happily, we reach this moment as happy hour stretches ITS welcome shadows over our hopes and dreams. And as I lift my Campari d’orange to you, I’ll just give you something to drink about. You may have seen me spreading this bit of cheer hither and yon already. Laura Dawson of Bowker, the czarina of metadata in publishing and a lady who can knit a hell of a scarf, has produced these numbers, indeed I’m quoting one of her own blog posts. Sit down before you read this, get your drink firmly onto the table or bartop:

      In 1998, there were roughly 900,000 active titles listed in Books in Print. And today there are 32 million.

      So, sweet publicist, how shall we face down 32 million active titles? There’s not enough platforming in the world, huh?

      Bottoms up!

      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson on Twitter

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        • says

          And that’s just in the States, Mary. And it doesn’t include self-published titles or many other works.

          Here’s an update to that info from Laura Dawson, who’s trying to help us understand that our very concept of “the book” needs to move from that thing you hold in your hand to something that lives and swims on the Ether of data all day and night:

          http://ow.ly/czDmA

          Thanks again,
          -p.
          @Porter_Anderson on Twitter
          http://ow.ly/czt8z on Google+

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    • says

      Thank you, too, Leslie –

      None of it works without great readers, and Kath & Teri’s Writer Unboxed has some of the best!

      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson on Twitter

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  22. Bernadette Phipps Lincke says

    I love Pressfield. I have a much worn copy of The War of Art, but I am so out of the loop of late – I didn’t know about his new book, so once again I’m getting a book per your recommendation. (It worked well with Nevil Chute).

    I recently got rid of my Twitter account, because I came to the realization that for me, the only way to concentrate on (grinds teeth) the now third rewrite of my WIP, was to get rid of tangent distractions. I’m not one of those nimble minds that can multi-task all the info/social feed online, and on TV, and still have enough brain cells, and emotional connection left for my story. After weighing in on my Facebook account I kept it, because of the WU Forum there. I find the give and take support with my fellow writers is a tremendous boon, most especially during those dark times when I feel like chucking the whole endeavor out the window.

    This along with the WU Blog to keep me on my toes with my craft, be it the learning experience of trying to hone a captivating tale with a beginning, middle and end in 250 words or less, or being kept up to date on useful news-like this-about Pressfield’s new book, happily are working for me. I’ve even stopped dreaming about endless news feeds, and actually woken in the middle of the night with new ideas to solve a current dilemma in my WIP.

    Thanks for the post on Pressfield. I’m off to download his new book.

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    • Bernadette Phipps-Lincke says

      Sorry, the author’s name is Nevil SHUTE, I don’t know if it’s the Brit in me equating his nme with a slide or my auto correct. :(

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      • says

        As said before (see my other note back to you), not a problem. In fact, I feel that Mr. Shute in his time was spelled many less felicitous ways than Chute. :)
        -p.

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    • says

      Hey, Bernadette, thanks so much for reading and commenting — and no worries on Shute’s name, I see it misspelled a lot. His is the only instance of the name spelled in such a way that I’ve encountered, too, it’s not as if it’s a familiar one.

      Very glad you’re catching up with the new Pressfield book, I think you’ll find that Turning Pro resonates for you in the difficult decisions you’re making about your own relationship to elements of platform and creative work. Congratulations on making such difficult moves and rational choices to keep your work in the center of what you’re doing. From the sound of it, your clarity about priority and placement of attention and energy is ahead of that most people are pulling off. And you’re bringing a lot of disciplinary energy to the table, very important.

      That middle of the night wakeup is your signal, indeed, that something is working. So good to hear!
      All the best with it
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson on Twitter
      http://ow.ly/czt8z on Google+

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  23. says

    Blogging, reading blogs, getting embroiled in online discussions…they are my go-to techniques for procrastination. I can tell myself that I’m building my career, that I’m growing, that I’m participating in a community, but the fact of the matter is that I’m primarily wasting time. I’m naturally averse to the pain and headache of working hard, and to the possibility of failure, and even the possibility of massive success–because with fame comes vulnerability. As much as I’d love to make millions and see my books at the top of the charts, I’m not to fond of the Anti-fan Club that would inevitably come with it.

    I checked out Pressfield’s book, and I would buy it if I had $10 to spare. But I don’t, because I’m still an amateur who hasn’t figured out how to make a living from my work (the irony, eh?). But I do agree with most of his philosophy. The only parts I disagree with, from what I can glean from synopses and reviews, are that, “The professional does not identify with his or her instrument,” and “The professional self-validates.” I may be misunderstanding because I haven’t seen the original, but he seems to be asserting that a true professional should work dispassionately, without investing too much of herself in her art or caring about the opinions of others.

    And I think, for writers, this would be a mistake. For one thing, I believe writers exist to communicate ideas, not just to sit around feeling confident that they’re perfect. If we don’t communicate well–if our stories are not conveying our messages and eliciting the responses we want–we need to consider adjusting our approach. For another, personal experiences with pain are what fuel our work and give it realism. If you don’t know pain, you’ll only write a shallow imitation of it based on second-hand reports, or worse, other pieces of fiction. What Pressfield might be getting at is that the amateur will use his work to whine and pursue personal vendettas…and I have seen a few of those. You can usually tell right away when someone’s taking their anger out on an insufferable coworker, unfaithful ex, or mean blog commenter through paper villains. There are also those writers who just love the persona of being Artists, always complaining how difficult and thankless it is to be An Artist but never really giving it their all.

    But other than that, investing ourselves in our writing, though it’s scary as hell, is what steps it up a notch from following the formula to saying something worth saying.

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    • says

      Good thoughts, TK, thanks for reading and comemnting.

      I do hope you can get at least one of Pressfield’s books on the subject eventually (I hear you on the expenses!) because some of the things you naturally haven’t had a chance to get hold of yet in terms of his conceptualization will be of help to you. (By “self-validation,” for example, he means that pros aren’t inclined to be thrown off-track by others’ opinions of what they’re doing, a common problem for amateurs. And by “not identifying,” he’s talking about not taking the work or reaction to it so personally that one can become paralyzed.) There’s very little dispassionate about writing for Pressfield, in my opinion — but he does understand it as a job, which needs a professional approach.

      All the best in your work, and thanks again for commenting!
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson on Twitter
      http://ow.ly/czt8z on Google+

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  24. says

    At the end of a long day, I think I finally figured out what I want to add here, Porter.

    I agree with a lot of your post and the comments. Call it procrastination or a shadow career, but most people can justify any behavior that allows them to avoid what scares them the most. And writing scares the hell out of us, or at least it should.

    Now, platform – or community-building, or marketing, or shadow career – is necessary for us as we build and grow our writing businesses. That does not mean that it can or should take up the same amount of energy and time every day.

    A book launch – and its attendant marketing needs – should take up more of your time than writing during that time period. Conversely, meeting a writing deadline should be your first priority. Your blog readers will forgive you for being silent, if tell them why. Take them along on your journey; don’t leave them hanging.

    We’re all just trying to figure out this infuriating business. Who’s right? Dan Blank? Steven Pressfield? You? Me? Yes…and no. Because in a sense we’re making all this up as we go along. And a lot of people aren’t comfortable with that level of uncertainty. I’m not always comfortable with it. But even my inner control freak knows that I have to give in/up and figure out my own path. In lieu of that, we’ll settle for the Cliff Notes version of how to be the next JK Rowling. ;)

    I’m as capable of wasting time on the internet as anyone. But there are plenty of other ways to waste time and avoid writing. Let’s not blame it all on Twitter.

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    • says

      Nothing here blames it on Twitter, Viki, it’s not nearly so simple as that. I think I wish it were.

      What’s more, it’s not about wasting time — neither on Twitter or on any other medium.

      The problem that Pressfield — and I, and many others — are concerned about has to do with the concept of platforming, itself, beyond just tweeting or Facebook or Pinterest or any other social medium someone may use as part of platforming.

      Remember how I put it in this formulation of the question from my post:

      Are our platforms supporting our work? Or has our work become the rationale for the platforms?

      You write “Now, platform – or community-building, or marketing, or shadow career – is necessary for us as we build and grow our writing businesses.”

      A shadow career is necessary? Really? And the verse in the Bible that gives you this incontrovertible fact is…? ;)

      Look, you, too, have bought in, as I have bought in, to this idea that platforming is critical. When I see active titles go from 900,000 to 32 million in 14 years — in the States alone and not counting self-published work — yeah, I feel compelled to try to position work to weather that storm.

      But we don’t even know yet that platforming “works.” There is precious little data to say this. There is “anec-data.” Just as there’s a Rowling and a Hocking and an Eislering and a Fifty Shading.

      But let’s say that platforming works, for the sake of argument. And let’s say that there’s no waste going on. No chitchat, no cat videos, no stupid jokes, no baby pictures.

      In fact, take it offline completely.

      Forget the Net.

      Let’s say you platform entirely in the “real” world. Let’s say that means joining organizations that represent people engaged in the subject matter of your work. You go to meetings with them, you help present events, you stage gatherings, you fly around for conferences, you follow up with helpful correspondence, you support the fund-raising efforts needed to add that young-people’s wing to the outfit … never online for a moment.

      Pressfield is still there.

      He’s still telling you that all this could be adding up to a shadow career. A strange way of slipping over into a creative life ABOUT the work instead of the work itself, a way of being sure that the work itself never has to happen because there’s so, so, so much to do ABOUT the work, more research, more organizing, more getting out the message of our efforts through interviews and supporting articles and papers and lectures to be given in seminars and symposia.

      Nobody’s blaming Twitter. It’s not that easy. That’s shadow thinking. Remember one of Pressfield’s examples is the getting of a PhD about the Elizabethans instead of writing those comedies and tragedies, Ms. Shakespeare. Not Twitter. I brought in Twitter at the end of the post because it’s interesting that Pressfield’s relationship with social media is quite distant and bound by a bright line. Which may or may not have anything to do with your experience.

      This is about not deciding but defaulting to the obvious and the omni-accepted, the “everybody says,” the “platforming is necessary” (says Jesus or Buddha? I forget) stuff that dreams, not realities, are made on.

      Nobody would ever say that your focus doesn’t proportionately shift as stages of production or creation or preparation play through. I’m afraid this isn’t that easy.

      Good try, though. :)
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson on Twitter
      http://ow.ly/czt8z on Google+

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      • says

        Okay, here’s another try, Porter. ;)

        Yeah, I think the shadow career is necessary. It wasn’t a verse in the Bible, but I do believe it was a hidden meaning in Beatles lyrics.

        It separates the pros from the amateurs. Both will look at Pinterest, for example, and say “OMG, that looks amazing!” (Actually, that’s what my teenage daughter would say, but you get the picture.)

        They open an account and 42 hours later they’re still pinning. They’ve done no writing, of course, but they’ve had a hell of a good time.

        The amateur will make more coffee and get back at it, writing be damned.

        The pro will think “that’s 42 hours of my life I’ll never get back. Either I close my account or I figure out a way to use this less obsessively”. And they do.

        Same for offline, obviously. Conferences are seductive, in the social aspect. Why wouldn’t you want to spend 3 days in the bar talking about writing? We write alone, after all, so now we get to talk to other writers face to face. And research: ‘I have to go to LA for research’. Porter, I can justify going just about anywhere for research, even if it’s a minor component of the trip.

        I guess I’m asking if we can justify all this non-writing activity. I can justify almost anything, so I may be the wrong person to defend this position. Sometimes distractions are good. They allow your brain to rest and re-boot.

        But sometimes, some people have to obsess on Pinterest or Twitter, or buy every book ever written on plot development, or join every writer’s group before they realize they’ve stopped writing. I think it’s terribly easy to do in this insanity. And I think there are a lot of companies out there taking advantage of writers’ angst.

        The first step is to admit you need help, right? Do we need a 12-step program for writers who are doing everything but writing? Maybe we all just need the sign I have on my desk: “don’t forget to write”.

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  25. says

    Personally, I like the analogy of the double helix, as found in DNA. One strand is not an evil twin of the other; rather, both take us forward simultaneously, even when it appears we are favouring one. There comes a time when discouragement simply makes us stall on that path and we switch to the other. Thus, we inch forward, little by little, letting the resistance strengthen us and form character. Because to shoot forward on one strand only would make us unbalanced and false. Such is it with all twin endeavours.

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    • says

      Hey, Leanne, thanks for jumping in.

      I say if this double-helix idea (I think you’re saying run on the two tracks of writing and platforming) works well for you, then you have what you need.

      From my readings in Pressfield ( http://ow.ly/czbhD ) and my own experiences, I think I’m less inclined to see a healthy strengthening capacity in Resistance. My own encounters with it are of something pretty thoroughly negative that leaves me duped, stupid, and depleted, not stronger.

      However, we each have different experiences of this, and nobody is saying that platforming isn’t important. Yes, moving on both tracks makes sense. “Twins,” I’m not sure I’m ready to concede. I do think one is more important than the other, so at least in terms of valuation, they don’t seem twinned to me.

      Again, just my off-the-cuff reactions to your thoughts, and thanks for dropping them in here, you’ve enriched the conversation. Carry on with your twins. :)
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson on Twitter
      http://ow.ly/czt8z on Google+

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  26. says

    Major-General here with her bow, arrow and pen (thanks for that on Vaughn’s comment!) For me, social media is the chatter outside my writing room. A welcome, lively diversion. It’s nice to say good morning, hear the swell of voices out there, all thinking, creating, needing five minutes of support, venting or nonsense. Once or twice a week I put something on my blog that I hope will invite like-minded souls to stop by.

    Then it’s time to close the door and do some writing, reading, research, plan the next book, critique a manuscript. I’m at the beginning of another novel and it never gets easier. It’s a tiny idea in a vast lake of confusion and nothing, and those gulfs are terrifying. The only way through is to remind myself that the last book started like this. And that this is the way to make work you’re proud of.

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  27. says

    Salute! Major-General Roz, thanks for the great comment.

    Yeah, I fear that the topic has shifted a bit here from shadow careers (which can be anything, not necessarily connected with online work) to social media.

    But I will say that while Pressfield doesn’t feel that social media have as much to offer to writers as some of us might, I like your concept of it as the crowd outside the door. I always say I feel like I’m closing a door when I go “behind” the FocusTime protection of RescueTime.com to get some concentration on work.

    The bigger question of the post here, though, is about platforming (which may or may not include online elements) and shadowing.

    I was just quoting myself (!) to someone else, lol:

    Are our platforms supporting our work? Or has our work become the rationale for the platforms?

    I think many authors may be in more trouble on this than they realize. Our comments here at WU have shown a lot of careful thought about it in many respondents. But, of course, as Pressfield keeps telling us, Resistance is so stealth. Its power to stop us, as he makes so clear in Turning Pro, ( http://ow.ly/czM2k ) is in its capacity to disguise itself as something helpful … like an author platform … only to ramp up into something that soon prevents us doing the actual work that platform was meant to support.

    I know that starting a new book is terrifying, which is one reason some people recommend weeks and months of outlining to avoid that tiny-idea scare. The problem is, of course, that outlining — like research and brainstorming and God knows what else — can ALSO be Resistance, ways your mind and soul have of avoiding sitting down and writing.

    So if anything, you’re indeed in a tricky moment, when Resistance could be very successful and very cleverly guised in many ways. Keep your eyes open, Major-General! :)
    -p.
    @Porter_Anderson on Twitter
    http://ow.ly/czt8z on Google+

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    • says

      Eyes on the target, I can assure you, sir.
      Thanks for the reminder! I see the problem. Outlining, research, conceptualising, working out characters – is it R&D or resistance? We at Nail Your Novel HQ are firmly of the belief that research and planning are necessary parts of the process and prevent us from hurling up a load of unusable merde.

      And social media. On the one hand it’s where we go because we’ve got a finished book we want to talk about. On the other, keeping a book in perpetual development qualifies us to hobnob in social media.

      We’re in a set of conceptual circles here, like Google ones but more slippery. :)

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      • says

        We are indeed, good metaphor, finding circles within circles in terms of this problem (potential for some, very real for others, I fear).

        Thanks for jumping in, Roz, and for positioning yet another tricky aspect of this — at the same time we can’t condone getting lost in platformery to the exclusion of the main event, diminishing the importance of real preparation, research, training , planning would be counter-productive. As you say, those are indeed unquestionably valuable and important aspects of the work.

        Writing has never been a perfectly clear process with steps followed by every writer out there. But it does seem these days as if the disruption of digital has set us into a far wider pool of possible confusions than we might have been before.

        I’ll be over at JaneFriedman.com Tuesday with a bit more on this. Thanks again!
        -p.
        @Porter_Anderson on Twitter
        http://ow.ly/czt8z on Google+

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  28. says

    A timely and excellent post, Porter. I’ve reached a level of acceptance over these past few years that there is really no such thing as balance in my writing world. It’s a constant juggling act Both platform-building and writing are essential to accomplishing my goals of reaching my audience especially since I’m an unknown trying to get known. But I really get the notion that so much time can be spent on platform via social media and blogging where I write about writing that the real writing gets lost in the distraction. I’m learning to wrestle the social media”beast” into a more manageable state- a conscious daily effort- so I will make time for the real writing- what I started out trying to do before I learned all about platform and social media. Pressfield’s book sounds fascinating. You’ve generated a lively and enlightening conversation and one I needed to hear. Thank you!

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    • says

      Thanks, Kathy,

      And yes, you’re a good example of how hard this can become, trying to keep your own site’s material moving ABOUT memoir-writing while learning to DO memoir writing and actually accomplish a memoir.

      I think folks from the outside of publishing looking at us all would laugh, really, feeling that of course we’d be tempted to evade the hard long-term work in favor of the easier, quicker, lighter-weight “about it’ work of platforming.

      But this is part of the genius of Pressfield, in my opinion. Some of the intensely telling observations he makes arrive like good therapy does in a session with a psychologist: you feel as if you already knew that, and yet somehow forgot it.

      I mean, it’s clear as day that one’s platform could sweep one away, right? Become so engaging and fulfilling that the work it’s supposed to be about never gets done? If you’re working with dolphin research for a novel, for example, maybe you discover that the key centers of dolphin research in the world need visibility, something you can help with on your author web site. And soon you’re producing so much grand visibility for them and being brought into marine-science symposia and asked to speak on what you’re learning … and what was that book you were doing?

      It’s as obvious a danger as the day is long and yet, like so many elements of Resistance, it can still stop us cold.

      Difficult stuff, and the warm, involved response to this piece has left me wondering if it’s not a bigger problem that perhaps we’ve realized. It almost sounds like a cute joke to say you’ve found yourself tweeting with your community so much that you almost forgot to write your book. But what if we end up not laughing?

      I’m going to be at JaneFriedman.com a bit more with this tomorrow (Tuesday) and then we’ll hit it again in the Ether on Thursday. Surely, the generous reactions to this post indicate that we may not have understood fully enough yet how treacherous the allure of a “shadow career” — or we miight say “evasive platforming” — can become.

      Thanks for commenting, as ever, we’ll keep working on this.
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson on Twitter
      http://ow.ly/czt8z on Google+

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  29. says

    The shadow career is such a danger, particularly if you’re writing whole books. The short-term feedback hits are so appealing if you’re working on a project that’s going to take you a year or more before you get anything back.

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  30. says

    Hi, Annabelle,

    And thanks for reading and commenting.

    Yes, I think a key to the problem on this, as you suggest, is the long-term project’s lack of a quick-fix in terms of progress or appraisal or even just a kind word. Certain platform elements — obviously blogs and other uses of online work — are a hell of a lot quicker in terms of feedback than the “big project.” And this is, yes, one reason that we can be seduced by the platform into letting it become the “shadow career,” eclipsing the real one.

    Do check JaneFriedman.com tomorrow, we’ll have a bit more there, and on Thursday in Writing on the Ether there.

    Thanks again,
    -p.
    @Porter_Anderson on Twitter
    http://ow.ly/czt8z on Google+

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  31. says

    You’re quite right. We need to beware of following a shadow career. Sometimes our fears can stop us from searching for something higher, but we would strive to do what we KNOW we can accomplish.

    Thanks for reminding us! :)

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  32. says

    You bring up a great point, Porter. Indeed, writers complain about building platform, yet those of use actually building platform often spend more time doing so than writing. In my most recent experience, the publication of a book does more for your platform than anything else. That is not to say that you don’t need to build platform prior to, during and after writing and publishing a book, but the ratio of time spent doing so must be examined (and I’m speaking for myself as well).

    Writers say they want to write and get published. In fact, writers tend to hide behind other activities due to fear–fear of success, fear of failure, fear of exposure. Sometimes they don’t build platform so they can’t succeed. Sometimes they build it all day to to avoid their fear of actually writing (or finding out they aren’t good enough writers). And they may build platform but not do it well, wasting their time and not accomplishing either goal–an author platform or a finished book. this can be conscious or unconscious (usually the latter).

    With the huge focus–and need–to have a platform if you want to succeed (sell books and/or land a traditional publishing deal) as an author, it’s hard not to have platform building become a second or primary career. Yet, it’s the great book that will in the end drive all those fans to you.

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  33. says

    Talk about a gut check with this post! I totally feel more platform builder rather than writer/author. And the question about being addicted to being on a parallel track is spot on. Doing the actual work of writing is so much riskier; the disappointment at the end of the day cuts much deeper.

    Thank you for highlighting Pressfield and for the honest look at all of this platform business. It hit me right between the eyes.

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  34. says

    Many thanks for the Tartitude mention, Jan, appreciate it — and congrats on tossing at least a small part of the payload over the side. That sounds like such a great idea, even I feel slightly lighter, LOL.
    -p.
    @Porter_Anderson on Twitter
    http://ow.ly/czt8z on Google+

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