Blogs and ulterior motives

by Kristin on July 15, 2008

in Social media & the writing life

When I started this blog the first time, last summer, I saw it as a way to motivate myself to plow through the book I felt compelled to write. Because even though the book was “in me,” as writers like to say, writing it down wasn’t going to be as simple as just opening the tap and letting it flow. I knew if I tried putting all of my words into an endless scroll of blank Microsoft Word pages—saving my bits of progress each day, closing the document, then starting all over the next day—it would seem as overwhelming and futile as tossing my stories into an abyss.

I needed an audience, even if it was just my husband and a few friends. I needed my audience to expect something new and fresh from me, which kept me moving rather than over-thinking and over-working everything. I needed a format that looked nice and could include headlines, photos, tags and categories. I’m one of those people who is easily fooled: when things look put together I imagine they are put together. Looking at my writing in a blog format would help me understand more clearly my structure, and, ultimately, what I needed to say.

So, I set myself up on Blogger, and turned my blogging practice into my own little writing course syllabus. Story by story, I put them down, sending them out into the virtual world where a dozen or so people would read them. Eventually, a few months later, I realized I had the meat of the book there, ready to expand and polish. I abandoned the blog to turn the best posts into a book, feeling my little system had worked quite nicely. After all, I never wanted to be a blogger.

About six months later, when my book proposal was being reviewed by a couple of publishers, I first heard the phrase “author’s platform.” As in: “We love your book but what’s your author’s platform?” Go ahead—Google it like I did. The first hit you’ll get says having a platform “is so important…that many experts recommend that you start to build your platform long before you’re ready to submit your book for publication.” Umm, nice to know. Another article I found says “Some new authors focus solely on writing their books, thinking they can work on their platform after the book is published. Unfortunately, the business doesn’t work that way.” Right. Some new authors. Like me, for example.

The more I’ve learned about author’s platforms, the more I’ve worried about losing myself while I’m in the process of branding myself. That first article I referenced goes as far as to say “What you need is an angle, a gimmick if you will, that helps you reach out to your target readers.” It’s ironic, because what I do for a living is help clients develop brands and reach audiences. Finding that angle and boiling things down to the essence is key to making the whole effort effective. But the thought of doing that for myself leaves me cold.

Part of the problem is I just don’t have the time to blog the way I want to, and I can’t imagine who has the time to read yet another blog. But the bigger issue is that the idea of creating a brand for myself goes against the very point of my book, whose subtitle is “Living a Life In Between.” That “in between” refers directly to my efforts to avoid hard and fast categories like Christian and secular or professional and personal. I don’t want to chose between stories of the heart and ideas of the mind, or between private matters and public ones. I don’t want to figure out who my primary audience is going to be—not even by age and gender, let alone by a life experience like divorce.

I spent the first 30+ years of my life trying to fit into the right category, with the right angle or gimmick. Trust me, it didn’t work. For the past few years I’ve worked hard to “un-define” myself, while at the same time gathering up all the random aspects of who I am into one cohesive person—one I can embrace and stay true to. One that can tell stories others will be drawn to—stories that can become a blog about this life in between. In the process, I hope the un-defined me will have luck gathering a random assortment of others striving to find that happy balance of living in the grey. It will be an anti-platform-platform, so to speak. A rag-tag group of people that I imagine will roughly mirror the richly diverse, somewhat random community of people I’ve gathered in my life. When I think about it this way, I’m excited to get started.

Welcome to Halfway to Normal, take two.

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  • Mike B

    It’s interesting that you wrote this because it was something I have been unconsciously doing but probably need to consciously do. As a sort of test of whether I should pursue a PhD, I want to write a book on IT management to see if I can stay focused on such a long term project like that and drive it through to completion when I only have myself to stay accountable. I have been working a lot on campus to build by name recognition and have been writing columns for a couple publications, but I think I need to find a shtick yet. The last paragraph really strikes home in that I need to spend more time defining my core values in the IT management context. While I know what they are, I haven’t really thought about how they exactly translate into what I want to write.