So I’ve been working at my new job in Westwood for about a week, and I’ve already started some awesome projects with social media. But the way I’ve been thinking about social media over the last couple of days is how it can affect a business’ bottom line. And don’t worry, I’m not here to talk about that. I want to begin to talk about how social media is one of the most important tools for a writer.

Earlier today, Joe Clifford — the writer of Choice Cuts — posted a transcript of his interview at Digital Book Today. Well, it’s a cool interview, and it’s a bad-ass piece, where I even get a shout out. We were in his kitchen talking about writing and how the worst thing about being a writer is that you lose the magic as you learn the craft. You start to learn all the tricks.

Choice Cuts

Well, this is true about social media, too. There are a ton of tricks writers can use — not only to build an audience and share work but work on your craft.

In that same conversation Joe and I had in his kitchen in San Francisco, he said something on the lines of this: “It’s impossible to be a writer today and not use social media.” And he’s absolutely right, and Joe might just use Facebook better than any other writer I know out there.

For example, how did I find out about his interview: he shared it on his wall, and people started commenting, and eventually when I came home, I read it. But then I shared it; and someone else shared it; and now, here I am talking about it on my blog and hopefully you clicked on his link and started reading it. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this is how you build an audience: a piece gets shared. Plus, he shares great content and witty observations, and it functions as an extension of his narrative voice…in my opinion.

But the trick is how do you build that audience and how do you make it work for you?

Create a Community

Writers

What I admire the most about the way Clifford uses social media is that he’s social. It’s not always about him, and he always finds a way to help another writer out. For instance, when he shared the link to his interview, he posted it on my wall and another, highlighting the fact that we were referenced in the interview. Well, that community building must happen in order to create effective social media and identify oneself to others as a writer.

But this isn’t something new to the digital age. God, that would be a ridiculous statement. From talking to Joe, I know that he values the Beats — maybe not Kerouac’s craft completely — because they supported each other, promoted each other, and championed the work. That was what made the Beats’ so great; they were there to take on the world together. And they were obviously not the only literary community that used the tools of their time to help each other out. There are countless.

So use this in your posts, your tweets, your tidily winks. Give shout out to friends. Like other people posts. Comment on other people’s stories. And support. Unless you’re an asshole and don’t need anybody’s help.

Don’t Be Scared to Fail

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I can’t tell you how many times I have posted something on Facebook, trying to illicit a response, and not a single person responded. Yes, that might look pathetic, because now I’m sitting there in silence, but in reality, people are probably busy or just not interested. Don’t let that hold you back! Go out there and post again. If you stay persistent and confident, then people will begin to write back, and there you are again, building your audience.

But this is a larger issue with being a writer; you’re going to fail so many freaking times and fall flat on your face. So what? You’re going to write a shitty story, a clunker, and what are you going to do? Stop writing? Please, move on. Take lumps. Work on the craft.

I’ll never forgot one day I was testing out some social-media marketing tips I found online. It said that the best time to share a post was on Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. So I posted at exactly that time, telling people this is the time everyone responds on social media — let me know if you’re out there.

Well, guess what? Yep, no one responded.

Until Joe Clifford saved me, and he made it into a joke by pretending I had thrown this big party and no one showed up but him. We were standing around the virtual chips, talking awkwardly and avoiding the obvious — no one showed up.

Fuck failing. You’re a writer. Get used to it.

Learn the Mediums

Two dogs

For some reason, I think that writers forget all of the lessons they’ve learned over the years and just start posting on social media as if they never thought about their audience or genre. Well, there are three things I used to tell my students to think about when they sat down to write a paper: audience, purpose, and genre. Think about those things and you will be golden.

So I started applying those lessons to Facebook and Twitter. They both have different make-ups, and the craft is different. The way I think about Twitter is that it’s kind of like flirting, where Facebook is kind of like a full-on relationship. Twitter, you have favorites, retweets, and follows. You’ve got to play coy and not seem desperate. Use these tools to attract complete strangers. Facebook is harder; you’re mostly speaking to people you know or met. Learn how to craft genre appropriate writing by looking at some of the best twitter writers out there. Two people I recommend are Bomani Jones and Roxane Gay.

Don’t Forget the Story

essay draft

Remember, most readers care about story; they care about struggle; they care about a narrative. Start thinking about your larger narrative — are you going to school to become a firefighter? are you trying to land a literary agent? are you trying to bike to work through traffic in the city? — and craft pieces off of that story. Let us fall into a larger thread, know your voice, and what you’re trying to accomplish. This way, we’ll stay with you beyond your wit.

Well, in the end, this is really only the beginning of my thoughts on social media. It can improve your career, your brand, or your audience, but there are tricks, just like there are in writing. And be forewarned, if you like just casually browsing through social media, then don’t try to learn the tricks behind the magic. It’s all a bunch of disguised bullshit — but so are stories in general.

11 thoughts

  1. Great post – I definitely need to take cues – I pretty much shun social media except the ol’ Facebook and neglected blog, and my audience is nil from a chapbook I was trying to promote.

    1. Yeah, that’s frustrating. I still experience those feelings. But for me, it’s like any writing, you have to slug through those hopeless moments where everything feels like crap and no one is paying attention. Well, then someone leaves a comment–or you realize someone is paying attention. I guess with social media, everyone wants validation, but for me, it’s important to just stay positive and know it will come. I’m under the belief that everyone has an audience; it’s just finding it that’s hard.

  2. Interesting post. I’m taking an undergrad course on the topic of exile, and most of my classmates are new to blogging. We recently skyped with Mr. Clifford too.
    Good tips, I will be able to use them whenever I write. Audience… purpose… genre. It is important to capture an audience just as much as it is a difficult task. People get bored so easily. Most of them are just blog hoppers. You wanna build fans, that must feel very rewarding. I also believe maintaining your voice is crucial. This looks easy, but it ain’t. Best wishes.

    1. Hi AA, thanks for reading the blog. Very Cool. And yeah, Clifford is great guy. I’ll be skyping into your class soon as well. He’s a tough act to follow.

      Glad you’re thinking about what you learn in class and its practical implications. Very important. It is hard to find an audience. You’re right. But I believe everyone has one out there; it just takes hard work to find it.

      Building fans is still hard. It could take years, decades. But what seems to be important is staying consistent and true to yourself. Then the audience you’re looking for will find you.

      Thanks so much for reaching out. Wishing you the best.

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