According to all the current experts, a writer in this day and age is supposed to have an online “platform” and this site is part of mine but I was not aware of that when I started it. My logic behind it was better to post writing for free than never have anyone read it. And so before this site I had one called After It Burns Out, which followed in logical progression from my previous one, Before It Burns Out. And way back in 2001 I started my first site called Rich Canino is a God Among Men, which chronicled the quotes and hijinks of my neighbor in the dorms, a fascinating character who would go on to be one of my closest friends.
But back to platforms in 2015. All the writing books emphasize this notion as a necessity of the age, which in some way turns my stomach. I fully enjoy engaging with others online and posting things on here, Facebook and Twitter, but I’ve always been put off whenever things are glazed in the juices of “marketability” and cold dead numbers and cash. It’s one lens, one perspective, but it’s true and undeniable and with everything I post I feel a slight pull in the back of my mind, my 15-year-old Emerson and Thoreau reading self who shudders at the thought of such impure action.
This “necessity” not only changes writing but my thinking. I have what I deem a semi-interesting thought and one of the first questions to pop into my head now is, “Oooh, is this 140 characters or less? If not can I shorten it?” It’s wild to watch this practice as it happens in the mind. I have trained myself to pick up this habit because it’s what one is supposed to do nowadays. Forget the days of Maxwell Perkins, they tell us, and serve yourself up naked on a platter covered by sushi and let them eat it off you while the more important work gets set aside.
Is this all just the rantings of that 15 year old kid? Most likely. It’s early and I haven’t slept much lately but it’s been on my mind and when I go back and read this post in a month I’ll probably still see the kernel of truth even if I shake my head at the rest. I understand that yes, publishing is a business, and from the cold, rational, non-creative adult component of my mind, what they say is absolutely true. If you want to write and you’re not already established or a celebrity, you need to sell yourself in such a manner, but in the end this blog, Facebook, Twitter, they all take away from actually writing. Not just the time spent directly on them, but the time spent thinking about them and worrying about them and researching what you need to do to convince (manipulate) people into first paying attention to you and secondly giving a damn enough to click a like or follow button.
I’m not good at multitasking and when I write I clean my desk of everything else to focus on one thing – the story. But it feels more and more difficult to get to that point, to be able to turn everything else off to do the most important thing, the only thing – write. It’s a terrible cycle where to get someone to take interest in your work you need a platform, but all the work on that platform takes time and effort away from the business of writing, which then suffers, which means people are less likely to take interest in your work and in the end I feel like I’m constantly doing little else than saluting Joseph Heller’s Major Major Major Major.
By personal obsession is 1920s literature (and hence the remark about Maxwell Perkins strikes a salient chord). Hemingway and Fitzgerald needed no platform. Now, I will never, ever resemble in any way Hemingway or Fitzgerald, but the point remains. I am an anachronism, always have been. Except as a child. I loved being a child of the 80s. How could anything be better? Yet when I got to the 90s I discovered the 50s, and then the 40s, 30s, and finally settled in the 20s after discovering Fitzgerald (Thanks Mrs. Smith). The decade when youth, for the first time ever, came into their own, threw off the Victorian conventions and taboos and created their own culture and own world.
But I live in 2015 and I can’t think like that 15 year old anymore – not if I want even the possibility of someone paying attention to anything I do. That said, follow me on this blog and it’s accompanying Facebook page, and my personal Twitter and I’ll do the same for you, and we’ll laugh at our cleverness and hope somehow all our yelling makes it out over everyone else’s.
Also, with the rise of social media there’s much more competition among new writers (and artists). I feel like we’re overcrowded with all kinds of hopefuls, and each one of us will need to sell ourselves more aggressively than the past generations.
I haven’t got to that point yet, still working on finishing my novel, but I can already tell it’s going to be a long road ahead. My blog is sort of a by-product marketing strategy for my book, even if it isn’t the main goal I can see potential for the future. You get your name out and whatever you do with the fame is up to you…
True, true. And I enjoy the interaction with other writers and the writing community at large, and being part of the wonderful tradition of the written word. I just wish the business side of things didn’t feel so much like, well, business. In the end, the only thing that matters is we keep writing, no matter what, keep writing. As long as that remains a joy in and of itself, I can look past what may need to be done to get eyes to read it. As Sinclair Lewis said, “It is impossible to discourage the real writers – they don’t give a damn what you say, they’re going to write.”