Writing & Networking In The Digital World
by Writing Workshops Org Admin
A year ago
Writing is not a singular act. It is not simply drafting pages. It is a way to approach the world, and navigating the long-distance (read: digital networking) aspects of this career can be daunting.
One of the things I stress in my mentorship—and that I stressed at Vermont College of Fine Arts and when I did writer-in-residence meetings in Tempe, Arizona and Mesa, Arizona—is that the way we engage with the world is part of our identity as writers. Since I teach in a digital space for this program, I need to find ways to make the digital aspect relevant. Why should writers engage in a digital space? The two most obvious answers are that our industry and colleagues are dispersed, and we are expected to be present in the digital sphere as public figures.
As a mentor, I approach student conversations as a way for them to practice interacting with an agent or editor through the digital sphere. We have electronic submissions, emailed confirmations of receipt, and follow-up calls. Conversations will include practical and personal topics, but in most cases, we are not chit-chatting on text. Our connections across digital distances are practice for their future interactions with professionals. It also builds a connection of trust between us.
Writers must also learn how to set and balance their personal and professional boundaries online as a writer during their marketing efforts. Many of the marketing kerfuffles on Twitter or Facebook occur in those early career years before authors have a digital marketing plan. Presenting a professional persona aids in avoiding the worst digital pitfalls. Establish a presence and lets you find your digital voice and practice it before editors and agents check you out on social media. Learning to engage in social media as a professional writer is an important skill to master to be a modern writing professional.
Similarly, I strongly suggest my mentees—and you, if writing commercially is your goal—engage in social media as a researcher. This means following relevant industry figures, publications, and hashtags. Use the digital space to speak to other writers. Follow news or media channels that inspire you, even if they aren’t writing-related. I follow archaeology, weird facts, ACLU, folklore, and assorted other things whose headlines spark ideas for future writing projects. You will also see industry trends of which you should take note.
As part of the digital landscape for writers, we make real connections with colleagues who we can meet live at retreats and conferences or chat with offline. The most critical part of the non-writing aspect of a writer’s life is community building. This includes virtually, at events, and at group writing retreats. However, networking isn’t about exploiting one’s colleagues and associates for opportunities. I don’t believe you need a network to crack a door.
Rather, what we need in a network is a space of like-minded people to stick by and inspire us as we try to navigate the weirdness of life as a writer. We lack a giant office with co-workers, but the digital reality is that my network has been at my side virtually when I sell a book, am in revision madness, have a baby, hit a bestseller list, get orphaned at a publisher, or get bitten by a rattlesnake. In every case, I have a person or hundreds who are there to offer wisdom, tears, or cheers. My networks have located experts for me as I researched police procedure, medical processes for treating traumatic brain injuries, and even landed me an invitation to stretch out on a morgue table.
Build a network. Talk to writers, strangers, or experts—not to say, “here’s my book! Read me, please!”—but to have a safety net for both the good and bad times. Learning how to be a professional in a digital world may not be as easy as figuring out commas, but it’s still a part of what it means to be a writer. The ways we use the options we have to connect to mentors, colleagues, and even future fans are vastly different from a decade or two ago. Social media for writers can be an intimidating landscape, but if we shift how we approach it, the benefits are apparent.