I’m afraid of a lot of things – driving at night on the narrow elevated carpool lane on the 405, eating things with tentacles, hiking near snakes with rattles, watching my kid swim in shark infested waters (true story), but when it comes to my work, I like to think of myself as the sort of person who is relatively fearless. I have written a memoir with sex scenes, spoken in front of a 1000 people, appeared on live national TV, interviewed famous people, opened myself up to rejection time after time, switched agents, switched genres, taken up a whole new profession (book coach), become an entrepreneur and even posed nude for a famous photographer for a national magazine (I can explain*) There is one thing about my work, however, that I find particularly terrifying, and that is technology.
I am good with the basics -- I built and manage my own website, I can shoot an imovie video sitting in my home office, I can record phone conferences and I even managed to set up an autoresponder so that I can send you guys this email newsletter each week at the touch of one button (woo hoo!) -- but there is a whole wide world of technology out there to solve a vast array of problems for people like you and me (Time management! Project management! Productivity! Calendaring!) that scares the bejeepers out of me and that, as a result, I willfully ignore or just ask my intern to figure out.
I know I am not alone here – and, in fact, I know that I am out ahead of a lot of you. I meet with writers all the time who don’t have websites, who aren’t on Twitter, who aren’t backing their work up to the cloud. They are not, in other words, setting up the most basic foundation for writer success and are undermining their chances before they even start. The reason they always give is that they don’t understand that stuff, or they don’t get that stuff, or that stuff scares them – and besides, it’s not writing so it doesn’t really matter.
I get it. I really do. There’s something about technology that feels somehow alien and unknowable. It’s easy to say to yourself, “I work with words and ideas and emotions, not with circuits and systems.” Somewhere in my mind, this mantra is playing itself on a continuous loop. I often use it, in fact, to defend myself from having to learn how to, say, work the ridiculously complicated TV remote, or learn about search engine optimization for blog headlines.
But it’s a bs excuse – for me, for you. We live in the times in which we live. We do not live in the time of Virginia Woolf who only need one stinking little room of her own in order to write. (Don’t attack me for that – I know that at the time, a room of one’s own for a woman was a very big deal…and that poor Virginia suffered all kinds of emotional problems with which modern pharmaceuticals would have really helped.) But still, it’s an evocative comparison because Virginia didn’t need a website and an email newsletter and a twitter feed and a dashboard to manage that and a phone that seamlessly syncs with the computer and apps and plug-ins and a working knowledge of hashtags and a headset and a microphone that can mix sound and an understanding of why the Apple ios operating system doesn’t read an epub e-book file. If we want to write something that gets read, we probably do need all that and more, because it is through technology that writers connect to readers, like it or not. There are our times and we must live in them.
I have been forced to make a big technology change whose details I won’t bore you with, but in my search for a solution, I came across life coach Jenny Blake’s Business Ninja Tech Toolkit – a free resource of incredible depth, value and generosity. Blake lists all the technology she uses and recommends, and breaks it down by category – i.e. idea capture, writing journaling, scheduling. At first, I took a quick look then shut the thing down. Stop! No! Go Away! Give me a room of my own and nothing more! But then I went back again and again and am forcing myself to learn and assess and understand – and eventually choose and adopt.
And as an aside that’s not really an aside, Blake’s giving away all this hard-won information and material is an extremely smart way to connect with the people she wants to connect with. When I need someone like her – which could well be tomorrow – I’m hiring her. Writers need to do this exact same thing – be out there, be generous, be engaged with the people you want to attract to your book, be -- as writer platform building guru Tim Grahl says -- relentlessly helpful in whatever your area of expertise, whether it’s the behavior of trolls, the management of high productivity employees or how to survive divorce. It’s what I’m attempting to do each week with this newsletter – offer my best thoughts, my best practices, the truth of my journey, the wisdom I have gleaned over the years – so that when the time comes for you or for your writer friends to need help getting your idea down, your rough draft finally finished, your book edited or your pitch into agent's hands, you will think of me.
And what makes all of this possible? Technology.
So why not join me? Pick one piece of technology that scares you and that you have been avoiding and just do it. Just learn it. Just get over yourself. I know it’s not New Years’ and it’s not resolution time, but I’ve always been a fan of beating deadlines.
- If you are starting from zero – if you don’t even have a website – I would suggest you start there. I am a huge fan of squarespace – an affordable, intuitive website hosting platform. I run my website on it, and I love it. They have a two-week free trial where you can play around with the system and see how it works. Someday I will make a list of the resources I use and recommend like Blake, and squarespace will be on it. Many technologies are optional, and you DO have to focus on the ones that amplify your strengths, but you have to have a digital homebase.
- If, on the other hand, you are a person who has every last new little technological gadget and widget but you’re not actually writing, then ignore all this advice. Don’t adopt some new shiny technology. Make a commitment to write, instead. That is, after all, the goal of whiz bang tools: helping us facilitate the thing we love.
* OK so when my breast cancer memoir came out in 2001 (The Victoria’s Secret Catalog Never Stops Coming and Other Lessons I Learned From Breast Cancer), I did a big cross promotional campaign with Ford Motor Company, who was at that time a national sponsor of Komen Race for the Cure events. I did a lot of media and a lot of speaking all over the country. One day I got a call from Self magazine. They wanted to do a feature story on the different choices women could make after mastectomy and they wanted to include pictures – a first for mainstream women’s magazines at the time. They were trying to get celeb photographer Annie Liebovitz to do the photos but ended up with celeb photographer Mary Ellen Mark. I flew to New York, took my clothes off, stood on an apple crate under the lights in the middle of a room where there were approximately 40 people, and posed as Ms. Mark worked behind the massive 20x24 inch Polaroid camera. It was not meant to be a glamour shot – Ms.Mark is known for her documentary-style work -- and she did not want me to smile. It was an important picture, but it’s kind of a sad one, in my mind. I would have liked to smile. I was happy to be alive.