Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Big Red Light in a Writer's Head

By Divina Infusino

What stops a writer from writing?

A day job. Family. Spouse. Relationships or lack there of. Too much time on the internet, with the television, game console, iPhone, fitness routine, texting, or (fill in the blank).

The house needs cleaning, the dog walking, the plants watering, the garden hoeing. Quick, look around. There must be something afoot that needs tending other than the blank page/screen insisting on great words to fill its void.

Actually, activities, people and demands do not deter a writer for any length of time, at least not when the writer is burning with something to say.

The one culprit that often stops a writer from writing is doubt.

Doubt in yourself, your talent, your creative abilities, your cognitive grasp of a subject or craft. Doubt in your judgment. Doubt that you can actually write something that anyone might want to read for more than ten nanoseconds.

The problem with doubt and its root state of mind, fear, is that it is often unconscious. Half the time we don’t even realize that we have fear and doubt around our writing. Instead, we just run away, distracting ourselves with anything that we can rationalize as more pressing.

But if we stop and reflect for a few moments, we can spot those self-sabotaging thoughts that circulate just beneath the rising panic:

Can I really write?
Am I good enough?
What if what I write sucks?
What if it is boring?
What if I don’t have enough information, knowledge or creative juice?
What if I have nothing of value to say?
What if people hate what I write? Or worse yet, just ignore it?
What if it is not perfect?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we need to live in non-stop bliss, full self-realization or the mythical village of the always-happy people in order to write.  In fact, sometimes the need to express anger, frustration, pain, suffering or outrage bulldozes through any emotional resistance.  But if your inner Bad Editor (the kind that nit picks for the satisfaction of torturing you) looms too large over a writing project, you may never get started…or finish. 

What to do?

Obviously, the solutions vary depending on your circumstances and who you are. But here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way from my own experience and from other writers:

*First, realize that you are, in fact, experiencing self-doubt. If you don’t recognize that self-doubt about writing is the motivator behind your sudden impulse to clip the cat’s claws, you cannot do anything about it.  You have self-doubt as writer. It’s ok. In fact, it’s normal. So admit it, then you can remedy the situation.

*Most fear around writing stems from a past experience.  A time when someone criticized what you wrote. Or worse yet, you were unhappy with what you wrote.  You had a factual error. Or someone you interviewed complained or you handed a chapter, article or book in late and everyone was mad at you. So be it. But you probably also had good experiences around writing, probably many more than the bad ones. Remember those. Remember the process you undertook to create them.  Remind yourself that you can do this. You have actually done it many times.  And you can do it again –right now.

*If you are experiencing trouble getting started, write down random ideas about your subject.  Don’t force them into an outline right away. That can stop you in your tracks.  Just jot down your ideas under general topics.  Then, give it more structure later.

*Ask yourself: Is there something I need to know that I don’t? Do I need more research? Another interview? Perhaps I should think through a concept more fully? Greater understanding of your subject always improves confidence.

*If you are on a long project, it can help to have a writing cohort, someone you can call and talk to about the problem you are facing. Even if you just talk for 10 -15 minutes, that is often enough time to sort through the issues and get a fresh perspective, or, if nothing else, a pep talk. (Yes, those can help.)

*Bring down your stress levels with exercise, meditation, yoga, or stretching. Or just get some fresh air or sunshine.  You actually need some stress for writing (That’s where deadlines come in handy). But too much stress can throw you into a brain freeze.  Find a technique for relaxation that that works for you.

Self-doubt about your capacities as a writer goes beyond writer’s block, although that is an offshoot.  Self-doubt is actually part of the creative process.  Embrace that fact and it will release you from its vice grip.

Of course, before I wrote this, I washed every dish in the sink, did a round of laundry and vacuumed under the bed.  Just sayin’…

Any thoughts about self-doubt and the writing process? Please share.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Social Media Marketing Changes Like the Weather

By Georgeanne Irvine

Social media marketing: it changes like the weather or perhaps more frequently. I recently attended a fascinating and informative Social Media Symposium hosted by Nuffer, Smith, Tucker, a San Diego public relations firm. I thought I would share a few of the nuggets I gleaned from the speakers and panelists—some of the material was new and other tidbits reconfirmed information that I already knew but probably needed to hear again.

From keynote speaker Jason Falls, author of “No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing”

· If anyone tells you they’re a social media marketing expert, run—or order a pizza from them.

· There are no social media rules. Example: For those who say “you can’t sell anything using social media,” Jason called “Bullshit” and explained how during a winter snowstorm, a mechanic notified friends and clients through Facebook about his storm special—installing car starters. The guy got a lot of business because of the need and the timing.

· Strategic planning is crucial to any marketing plan. You also need to include mechanisms to measure the results.

· There are 7 basic business drivers. You must decide which are important to your goal before developing a strategic social media plan: 1. Enhance branding and awareness. 2. Protect your reputation. 3. Enhance public relations. 4. Build community. 5. Enhance customer service. 6. Facilitate research and development. 7. Drive sales.

· ROI measures only in dollars. A better question to ask in social media marketing: What do I get in return? (Only 2 of the 7 business drivers reflect ROI.)

· Being social is a part of business. We buy from people we know, like, and trust.

· Social media doesn’t raise money; people raise money but they can raise money using social media in certain circumstances.

· Give people a reason to follow you on Facebook and Twitter. Include “really useful content.”

From the panelists

· Social media is a marathon, not a sprint. The posts should stay on the message but each one doesn’t have to reach the goal right away.

· Hook people. Give them a reason to come back.

· Social media plays a role in the larger ecosystem of marketing and communications. It’s not a replacement.

· You need to respond to the positive social media comments in addition to the negative ones. The responses must be authentic, especially for your best customers. You must divorce yourself from emotion when responding to negative comments.

· The difference between good and great is consistency and execution.

· Content matters: everyone in an organization needs to be excited about the product so they can generate great content.

· In Website design, Flash is out and HTML5 is in. (I’m not a Web designer so I’m only repeating what was discussed at the symposium.)

· Make social media a part of an overall crisis communications plan.

· Social media is a main communications tool for media/the press.

From lunch speaker Gary Kim, editor of Mobile Marketing & Technology, Content Marketing News and Carrier Evolution

· We don’t know where mobile marketing will be in the next 15 years. Don’t panic, though, or waste resources on mobile marketing yet—we have plenty of time to figure it out.

· The future in mobile marketing will change dramatically, so watch where it’s going and keep it on your radar for now.

My biggest takeaway:

· A reminder that every project, campaign, or marketing endeavor doesn’t need every single social media tool applied to it. Remember to strategize, review the seven business drivers, know your audience, and plan accordingly.

San Diego native Georgeanne Irvine has devoted more than three decades of her career to raising awareness about animals and wildlife conservation. By day, she is associate director of development communications for the San Diego Zoo, where she has worked for 34 years. George is also the author of more than 20 children’s books, plus numerous magazine, newspaper, and Web articles. George’s most recent work is the coffee table book, The Katrina Dolphins: One-Way Ticket to Paradise, which is a true story about 8 dolphins from an oceanarium that were washed out to sea during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and dramatically rescued a few weeks later.

Friday, March 2, 2012

When Research is FUN (and when it isn’t)

By Kathi Diamant

Kathi Diamant at the United States Botanical Garden,
in Washington DC (part of the fun of research)
As I write this, I’m halfway through a research grant. I am writing an article, and eventually a book, about my search for a lost literary treasure: the missing last writings of Franz Kafka, stolen by the Gestapo in Berlin 1933. I’m in Washington, DC for two more weeks, in residence at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and feeling Time rush by with no regard for all I still have to accomplish.

I am sitting at Carrel #2, which consists of a little desk with a computer in the 6th floor Reading Room, surrounded by other researchers, who sit to the left and right of me, also typing busily away. I just peeked at the surrounding computers, and no one is playing Free Cell or looking at their Facebook page. Everyone is serious around here.

In fact, just to show how serious I am, I did research for this blog post, and just reread Georgeanne Irvine’s offering from last July, entitled “Methods to Get My Writing Juices Flowing.”  Like George, my absolute favorite aspect of writing is the research phase. Omitting the “observing animals” part, I too enjoy “interviewing people, gathering and analyzing facts, searching for information, visiting sites, studying archives” as the most invigorating part of the writing process. Except when it isn’t.

But before I get into all that, let me first give a plug for grants.

Getting a grant to conduct the research you need to knowledgeably set the scene, whether historical, geographical, or cultural, is an excellent idea on several levels. Not to say writing a grant is easy, but it is doable. If you are in San Diego, spend an afternoon at San Diego Foundation at Liberty Station, and you’ll find hundreds of books filled with available grants in every subject imaginable. (If you are not in San Diego, you can look in similar facilities in your own city, and increasingly, online.) Make a list of those that could possibly apply to you, checking your necessary qualifications (like being a US citizen, or a certain level of education), application dates and other criteria, and then write a quick letter of inquiry. Not all will answer you in the affirmative, but chances are good, some will. Then apply, following the grant instructions to the letter. The most important tip I can offer is to read and re-read the instructions, again and again, before, during and after writing the grant.

Having received three grants prior to this one, I can attest to the value a grant affords (beyond the cash, which for me, has ranged from $2,000 to $5,000). When you are trying to sell your book, whether in proposal form or already completed, having received a grant establishes you as someone whose idea is worthy of support. It adds prestige, and acreage to your “platform” which as we are now all aware, is an author’s new best friend. And it can make your writing more descriptive, informative and accurate.

My current grant required a month’s residence in Washington DC at the Woodrow Wilson Center, which grants me access to all sorts of libraries, archives and experts. I have conducted a dozen interviews, and spent hours at the Library of Congress, National Archives and the research facilities at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. I am taking copious notes, and searching out new sources of information, based on what I’ve just discovered. On my own time, I am conducting a different sort of research—specifically on the best restaurants in the historic Capitol Hill neighborhood where I am renting a room, and on which Smithsonian institution I like best. That is the fun part.

The not-so-fun part is the slog. The endless typing-up of pages of my unreadable scribbled notes, and the necessary follow-up of questions not fully answered. Analyzing what I’ve gathered and finding no conclusions, only more questions. Phone calls and emails that don’t get returned or answered. Being overwhelmed at the ceiling-high reams of information on one hand, and on the other, the dearth of details on what I really need to know. I could go on. But thank goodness, blog posts should not.

I’m in the midst of it now, but I know that the memory of the slog evaporates, while a grant’s gains can be immeasurably important, offering an opportunity to fully explore the story you want to tell. Despite my last paragraph, I heartily recommend you research one for yourself. And let me know if I can offer advice. The only thing more fun than gaining knowledge is sharing it!

Kathi Diamant is the author of "Kafka's Last Love: The Mystery of Dora Diamant" and the director of the Kafka Project at San Diego State University, where she is an adjunct professor. When she returns from her stint at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, she will be preparing for her class "Kafka in Context" LTEU 130, at UCSD in the Spring, and her Magical Mystery Literary History Tour this summer.