Monday, September 7, 2009

Unplugging: Balancing Promotion And Writing

I’d like to welcome Romance Author, Alison Kent, Over Coffee. As you’ve noticed, she has a hot new book available this month, One Good Man.

Today, online promotion is a way of life for authors. Publishers expect more and more from authors in selling and promoting their books. For authors that means Social Networking and blogs. How much is too much? How do you find a workable balance between necessary promotion and time to write your stories? Each author has to decide what works best with their deadlines.

I’ve heard many of my writer friends discussing the need of limiting their online time. Alison talks about what works for her.


This time last year, my husband and I were getting ready for a long overdue getaway. I hesitate to call it a vacation because I was the one in need of a break and he was being the good sport that he is and indulging me. I’d been on constant deadline for years (approximately nine) and had but one book left under contract. I couldn’t even think about diving in. I was spent. The getaway had to happen.


Backing up to August of last year, I’d been in my dentist’s waiting room where I saw an article in Texas Monthly about the 25 best swimming holes in Texas. There was one, a spring-fed pool where swimmers - and scuba divers - shared the water with turtles and fish. It was in far West Texas. In the desert. In a state park. In a town of 500. I was SO there. I booked us a room for 4 days. It was an 8-hour drive.


I ate it up. Every minute. I unplugged. I read. I walked. One day I swam, but it was freakin’ COLD, so I left most of the swimming to the husband. We brought our laptop, and the park offered free WiFi, but it would only connect from the picnic table behind the park’s office. The husband would stop there to check the Web on his Blackberry (he is NOT a fan of unplugging), but I didn’t check mail or blogs or anything for almost a week. I did have emails from my agent and editor forwarded to my phone, but since nothing was going on, no negotiations or revisions, it was a precaution in case something came up.


Nothing did, and I loved that week so much I wanted to marry it. I would’ve stayed another. I would go back today. The kitchenette and bathroom in the park’s motel was a modular unit circa 1960. It was clean, but funky, like living in an travel trailer. I didn’t care. I used the time to visualize the book I would have to come home to write. I set it in the same area. I used the places we visited, turning the town of Fort Davis, Texas into my story’s Weldon. I breathed the air my characters would breathe. It was bliss.



I don’t know about other writers, but I’ve found that being constantly connected to the world outside my head plays havoc with the world inside where I get paid to play. When I worked outside the home, my need for adult communication was met during the 8 to 5, and my time at home was family and writing. It worked well. Sure, I emailed and blogged at home, but I got a whole lot of that done on my lunch hour (or while working because it was that kind of casual office), so again. My time at home was family and writing. My real world and my fictional world. I kept the social networking to office hours.

Now that I’m writing full-time and can check email and blogs on my phone and computer (unplugging is more a matter of discipline than technology when everything in the house is wireless), it’s harder to compartmentalize my lives. Stalled on a paragraph? Check email. Frustrated with getting a conversation to ring true? Read blogs. The never-ending stream of information is not a good thing. For me, anyway, and I can’t imagine there’s not some detrimental effect on anyone who creates and needs focus.

That week away with the husband really brought home my need for creating in an environment where I talk to – and listen to – no one but my characters. I’ve pulled back a lot from social networking because of the silence of that week. It was an invaluable lesson in how *my* brain works. Since I have a business online, I have to check my client email once a day, but I try to spend at least two days a week offline completely. I don’t always succeed because I have friends who are my writing cubicle mates. They keep me sane, and I need sane to function. I can Twitter from my phone, sharing what’s on my mind without having to interact. I’ve stopped thinking I MUST blog every day, and am now doing so only when the mood strikes. There’s still a part of me that thinks I need to be out there more, but my books are feeling so much better, richer, deeper now that I’m giving my story people my full and undivided attention.


What do you think? Do you ever find your focus splintered and feel the need to spend some quiet time, if not in the desert of West Texas, then at least away from the nonstop bombardment of information?

*~*~*~*~*~*~

A published author of forty works including single title and category romance novels, novellas, a Smart Pop essay on the television show Charmed, and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Erotic Romance, Alison Kent blogs for free as many words as she's paid to write. She is also a partner in the author community Access Romance, the Website design firm DreamForge Media, and is the muscle behind Romancing The Blog.

27 comments:

~Sia McKye~ said...

Welcome to Over Coffee Alison! I'm so glad you could visit with us. Plenty of coffee and such on the coffee bar, some good homemade goodies to tempt your palate.

What a timely discussion. I know I have to be online frequently, but I will admit that I've cut down drastically. I also have it worked out that there are at least two days in my schedule that are internet free. I agree, you have to have time to hear yourself think and hear what your characters are saying. Balance isn't easy, but for me, if my life is not balanced it gets ugly.

Be interesting to hear how others have dealt with this issue as well.

Sun Singer said...

The online world is so concerned with "right now," that unplugging for a day quickly gets one out of sync with everyone else. All the momentum built up by "being out there" disappears as people's attention focuses on the latest sales, news, tweets, and posts from those who stayed out there and didn't unplug.

Did this happen to you? If so, did it matter? That is, were the pros of being unplugged and more focused on the work more valuable than the cons of being out of touch?

Malcolm

Anonymous said...

That blog came at a very needed moment. I haven't written anything at all since the contract was signed on my book and I miss it.

Alison hit a nail or a nerve and I will keep her words in mind.

Teresa K Thorne

K. A. Laity said...

I do understand the need to unplug, although as an unwilling exile in Texas for four years (or rather three years, eleven months, eight days, four hours and thirteen minutes) I would not choose West Texas a place to do it.

But as Malcolm writes, there's a cost to being "invisible" to the greater world. I went off to my brother's this weekend and had one person concerned that something had happened to me because I hadn't been on Facebook for more than twenty-four hours, LOL.

On the other hand, when I was in Britain for a month this summer, I whittled my internet time down to about fifteen minutes in the morning before I set out for the day. Breaks are nice, but like being at the nexus of my friends across the world. I doubt I could write my weekly column without trolling the net as much as I do.

My real transition is away from doing things I don't wish to do and toward things I do wish to do (and figuring out how they will make enough money).

Adina said...

I do find myself obssest with the "digital" world for lack of better name.
I spend hours at time absorbing information and a lot of times the quality of the information collected via the internet is questionable and it needs major clean up...
We became, or at least I became , dependent on the glare from our electronic devises ....Maybe it's time for a break....But I am sure I'll sneak in a peek at my e-mail when no one is looking :)

KC Kelly said...

Oh, do I get this! I tend to be on my computer, with the internet, email, and AIM on! I find that I write best when I force myself to have a time limit of about an hour to an hour and a half without checking anything. No email, no facebook, no AIM. I shut them all off. Then I take a break and check them. :-) But I am also flexible with that, as I can get stuck for a word I want or a name and then I pop on to the internet to research them. I find, however, that I can be disciplined enough to just do that and go back to writing, most of the time... ;-)

Sisters-in-Sync said...

Good morning!

Alison, what a timely post. I am leaving on Wednesday to go to Wyoming with my sister. We're both writers and both feeling the effects of networking, the day job, for her...deadlines and this is our chance to reconnect.

We've heard there's very sketchy cell and internet service and while this is frightening, I know it's what's needed at this time.

Thank you for sharing your story,
Elle J Rossi

Kat Sheridan said...

Nice to meet you, Alison! I'm just now getting into this kind of issue. Until May, I worked a 50-60 week in a day job, and squeezed in writing on nights or weekends. Now that I'm no longer in a day job, I hang out on the interwebs all day--missing adult conversation and social interaction, I guess. And man, has the writing suffered. I'm finally weaning myself away from that. I'm learning to write for at least an hour (yes, I set a timer), then allow myself a SHORT break for social stuff. Then I shut it all down and disappear again. And it helps that my writing community understands if I say in advance "Going offline to write for awhile." And we all need a getaway now and then, to recharge our creative batteries!

Great guest, Sia, and yes please, I'd love some coffee and a muffin.

Alison Kent said...

I'm in the process this morning of writing a sister blog to this one, one at my own place that I started ages ago. It was inspired by an RWR article last April written by Barbara Samuel where she says her writing production TRIPLED after she unplugged her working computer from the Internet and set herself rules for time spent online.

TRIPLED. I'm just blown away every time I read that and think about the time I've wasted online that could be poured into my books, my career!

Sia - My Internet free days are lovely. So peaceful and calm. Those days when I'm not consumed with the industry happenings are when I write my best work.

Alison Kent said...

Malcolm wrote: The online world is so concerned with "right now," that unplugging for a day quickly gets one out of sync with everyone else. All the momentum built up by "being out there" disappears as people's attention focuses on the latest sales, news, tweets, and posts from those who stayed out there and didn't unplug.

Did this happen to you? If so, did it matter? That is, were the pros of being unplugged and more focused on the work more valuable than the cons of being out of touch?

***

It didn't matter at all, no, because really. What did knowing all those things immediately as they happened mean to me? Answer? Nothing. They didn't impact my career one bit. They didn't add depth to my stories. They didn't give my plots the twists they needed, or add authenticity to my characters' dialogue.

Ask yourself what your career, your writing gains by you being on top of what's happening, what's being said, minute to minute. I'm going to guess the answer is the same as mine. Nothing. Sure, it's great fun to be part of the crowd who keeps up and knows everything. But if so much of our focus is on what everyone else is doing, writing, selling, thinking, tweeting, blogging about, when do we find the time our characters need to tell us their stories?

Alison Kent said...

Teresa wrote: That blog came at a very needed moment. I haven't written anything at all since the contract was signed on my book and I miss it.

***

If you've signed a contract, get crackin'! ;) The stories I could tell about authors getting in trouble with their publishing houses legal departments over missed contract dates are sobering!!

Alison Kent said...

K. A. Laity wrote: I do understand the need to unplug, although as an unwilling exile in Texas for four years (or rather three years, eleven months, eight days, four hours and thirteen minutes) I would not choose West Texas a place to do it.

But as Malcolm writes, there's a cost to being "invisible" to the greater world. I went off to my brother's this weekend and had one person concerned that something had happened to me because I hadn't been on Facebook for more than twenty-four hours, LOL.

***

I'm a desert person. I love the barren landscape, the absolute peace, the gorgeous colors nature paints across the land. To me, a getaway means doing nothing. I don't want a vacation that involves anyone's clock but my own. No tours, no groups. But since the husband does, I'm sure our next vacation will involve a whole lot more people than just the few who stayed at the park the same time we did, LOL.

I know we all have different needs, but the thought of having to be virtually "on" or "there" all the time gives me the heebie-jeebies! I took off the entire month of August from blogging, and I put up a post to let my readers know so they wouldn't worry. That's easy enough to do any time I unplug.

Alison Kent said...

Adina wrote: I spend hours at time absorbing information and a lot of times the quality of the information collected via the internet is questionable and it needs major clean up...

***

You've hit a big pet peeve of mine, the amount of misinformation that's bandied about, information that results in huge kerfluffles, flame wars, etc., when none of it was true to begin with. Think of what would happen if all that energy was poured into books!!!

I always consider the source, and realize that even sources that seem to know all are often guessing, or posting rumors. It's their right, of course, but there's a whole lot of boy who cried wolf happening that makes the information coming from many of these sites suspect.

Alison Kent said...

KC Kelly wrote: I find that I write best when I force myself to have a time limit of about an hour to an hour and a half without checking anything. No email, no facebook, no AIM. I shut them all off. Then I take a break and check them. :-) But I am also flexible with that, as I can get stuck for a word I want or a name and then I pop on to the internet to research them. I find, however, that I can be disciplined enough to just do that and go back to writing, most of the time... ;-)

***

I love Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com, and being able to research exactly what I need at the time. I hate leaving spots and coming back later, LOL. If I fill in the information as I go, then my story feels more authentic as I'm writing it. Just how my brain works.

A friend of mine who is quite prolific, a NYT author, will time her internet breaks, allowing herself twenty minutes two or three times a day to read blogs, articles, etc. She sets a timer, and she does not have an Internet connection of any sort on the computer she uses for writing.

During the cooler months, I do a lot of writing outside on my Alphasmart. Being unplugged and breathing fresh air is my favorite way to write. In those cases, I do have to leave a TKTK where information needs to be researched and added in.

Alison Kent said...

Elle wrote:

Alison, what a timely post. I am leaving on Wednesday to go to Wyoming with my sister. We're both writers and both feeling the effects of networking, the day job, for her...deadlines and this is our chance to reconnect.

***

Enjoy your break! Endless networking to me FEELS like a job at times. And I think that's probably the bottom line. When being connected is less about having fun when we want to and more about feeling compelled, required even, to stay on top of things, it's time to step back.

Alison Kent said...

Kat wrote: Now that I'm no longer in a day job, I hang out on the interwebs all day--missing adult conversation and social interaction, I guess. And man, has the writing suffered. I'm finally weaning myself away from that. I'm learning to write for at least an hour (yes, I set a timer), then allow myself a SHORT break for social stuff. Then I shut it all down and disappear again. And it helps that my writing community understands if I say in advance "Going offline to write for awhile."

***

Sounds like you've got a good handle on the balance between writing and social networking, and living real life! It's a HUGE difference being home, isn't it, after all that time in a work environment? I worked from 1989 to 2007 at the same place, and the people there were as much family as they were friends. It was really hard to let that go, to be home alone, and so I turned to the Internet and all my online friends to fill that void. Only I forgot the reason I was home was that I was supposed to be writing!

I've got a much better balance going now, though I still get obsessive about email at times, LOL!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Alison,

I don't find my Unplugged times as losing momentum. If you've laid your groundwork well, and granted that takes some time intially with social networks, then it doesn't take much time to maintain that momemtum.

I think the thing we have to balance is the reason we're online. Yes, some of it is for *association* and the need for adult conversation or even entertainment. But the brunt of it is to promote our writing. If that's the case, what good comes from letting our stories suffer--which is our product we're promoting--by having to be online every minute?

What I'm seeing here is the recognition that too much online time causes problems for production. There are certain days I must be on line, like today. I'm seeing some creative ways to reward ourselves with some time online with breaks.

In my opinion, we have to look at our writing as a job. The brunt of the time has to go to that job, but breaks and *lunch* breaks are a good way of staying on top of things without our *job* suffering.

Some great thoughts here.

Alison Kent said...

Sia wrote: I don't find my Unplugged times as losing momentum. If you've laid your groundwork well, and granted that takes some time initially with social networks, then it doesn't take much time to maintain that momentum.

***

I agree that groundwork well laid allows for easier maintenance. I began blogging in 2002 and had a very small readership because blogging was something that people hadn't yet glommed onto as a social networking tool. I would honestly hate to be starting out today, establishing an online presence. It was nicer being in on the early days, finding my rhythm, etc.

I have to admit I don't do anything with Facebook at all. It's just not my thing. But I'm a huge fan of Twitter, and it's easy to tweet things ABOUT my writing as I'm working. And honestly, when I tweet about what *I* am doing, even asking questions of other authors, and of readers, it combines the social aspect with the promotional aspect very easily. I keep my name out there, yet I'm still focused on what I'm doing.

So, yes. I totally agree. The *reason* we're online during our working time makes all the difference. Now, being online for down time or entertainment, is not the same situation. But it also brings up another issue.

If I'm using my down time to read blogs and keep up with industry news, and I get involved in conflict, or read things that stick with me in a bad way, those can still interfere with my writing when I go back to it the next day.

Because of that, I know *I* have to be very careful about where I spend my online time. I avoid controversial blogs. I don't follow people on Twitter who enjoy stirring the pot. Bottom line, I avoid the train wrecks so they don't wreck my writing.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Alison,

I've never liked train wrecks at any time, lol!

Charlene Teglia said...

We spent almost 2 full weeks traveling and camping in national and state parks, unplugged. I had to take page proofs with me, but other than that, it was truly time off. And when we came back to civilization and always-on internet, I realized I was writing better and more easily than I had in a long time. I'm now taking time offline regularly, too. I need it to hear those inner voices that are so easy to drown out.

Alison Kent said...

Charlene wrote: I'm now taking time offline regularly, too. I need it to hear those inner voices that are so easy to drown out.

***

It makes a huge difference, doesn't it!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Now I have to find a way to unplug some of my family, lol! Hey, I love you guys, meaning extra family members that now live near, but this is a writing time. They have a hard time grasping that concept. Lolol.

Belinda McBride said...

Very valuable post! I do tend to be online all the time, and it's the same. Write, check email, edit, check Twitter and so forth.

This weekend I vowed to take a non-writing weekend. I'm still online, but I've prohibited myself from actually writing. This was partly to rest my hands, but also to focus on other things in my life. I also take weekend trips now and then, and am starting to leave my laptop at home when I go.

Hmmm...now I want to go camping...

Jill Lynn said...

Yikes! Nine years of deadlines. You sure deserved a break.

When I'm at a place where I can't get internet access, I find I don't miss it at all. But when it's a step away? Yeah, it's like potato chips. LOL.

Alison Kent said...

Belinda - Take care of your wrists! And go camping. Enjoy the peace and quiet!

Jill - I've found I'm the same way. Pass the bag of chips!

Anonymous said...

Excellent article!

Dellani Oakes

Karen Walker said...

wow, this was a much-needed jolt for me. Thank you so much for this discussion. My book came out in February of this year and I've been so focused on creating an online presence I have no energy for anything else. I'm trying to find that balance now. Feels as if the creativity has just dried up. I'm going to try unplugging for a few days of each week and see how that works.
THANK YOU!
Karen