Articles, Writing

The Right Kind of Support

As I write this, I am in the final stages of preparing my second monthly newsletter – in it will contain something juicy for my subscribers for my upcoming project. This weekend, I prepared an Instagram story as a call-to-arms for anyone in my meagre following to join up before I drop the newsletter on Monday.

This all seems straightforward, does it not? By my own confession, I am not a social media marketing expert; indeed, the whole process seems very much smoke-and-mirrors, but I do try to do it a bit better each time. I don’t think I could’ve made my newsletter easier to sign up for, and I’m thankful to all those who have subscribed so far.

However, I’ve had feedback to my social media efforts that, on the face of it, seem fair and critical – and indeed useful – but I’m struggling a little to deal with quite how they’re being framed.

I’m quite lucky to find myself involved in a few communities and with a group of fellow authors who are very supportive. I never take that support for granted, and indeed, signing up to my newsletter is a personal choice by any reader or supporter, as there’s nary anything quite as personal in today’s digital age than an email address. Being able to beam my message right to people’s email addresses is a powerful privilege and not one I take lightly.

But let’s get back to the matter of feedback. Should we value feedback from those who claim to support but don’t put any action behind those empty words.

Let me expand on the personal experience I have had: I’ve received feedback on a promotional Instagram “story” from a follower on my Instagram who has made no effort to actually engage with the stall I’m setting out. They won’t sign up to my newsletter as they “don’t want clutter in their inbox”. Fair enough. I think it’s true that it’s more important that my newsletter readership is engaged, rather than just being merrily sent to the inboxes of people who will never read it. It’s a nonsense to spend time crafting a newsletter – as I have done – that sits unread in an inbox full of junk mail. I won’t ever get a return in engagement on that. The comment from this particular follower that there’s no point them signing up to a newsletter they have no intention of reading is valid, on its own, on face value. Initially, I was minded to take this feedback in isolation, but as we will discuss, my thoughts on even that have changed.

But then I pondered a bit on the particular history of this follower, who I do know on a personal level. They didn’t choose to buy – or even read – my short story The Landlady as it was “too scary”. Despite not even looking at it. My upcoming newsletter will mention an upcoming live-stream I’m hoping to hold in connection with Nightmare Tenant (I’ll absolutely blog about it soon) – even this did not tempt them to subscribe, even to see what the announcement was. It was a completely cold reaction; fair enough if my writing exploits are not to their interests, but the framing of this came across as very mean-spirited. No sign of a “good luck though”, just a blunt rejection. The impression I got from them was that they’d make a point of being busy so as not to engage with any of my promotional endeavours.

I’m really excited about Nightmare Tenant but I can’t help but feel a good amount of disappointment and dismay from these responses. Sure, there’s some good standalone points that I can use to improve. But this particular ‘supporter’ has pretty much confirmed that nothing I do will ever be ‘good enough’ for them to actually engage. That’s a pretty disheartening, especially as this is a personal contact who purports to be on friendly terms with me.

I get absolutely that my writing thing is not to everyone’s interests, and I do not take support in any of these endeavours for granted in any way. But two things emerge from this situation:

  • Is this feedback valuable? Even on face value, some good points were made. However, they came from a source that has expressly said they will never engage. Do I feel incentivised to take this on board? Not really, honestly. This is something from an author’s standpoint. I feel there are some good points in the comments that have been made, but the way they’ve been framed to me puts me on the complete defensive.
  • As a supporter, remember that those who you offer criticism or advice to are human. I feel quite disappointed that, while offering some good ideas for improvement on face value, this supporter has become unaware that how they’ve framed their criticism – without any positive balance, no “That’s nice, maybe next time try…” – no, it’s just finding faults. And they’re not prepared to make any investment; indeed, it just comes across as less helpful, more snide and nitpicky.

Once again, there is no obligation for anyone to support my writing endeavours by subscribing to the newsletter, buying any of my work, or even reading my blog or social media pages. I am so, so grateful to all the full-throated support I have received, and it keeps me going. I enjoy the community I’m in so much, and I am grateful for their support.

But this kind of completely negative support doesn’t help me. Sure, the points being made to me, in isolation, are good for continual improvement but it’s more the framing of them that just leaves me feeling quite demotivated and upset. I’d have found it less upsetting or distressing if this had been a random online internet troll but the fact it’s from someone I know on (apparently?) friendly terms cut a bit deeper. That’s less easy to dismiss out of hand.

I feel there’s a social contract here – I’m more than happy to support my fellow authors as my support – signing up to an email newsletter – ultimately costs me nothing. I give people the support I hope they would give me – not because it’s a quid-pro-quo, or that they then owe me their support as I’ve lent them mine, but because they genuinely want to help me like I’ve helped them.

The social contract between creator and supporter should be two-way: a supporter can offer genuine and earnest feedback in goodwill but should be prepared to invest a little in that creator in terms of tangible support. Conversely, as a creator, I am much more inclined to take heed of feedback, suggestions or comments if the person has made that tangible commitment.

My strategy from now is not to take this particular instance to heart as ultimately it doesn’t matter. I’m not angry about this; rather, I think it is their loss if they cannot find a reason to offer genuine support. I’m grateful, more, for the real and full-bodied support I enjoy and will focus on that rather than this negativity. I would prefer to surround myself with this kind of support – enthusiastic, but not sycophantic as criticism needs to be constructive and helpful for continual improvement – than focus more on this than needed.

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Articles, Writing

One Track Mind: The importance – and pitfalls of – project monogamy

So far this year I’ve done a great job in implementing some of the ideas I had to re-organise my workflow and keep busy.

An important part of these plans is allowing for the flexibility to change priorities for certain projects. For instance, with my upcoming horror novella Nightmare Tenant, I’d pretty much completed the new draft in January as planned, but I had some things left to do so I’ve given myself some time in February to get that done and then, while that project is beta-read, I can work on something else.

One important thing I have not done is to work on two separate projects concurrently, which is the focus of today’s discussion.

I am openly fearful of working on more than one project at a time – whether that be for a month, week or sometimes even a particular day. I think it’s an issue I will need to keep a close eye on in future if I want to max out the time I have.

First thing to identify is why I am a stickler for strict project monogamy:

  • Splitting my time means neither project progresses fast: I feel a bitty, bit-here-bit-there approach results in precisely why I had to overhaul my writing planning late last year – doing a dab here on one thing, a dab there on something else actually results in very little getting done on either project. This results, ultimately, in wasted time I come to regret later.
  • Each project takes my whole focus: for instance, last month with the Nightmare Tenant edit, that project took all my creative energy as it was an intensive process that required me to make a lot of changes. I needed to be as invested in that project’s world as possible, especially during a crucial first edit. I’ve found that I have a certain amount of creative focus in any given period of time and projects tend to take up most of that when I’m working on them.
  • Momentum must not be squandered: when I was preparing the third draft of my post-apocalyptic adventure novel The Thaw, I got about halfway into the edit, making decent, steadfast progress and then stopped. It took me six months to restart that and I found, after leaving myself high and dry halfway in, I’d lost a lot of the circulating thoughts and immersion in the world. This made rebuilding that momentum a great deal harder. Therefore, I feel the lesson from that is that a project should only be shelved – and a new focus found – when your current work is in a position of done-ness that allows for that. I would never leave an edit half-way through again, which is why I had to be realistic last month and give Nightmare Tenant a few more days to prepare. Months are arbitrary units of time, and if a project needs the time, it should get it.
  • I feel I owe it to my projects: If I know I’m not giving a project the attention it rightly deserves to I execute it to the best of my ability, I become genuinely quite upset. This is because I’m very conscious of what I’m doing, and that it’s hurting the project I want to enjoy working on. Ultimately, it makes the project a lot less fun – as writing, to me, always should be, as this is a passion and a hobby at its most base level – and when writing isn’t fun, I don’t enjoy it. And not enjoying the writing process results in crappy products that ultimately require more work than if I’d not been two-timing them with something else.

I realise a lot of the reasoning here is a bit fuzzy. That’s okay, writing should always have that mysteriousness to it. But I also realise my monogamous nature when it comes to projects is ultimately not fully efficient. I feel being able to switch tracks – maybe not day-to-day but perhaps in a less granular format than my monthly plans (maybe have two projects on the go – and editing one and a writing one, which already feels doable) – weekly or fortnightly – and allow for some creative flex.

I feel too it would be remiss not to mention a significant downside to my monogamous nature to my projects – especially large ones – is that sticking with one project for an extended period of time results in two undesired circumstances:

  • The project becomes stale: sitting in the incomplete world of one project for a long period of time – especially when progress seems sluggish or slow – seems to dampen my excitement for the project; it becomes, for want of a better term, a bit of a slog with no sign of completion.
  • Apprehension to starting something new: if I’m 8 months into an edit or draft that feels never-ending, or that the work to get it to standard seems like an intimidating cliff-face, why would I want to start that process, which has resulted in apprehension, stress and fatigue again from scratch? There’s a definite shade of blank page syndrome there too which is most unhelpful as it leaves ideas languishing in that “I’m too scared to work on you” frame of mind, when the break and sense of wonderment and discovery might just be the ticket.

I like to end these posts with a positive reflection, and initially I wasn’t too sure in this case, but I think this situation requires careful and continual monitoring to get the balance right and get out of perhaps unhealthy writing habits, which I have discussed before.

I would be very interested to see if anyone else relates to the issues above!

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