Are you sick about hearing about feminism in fiction?

Women, right? They’re always prattling on about something. Wanting something. A Black Widow movie. Equal rights. The ability to express an opinion online without getting death threats. So needy, amiright? Everyone knows once you’ve declared something has happened (gender equality), you’ve done all the heavy lifting and everyone should just carry on the way they’re going, with no further inconvenience. So what’s with the constant barrage of people tweeting/blogging/otherwise ranting about female characters in fiction? THIS IS SETTLED ALREADY. EVERYTHING’S FINE NOW.

Sarcasm aside, I’m a feminist but even I sometimes feel tired when I see yet another blog dissecting female characters in a book or film and bemoaning the state of the industry. Sure, you’ve got female characters, but are they strong enough? How’s their agency? Are they TOO strong – caricatures, or just men with tits? Sufficiently and realistically flawed? How about Joss Whedon, is he an ally or part of the problem? I mean, I googled something about Frozen the other day* and ended up reading dozens of opposing articles about whether it’s a good feminist movie or a bad one, whether the characters are good for women or not, whether it subverts tropes or reinforces them. It’s exhausting.** As a writer, it seems terrifying – so many chances to get it wrong.

But never fear, dear readers. I have a solution to all this agonising.

Just put more women in.

Seriously. It’s not that hard. Forget about obsessing over your female characters, trying to work out if they meet all the criteria. Spoiler alert: there’s no settled criteria and you’ll never please everyone.

I mean yes, your women should have agency (by which I mean, they should not be passive little lilypads bobbing on the sea of your plot – they should make decisions and take actions which drive the plot), but that’s about your writing, not about your women – ALL interesting characters have agency. No, they shouldn’t be clichés; but again, that’s because clichés are boring writing. If you’re writing stories where your characters have no agency and/or they’re all clichés, you might just be a shit writer, not a bad feminist.

If you can look at your own work and see common traits in most of your female characters that isn’t just the shape of their genitals, you’ve probably got a problem, and that problem is you’re being thoughtless and lazy. This is true whether that trait is submissiveness, red hair, sarcasm, massive upper body strength or bad BO. If you only write ‘strong women’ and you think that means ‘women who aren’t like those other crappy women – hey, I hate sewing!’ you’re contributing to the problem as much as someone who only writes women as props for men. You don’t beat this problem by writing women who epitomise traditional femininity or tear it down – you beat it by writing BOTH. ALL.  Gender isn’t the most important or interesting thing about a character – it’s not even up there in the top 10.

Just put more women in.

Write women into a bunch of roles in your story – God, maybe lash out and make it something like half the roles, since, I dunno, that’s the reality of the world we live in?***

Cos here’s the magic of my solution – you don’t need to panic that your female characters don’t perfectly embody the right amount of strength and the right number of flaws and are likeable but not too likeable!! and are sex positive but not all about the boobies if you don’t make all of this crazy difficult juggling act rest on the shoulders of only a couple of ladies. Spread the load! Write women in powerful and powerless and power-indifferent positions. Make them nice and naughty and jerks and generous and spoilt and clever and clueless and every other character trait that people routinely, without thought, apply to male characters. Write them young and old and fat and hot and thuggish and graceful.  Write them all over the gender spectrum. Write them from different backgrounds and cultures and with different priorities. Because the thing is, women are just people, and people are not all interesting in the same ways. They don’t have to each of them be perfectly imperfect if there are only enough of them.

Just put more women in.

We wouldn’t need to scrutinise every word Black Widow says if there were dozens of female superheroes on screen. We wouldn’t have to worry about Bechdel and Mako Mori and teeth gnashing about writing strong women if women were just routinely given as much screen/page time as men. Every woman in Buffy didn’t need to be free of problematic traits from a feminist perspective, simply because there were plenty of them in there, and they were all different. If you’re sick of all the constant analysis, know this: we all have the power to actually make this issue retreat, not by getting every female character ‘right’ but by having enough of them that it’s absurd to even lump them together just because they’re women. The discussion would just go away.

Like magic.

Now go forth and populate your stories with so many ladies I never have to think seriously about whether Elsa is a triumph or a disaster.

* Don’t ask me why. I have 2 small boys and Frozen is part of parenting now.

** Yes, I know, I could have NOT kept reading. Shut up, I have poor impulse control and the internet has a hold on me, all right?

*** I too am a fantasy writer so yes, you could make up a world that has a different gender balance – but you should probably only do that if it’s a genuine part of the ‘what if’ associated with your story. Don’t just do it because your default position is ‘white man’. There shouldn’t be a default position. (But that’s a rant for another time).

Tips for moving house


As anyone who has done it will surely testify, applying for graduate positions is a delightful process. Oh yea, though it be many years ago now, I remember that heady thrill – the fun-filled experience of answering the same 6 selection criteria phrased just fractionally differently enough that you can’t cut and paste. The little frission of excitement when you have to make up another example of ‘time I showed leadership’ or ‘how I dealt with a difficult colleague’.* The awkward day-long assessment centres doing group activities with other hopefuls, everyone trying to masquerade as a supportive leader without being a bossy jerk or a weirdo (note: some people are not capable of even faking this for a single hour long exercise, let alone a whole day).

But one thing I particularly loved was the personality tests. Because it is vital, ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL, that they be able to assign each prospective graduate a set of letters which tells them all they need to know about their personalities. I mean, if they didn’t have that label, how would they know how to interact with these humanoid young university students at the interviews?

Interviewer: So, Sam, I see you are an…SLBWBMOR.*** I was going to say ‘how do you do’, but I feel like that would intimidate you, so I’ll just do this interpretive dance to the theme song from Alias.

Me: I appreciate that, thank you. I raise you a headbanging to the theme from Buffy.

Interviewer: You’re hired!

Anyway, I did a lot of these stupid tests. One format was to have each question be two options of personality traits and you had to choose between them. Are you: creative or organised? Do you like: maths or English? Would you say you: had good attention to detail, or were capable of looking at the big picture? They’re always stupid. They’re never real alternatives and choosing one always implies you suck at the other (why are maths/science and English always offered as alternatives? They were my top 3 subjects at school. They’re not either/or. And creative people can meet deadlines!) so you end up guessing what they want based on the nature of the job you’re applying for.

An actual, real, unexaggerated conversation I had with one interviewer went something like this.

Interviewer: *Normal polite greetings, leads me to a meeting room.* Now, Sam, thanks for coming in. I’d like this to be as informal as possible.

Me: Sure, thanks.

Interviewer: Ideally I’d have just done this at my desk instead of in here. But it’s a bit of a mess, and I know from your profile here that that’d make you very uncomfortable.



Me: Sorry?

Interviewer: Well, I know you’re extremely neat.

Me: *unable to suppress laugh* Am I? I had to change my shirt twice today already because I spilled my breakfast and my coffee in two unrelated incidents.

Interviewer: Hmm. It says you’re super organised and you’d get anxious if you saw clutter.

Me: *baffled silence*

Interviewer: *giggles*

Me: What else does it say?

We then spent the rest of the ‘interview’ poring over the profile and laughing. It went well! I got offered the job.

By now, you’re probably pretty sure I mislabelled this post, or else wondering when the hell I’m going to get to the point.****

The point is, in some circumstances I apparently give the impression of tightly ordered precision, of neatness and efficiency and accurate labelling. This may have something to do with my sometimes weird compulsive sorts of traits, my love of spreadsheets and my military enforcement of rules about How to Pack the Dishwasher. It does not mean I have a neat desk at work. I do not. My house does not look like the pages of a Swedish lifestyle magazine, though I do enjoy looking at those pages. I would get that white couch dirty so fast… But I digress. Some aspects of my personality, perhaps the type I apparently over-emphasise when filling out personality tests for analytical type jobs at least, give people an impression that I am highly organised. Which brings me to the title of this post: tips for moving house.

A friend in a writing community asked for tips to help him move house efficiently. Being such a paragon of organisation, I volunteered the following tips, and thought I would share them more broadly with you all so that you, too, could make moving house as efficient and painless as possible.

Sam’s tips for packing/unpacking

  • Step 1: purchase a variety of coloured A4 paper – a stack of each, one colour for every room of the (new) house.
  • Step 2: as you start to pack, stick a sheet on the side of the box (tape down carefully), choosing the colour according to which room you’ll be unpacking in (eg blue=bedroom, green=bathroom, puce=sadness). Note on the paper everything you pack in the box. This will make unpacking a breeze.
  • Step 3: Your hands will start to get tired from all the writing, especially if you usually use a computer and never write longhand. You’ll need to start abbreviating terms on those lists until you can no longer recognise letters, let alone meanings. Don’t worry about it. You’ll remember the code.
  • Step 4: You’ll be getting even more tired and the stuff you’re packing seems to be having little junkbabies right in front of you because the piles are getting denser and more random. Let yourself cry for 10 minutes per hour, no more.
  • Step 5: As 3am approaches, start hurling things randomly into boxes just to make the packing end.
  • Step 6: Dawn breaks. Tip the last boxes on their side and use a broom to sweep the remaining piles in. Label these boxes with smudges of your tears. Drink a whisky. Or eleven. You know, exercise moderation.

When you unpack, do the easy ones with labels first. Cram all the ‘misc’ boxes into one room, henceforth nominated as the Box Room, close the door and pretend that room doesn’t exist for 3 years.

When next you move, you’ll be able to take your box room boxes straight to your new box room without having to deal with the middleman. What a time saver!

You’re welcome.

* To be fair, since I wanted to be a professional liar back then too, I sometimes DID have a little fun making up some of these ridiculous and pointless answers. Writing ‘I don’t deal with difficult people at university because I slink into the corners of lectures and don’t speak to anyone’ doesn’t get you across the line, but you should have** read my heartwarming tale of discovering WHY my prickly and uncommunicative group member wasn’t contributing and us eventually working together (hands held, implied) to ace the project. Doubtless it brought many a cold hearted selection panel to tears.

** Maybe you did. If so, you should know I only made up stupid stories when the questions were stupid. I didn’t make up my grades or work experience. I swear. 🙂

*** Shy loser, but with big mouth once relaxed.

**** Oh, you are new around these parts, then. I almost never get to the point. There usually isn’t even one. Just an ever-spiralling abyss of footnotes and rambles.

Tips for defeating a cheese hangover

This title is a lie. I don’t have any tips, I don’t know if there are any tips, there’s no fucking way to defeat this hangover and I think it’s possible I might die. I’m writing to you from near the grave, or at least from a self piteous half-slump on the couch while I hide from my children (who are being distracted with chicken nuggets because parenting). All I can give you is my advice:

Don’t eat a kilo of cheese* and a bottle of champagne. Even between 2 people. You’re an idiot and you deserve this suffering.

Oh ho, you say, but I am able to eat your fondue, all melty and celebratory and delightful. Sure, it will be a little rich but I definitely won’t be up 5 times overnight with a mouth like someone left that mini dentist vacuum thing running in (because SALT). Nor will I spend the next day theatrically moaning and lying facedown on the rug due to seediness levels approximating some kind of insane bucks/hens party at the end of a week of dehydration. I will cope!

Listen my friends, for I too was that foolish a mere day ago.

I have no tips for how to recover. I have tried the following with zero success:

  • A lot of water. My stomach is pissed off at my dry hideous mouth and the more mouth wants water the worse he makes it feel for me. Can’t you guys settle your differences and not drag me down in your turf war?
  • Bacon. Fuck you internet and your pretence that bacon solves everything. More salt is not the answer.
  • Getting up at 5.15am to go see hot air balloons. Self explanatory.
  • BBQ pork buns. I suspected this might be a shit idea but I was desperate at that point.
  • 2 year old jumping on your stomach. Because science.
  • Electrolyte drink. Tasted like the cloying disappointment of broken dreams, and purple.
  • Coffee. I trusted you and you let me down. My bathroom isn’t thanking you for your contribution and neither am I.

At this point I’ll take whatever insane witchdoctor remedy is offered me. I typed ‘how to cure a cheese hangover’ into google and I swear to god the second fucking result that comes up is ‘Cheese is your hangover’s best friend’ which just seems like a giant sign that the universe hates me and everything I stand for.

So next time you think you can defeat the laws of dietary good sense, remember my shrivelled piteous corpse lying abandoned in a cheese mine somewhere and make better decisions than I did.

*  I spent this morning relaying my predicament with an understanding that I was exaggerating, because duh, obviously I didn’t eat an actual kilo of cheese. Only then K tells me it was 960g plus we had that different variety on the side with the muscatels so actually screw you, stomach, it was more than that.

So, you want to use social media (or you really don’t, but you feel like you should) – Part 5

This is (finally) the last entry in a 5 part series about the excuses we make for not leaping into the slightly suspicious-smelling pool that is social media. You can find links to all 5 entries here in Part 1.

5. But I’m no good at it!

This is probably the kicker. Out of all the excuses this one’s the one that is the closest to my heart. You hear over and over how a bad internet presence is worse than no internet presence. It’s pretty hard to exist online — especially with any degree of fame — without offending people and getting trolled and losing readers or being boring or self promoting too much or not enough. Any number of things can go wrong. And it’s HARD (for most people, I reckon), and time consuming, to be good at it.

Obviously what constitutes ‘good’ is subjective, but I think having a ‘good’ social media presence means one that is regular and generally one or more of the following: funny, interesting, or helpful. Which is bloody hard, let’s face it. You essentially want everything you say online to be a greatest hits of your best wit and sparkle from your day to day life, and god some days that might seem like picking raisins out of baby poo.

But the good news is, it’s just like almost anything* else: you get better at it the more you practice. I tend to think that writing (and a lot of social media is just writing, albeit maybe a different kind to the type you’re used to) is one of those magic things that you really do improve at without doing anything else but putting words on the screen, over and over, until you eventually hate those words slightly less. Maybe you even regard them with some warmth. They might make your Christmas card list, but let’s not go crazy. That aside, you can also learn by observing. Read the twitter feeds of other people and see what works and what doesn’t. See what the people you know (or want to know) seem to respond to.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of options for easing into it. If you’re inclined, as I am, toward wordiness and rambling, facebook and blogging might be more your friends initially than twitter. If you’re an unselfconscious 20-something maybe you can communicate entirely through selfies on instagram or videos on YouTube. If you… OK I can’t think of anything that would make you use Google+. Anyway, you get the point. Options, baby. Start with the ones you don’t feel so awkward about and eventually start sidling up to the others and mumbling pleasantries. Alcohol might help.** Talk to people – comment on their posts, answer their questions, slowly start inserting yourself into discussions so you don’t have the pressure of showing up to the party and just shouting things in the corner til the nice man with the bow tie and vest asks you if you need a taxi.

I mean look at this – I’ve managed to keep this post down to a manageable length! Progress, yeah?

Happy social media-ing, guys.

Important addendum: It is possible that you actually are terrible at this. Like, you can’t get online without insulting people, being constantly inflammatory, trolling, spreading hateful messages or just otherwise being a all-purposes jerk. If this is the case, almost certainly because you are in fact a horrible person and you’re not even capable of masking how horrible you are for your own self interest, then please, stay offline. It will only hurt you.

* Skills I have failed to acquire despite repeating the activity over and over include ‘being able to read news articles without reading the comments’; ‘singing’; ‘being able to read the comments without getting angry’; ‘walking while swallowing’.

** Or it might really not. I tend to think things are a lot funnier than they are with a glass of wine in hand, and then all of a sudden I’m live tweeting a TV show that aired approximately 10 years ago. And being really overly interested in how comfortable the armchairs in the show look (just in case there had been any previous implication that I had any semblance of cool***).

*** If you haven’t yet picked up on this, I do not in fact have any semblance of cool.

So, you want to use social media (or you really don’t, but you feel like you should) – Part 4

This is the fourth in a 5 part series debunking your excuses (and mine) for avoiding social media. Part 1 (But no-one’s reading it!) is here; Part 2 (But I don’t have anything of value to say!) is here and Part 3 (But I don’t have time!) is here.

4. But what’s in it for me?

We covered already how you probably don’t have loads of extra time you’re desperate to fill with 140 character witticisms. And you grudgingly agreed you could make the time if you needed to. But maybe you’re still wondering if it’s worth finding the time to do it; i.e. what do you really get out of this?

Well, I mean, first of all it’s fun. (Maybe a little too fun at times.) I’d be surprised if you didn’t get some personal value out of participating. Case in point: I had dinner with Robin Hobb this week.* Robin Hobb has been my favourite author, and total writing idol, for the better part of two decades, and my two sisters and I took her out to dinner on Tuesday – just the four of us. I’ll just sit here for a while and enjoy having been able to type that sentence. *basks* Thanks to social media I have gotten to know my favourite writer and now have an actual relationship with her (even a friendship, privileged as I am to say it). Through social media you can make new friends, learn new things, see different perspectives, enjoy new and creative ways to make fun of Christopher Pyne. There are a lot of upsides in it for you personally.

But it’s also got major upsides for you as a writer.

Ultimately, like my son’s nappy, like so much in life, what you get out of it depends what you put in. I said before social media is about communication, and it is. As an author, as I see it, this boils down to two key things social media can do for your career:**

  1. Connecting and building relationships with your readers

One of the greatest things about the modern age, in my view, is this amazing opportunity we have to connect with people. You like someone’s work? You can tell them, quickly, succinctly, that you like it. Maybe you can have a conversation with them. Learn more about them and their work. Worm your way into their affections by sending them cute wombat pictures. What? No, not that one.***

If you’re a writer, this works for you. You share a part of yourself on social media and it gives readers of your work a chance to build a connection with you – a relationship, of sorts – which is satisfying for them and can make really loyal fans out of your readers. A reader who has a personal connection with you is more likely to be the type of reader who will buy your books on the day they come out, review them, recommend them and lend them to friends. And – spoiler alert! – those are the very best kinds of readers to have.

  1. Helping you reach new readers

The other cool thing it can do for you – if you’re good at it (and that’s the subject of the next and final post) – is help you reach new readers. Another case in point: since I joined twitter and started participating in the last couple of month, I’ve found at least half a dozen new writers who are funny and/or interesting or otherwise engaging on twitter and become fans of their work. In a couple of cases I’ve bought their whole back catalogue. I found Chuck Wendig because of his awesome, hilarious and surprisingly wise blog on writing (if you don’t follow it, you should: unless you’re easily offended by swearing, in which case you shouldn’t, and also you should probably try to not be offended by stuff so much). I’ve read books I’ve adored in genres I don’t usually enjoy because friends have posted Goodreads reviews on FB. All in all, over the course of this year and solely because of social media, I’ve bought more new books and tried more new authors than probably the last three or four years combined. If you’re active on social media and you build relationships there, you might find yourself reaching people who would never have seen your book in a bookshelf or had a reason to pick you out of a crowd.

In summary: there’s plenty to like about social media, so stop thinking about it in terms of something you have to do because you think publishers or agents want or expect or demand it (i.e. an annoying chore) and start thinking about it as a way to better communicate and connect with other readers & writers which will help your book reach more people.

Next time (the last instalment, I promise), But I’m no good at it! In which I opine that if you put in a bit of effort, it’s not that hard to be decent at using social media, unless you have absolutely no redeeming personality traits and are incapable of faking them (in which case, maybe a job based entirely on communicating with people isn’t actually your ideal career).

* If you don’t know who Robin Hobb is, go read her immediately. IMMEDIATELY. What are you still doing here? You’ve got like 17 books to get through, minimum, and we already covered how busy you are.

** You will note that neither of these things is the ability to spam people and shove your book down their virtual throats like a foul tasting virtual book-gag that smells like socks and desperation. Don’t do that.

*** Sidebar: Just saw a tweet from an author asking that people not send her emails with pictures of their dong. I didn’t think this needed saying, but maybe it does: for fuck’s sake don’t send pictures of your dong – or your ladybits, whatever – to strangers. Even strangers who wrote books you like. Or, indeed, to anyone who hasn’t expressly asked for it. I cannot stress this enough.

So, you want to use social media (or you really don’t, but you feel like you should) – Part 3

This is the third in a 5 part series whereby I try to persuade you (and me) that all this social media stuff is worth your time. Part 1 (But no-one’s reading it!) is here; Part 2 (But I don’t have anything of value to say!) is here.

3. But I don’t have time!

I get it. You’re busy. I’m busy. I have a spouse and 2 children under 4. A difficult job in a demanding profession. 2 dogs who need walking and playing and bum-scratching.* A garden with things in I’d like to eat before the snails do. A house that does not magically clean itself no matter how many variations of Harry Potter style Latinesque I throw at it. Judo and boxing and a deep love of food and wine. More books in my must-read pile than I can ever whittle down. Fingernails that grow creepily fast and necessitate cutting all the freaking time like I’m some kind of monstrous X-Files villain. You get the picture. It’s hard enough to fit in writing time without having to worry about all this annoying social media stuff, amIright?

Well, suck it up, pumpkin. You want this to be your career, don’t you? So treat it seriously and make the time. You made the time to write a book and God knows I know it can be hard to scrounge the time you need to do it. But you made it. You did that, you can do this.

By which I mean, find bits of time to do it regularly. Not hours and hours (as if you have any of those, right?) but little bits of time, often. Social media is social. That’s kind of the point. You can’t go to a party once a year then expect everyone there to remember you.** You might as well not bother – if you’re not going to do it regularly, don’t bother. Just stay at home and watch Game of Thrones.

Don’t get me wrong, you can ignore this aspect if you want. In the same way that you can open a cafe and serve coffee but not offer any food at all (not even a little biscuit or chocolate with the coffee, you cheap bastard) if you want to. And maybe you’ll be successful in your beverage-only venture. It’s just that, possibly, if you put a lot of care and precision and attention and flair into your coffee-making, maybe your patrons would be keen to also sample some food you make; say, a friand, or a salted caramel tart, or would it kill you to try your hand at a bacon and egg roll? Sure, it’s not precisely the same skill set, but if you can learn to make a great cup of coffee you can probably learn to make toast too.*** Novels are different from blogs and tweets and facebook posts. But they’re all words. If you’re a great writer (and you are, right?) then you can probably make more than one kind of content that people enjoy reading.

Sidebar: but what if you really can’t cook? Then it’s OK to stick to making coffee. It’s not a crime. People need coffee, and they can get food elsewhere if they want it. See more on this in Part 5: But I’m really bad at it.

Anyway, you don’t have to do any of this social media stuff. No-one will arrest you. People will still read your book. On the other hand, why not use every tool at your disposal to reach and connect with readers? If you’re serious about writing as a career, if you want to earn money from it, then don’t hobble yourself by ignoring part of the business.

Just like anything else, if it’s important, you make time for it. You don’t need to be tweeting in the shower or giving up date night with your partner or otherwise destroying your life so that you can be on facebook 24/7. But you need to devote some time to it because it’s part of the business.

To summarise: I know it’s hard, but everyone else is in the same boat. It’s one big smelly boat where no-one showers as much as you’d like. Deal with it and find little pieces of time on a regular basis, and you’ll be fine.

*That’s not a typo. That’s Brown Dog’s preferred form of affection.

** Unless you’re that guy. You know, the one you remember for the wrong reasons. The guy who took off his pants or the Tony Robbins addict who loudly and drunkenly demanded of everyone at the party ‘but what are your life goals?’ Get on twitter occasionally and be an arsehole, and people will remember you, just not the way you want.

*** A place where I regularly get coffee after the gym calls its toast on the menu, I am not kidding, ‘cooked bread’. That makes me want to punch the cafe in the face. Don’t call your toast cooked bread, OK?

So, you want to use social media (or you really don’t, but you feel like you should) – Part 2

This is the second in a 5 part series on why your excuses for not doing social media (and they’ve been mine as well) are crap. Part one (But no-one’s reading it!) is here.

  1. But I don’t have anything of value to say!

You’re talking to the person who just spent the last entry babbling out Simpsons references and inadvertent endorsements of the logging industry? Value-schmalue.

I was recently privileged enough to be part of Hardcopy, the ACT Writers’ Centre’s excellent professional development program for emerging novelists. Among other great presentations, we had a half day devoted to marketing, promotion and social media, including getting some valuable time with the awesome Eva Bui from Penguin taking us through the ins and outs of navigating social media. And there ended up being a rather vigorous discussion among the cohort about the necessity for, and value of, social media for writers.

Some people in the room viewed the prospect of starting a social media presence with approximately the same level of enthusiasm I observed in the sullen teenager cleaning up vomit in a Woolworths aisle last week. Twit-ter…? Visible carrot in the spew. Faaaaaaacebook? Instawhat? Someone can’t digest corn.

And I do sympathise. Until now I’ve never had any settings broader than ‘friends only’ so the idea of sharing my – let’s face it, essentially pointless – rambling with the public* is a bit alien. But as I mentioned last time, there’s an inherent optimism in being a writer. You wrote a book you thought other people might like. Is it too much of a stretch that they might like other stuff too? That they might even enjoy learning something about you?

Social media is about being social. Talking to people. That’s the whole point. Are you concerned about whether every word you say to your friends or colleagues or people you just met is important enough? Are you worried when you walk away that you’ve just somehow offered up worthless trash just because you talked about a movie you liked or the fact that your neighbour smells like cat even though she doesn’t have one or a funny story you heard? Are you judging other people you meet based on that standard too? I bet you’re not. So don’t worry too much about contributing to the great pool of literature via your Facebook page and instead think of it as it is: a way to communicate with people.

There’s no point obsessing over whether you have anything ‘worthy’ to contribute, whatever that means. You have yourself, and whatever slice of yourself you choose to offer. (Hint: make it the most entertaining, kindest, best version of yourself that you can manage**). If you can’t see that you have any value then you have bigger problems than I’m going to solve in a blog post.

You can offer something to your fans. What exactly that comprises is up to you. It might be insight into your writing process. It might be extra little details about your stories or background facts about the characters or settings. It might be your kickass recipes or your funny anecdotes about your dog or your cat-smelling neighbour,*** or sharing experiences about publishing. Maybe you are funny or interesting or kind or ALL THREE.

Besides, you’ll get better over time. I’m counting on it.

To summarise: This isn’t your entry for the Man Booker. It’s just you talking to people – maybe your fans, maybe people you’re fans OF. Don’t stress out about it.

Next time: But I don’t have time! (in which you assure me that you already have to write your novel in a series of scribbles on tablecloths while working in a restaurant or through memorising interpretive dances representing your story at the gym, so how are you bloody well going to find the time to post cat pictures on facebook as well?)

* In theory. I’m quite aware that at the time of writing, not even my mother is reading this (But she’ll catch up once she knows it’s here. Hi, Mum).

** By which I don’t mean you have to obsess over content and form all the time. Clearly, this blog is going to be a rambling collection of my thoughts, written and set out the way I talk with my friends and family, not the way I’d write a novel or a piece of business correspondence. I’m not going to edit it like my fiction so that there are no misplaced words or clunky phrases. Be genuine – but obviously be conscious that what you’re putting out there will stay out there potentially forever, so a bit of censoring yourself is OK also. Don’t be a dick, obviously.

*** My neighbour does not smell like cats. But since I used the example I can’t stop thinking about solving that fictional enigma.

So, you want to use social media (or you really don’t, but you feel like you should) – Part 1

You’re a writer. One day, you hope people will read your stuff. And not just your mother or your partner or your friend who accidentally showed a glimmer of interest or that door-to-door salesperson who tried to sell you a cleaning product and you felt guilty because they just moved here from Italy so you bought the ridiculous product and then you took revenge by forcing them to read ‘just this difficult passage here, do you BELIEVE the character would do that…’ what? No, I would totally never do that.*

Anyway. You wrote a book. (Yay you!). You’d rather like to get it published. And then someone told you (or you read, or maybe you just thought it up independently, if you’re some kind of insightful business-minded genius – but if you are, spoiler-alert, you don’t need this blog) you might need to start thinking about having *gasp* a Social Media PresenceTM.

But, you splutter, but, but, my book isn’t published yet! What’s the POINT?

Thus I present to you, a series of blogs: 5 reasons why you should bother with social media. Or, more accurately, 5 reasons why your arguments about NOT using social media are bunk. I present these with the honesty of a person who has thought all of them at one point or another (some as recently as during the typing of this blog post). I am, it barely needs saying, no expert. This is just based on my digestion of social media as a reader and a fan, and things I’ve learned from writer friends and people in the industry. Originally I complied this as one list, but it was too long even by my standards. Here are the 5 excuses and I’ll do one post on each.

  1. But no-one’s reading it!
  2. But I don’t have anything of value to say!
  3. But I don’t have time!
  4. But what’s in it for me?
  5. But I’m no good at it!
  1. But no-one’s reading it!

If a tree falls in the wood and no-one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Absolutely. Rrrrrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee boom!

But Bart, how can sound exist if there’s no-one there to hear it?

Wales - Scotland 290

Possibly that reference meant nothing to you. Possibly you started clapping enthusiastically with one hand (listen up, Lise!). I’m going to warn you in advance that if you’re from the former group, that vague WTF expression on your face is going to recur. Probably frequently. I was struck earlier today by how much of my sense of humour is tied to pop culture references that only people from a very particular age group will get. This is an extract from an actual What’s App conversation I just had:

Bro: Prince Adam doesn’t live in Castle Greyskull. He lives in the Palace.

Sis the Younger: Why does he invoke the power of Greyskull then? Who does live there?

Bro: He’s the defender of the secrets of Castle Greyskull. Not too specific what they are but universe mastery is implied. The sorceress lives there.

Sis the Elder: Greyskull is a pretty imposing creepy place. The Palace is a lot nicer for entertaining.

Me: Two solariums.

This caused much frivolity. I mention this to warn you of two specific things.

  1. If you didn’t find that funny, fair warning, there are a lot more 80s and 90s pop culture references coming. Sorry. On the other hand, these are iconic bloody shows. Don’t you have a DVD player? Or a computer? Watch some TV.**
  2. I’m assuming from past experience that this blog will end up reading much like one of my super rambly letters to my friends and family while travelling. Which means you’re going to see a lot of stupid lists, footnotes, and random asides that go nowhere. I may or may not make up some words. If this is going to bother you, best to quit while you’re ahead. Well, not ahead, since you already wasted your time getting this far. But that’s a sunk cost. Move on.

Anyway, back to the original point (I do get there eventually. No, that’s not true, I don’t always. As an old boss of mine used to say, best to ‘manage expectations’). The point is, sure, no-one’s reading it NOW. No-one’s reading this either, at the point that I’m posting it. But *spooky music* now you’re reading it.

Sure, you’re an unpublished writer, and you’re probably not famous for anything else (if you are, good for you. You don’t need this list. But hey, stick around anyway, famous person! Are you Amy Poehler? Please be Amy Poehler). So maybe no-one is reading your website right now. But one day you’ll publish that book, and write another one, or maybe this one won’t get any bites but you’ll write another one or another 6 and eventually you’ll get published and someone will like your writing and go to your website and BAM! Someone’s reading this blog. Your blog. You know what I mean.

You’re a writer, so you must have at least a smidgen*** of confidence – or at least enthusiastic optimism – because you’ve decided you want to share stories you make up with random strangers. That takes a particular kind of person. If you can imagine a future where you’re published, you can imagine one where your fans might want to read your non-booky-ramblings. Look ahead to that time and imagine that people like your book and go to your site and find…what, one post? If you wait til you’re published, it’ll take you ages to fill up your website with anything. Might as well start now so that there’s a backlog for people to read when they eventually discover you.

To summarise: no-one’s hearing the tree fall right now (except your Mum). But back yourself and eventually your readers will find your own little patch of forest and all the lovely fallen tree trunks and they’ll be really pleased you started chopping ages ago. How did this turn into a pro-logging slogan? But anyway, you get the point, I hope.

Next time: But I don’t have anything of value to say! (In which you complain that your word-things don’t add to the important body of world literature so you shouldn’t share them. Comes with a free side serving of passive-aggressive judgment of ‘them teenagers’ and their obsession with ‘trash on the internet’).

* OK, not the part about forcing the salesperson to read stuff. But I did guilt-purchase a cleaning product last week. I suffer from crippling politeness. It’s a thing. Shut up.

**I’m not one of those writers who tell you not to watch TV. Oh, you don’t have time to write? [smug self righteous expression] Then why don’t you turn off the idiot box? I don’t watch TV. I don’t even have one. Don’t give up TV. TV is awesome. It’s definitely better than nature (given it’s the worst hayfever season I can remember, and I’m sitting here itching and snivelling like a coke addict mouse stuck in a poison ivy patch, I’m a little down on nature right now) and it’s probably better than your loved ones. What high quality dramas have they given you recently?

***Growing up, my Dad always used to ask us whether we would prefer a ‘smidgeon or a smur’ of Vegemite on our toast.**** I am still unsure whether this is a word he completely made up (definitely an option) or just a little-known Australian colloquialism.

**** God, could I be any more Australian? *pats pet wombat while chewing on a tim tam*