Standing on the platform, peering out
(…or, why all writers need an online platform)
I remember a story from my days of serving in United Nations. Being a part of a helicopter corps, I landed with a few mates near a small Cambodian village deep in the jungle.
For the first time in my life, I was a few hundred steps away from a pristine rainforest. I’d been dreaming about a walk in the real rainforest since I was a kid.
It awed me, and lured me on.
Just as I was about to touch the first trees, the screams of my friends yanked me out of my reverie. “Idiot,” they yelled. “You’ve just walked across a minefield.”
Only then did I notice small red signposts around me. I died a little inside: indeed, I had walked at least two hundred meters into a live minefield.
Our chopper had no ropes in it. It took me hours to retrace my steps back.
That story just about sums up how I feel about creating my Writer Platform (see one of the best definitions here).
If you’ve ever delved in to the private life of one of your favorite authors, you’ll know what I mean when I say that the thought of writing for a living is hugely appealing, and perhaps a bit glamorous. Think of Hemingway, drinking cocktails in a seedy bar in Cuba, or Virginia Woolf in her study, writing novels in lilac ink.
From Shakespeare to Sebastian Faulks, all the most popular writers have stories to tell about the actual act of writing, and how they started out. ‘Harry Potter’ author J.K. Rowling’s exploits have become almost mythical, with tales of her sitting in smoky cafes each morning, churning out the book that was soon going to take the world by storm.
All literary movements have histories with them. The Bloomsbury set conducted philosophical discussions over dinner in London, while Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs smoked too much and churned out Beat classics.
Wherever you look, the novel has a second story to tell – that of the writer behind it. These days, though, the romanticism and mystique of the literary profession has become a bit quashed because of the advent of the internet.
Authors used to have ‘movements’ because they were all concentrated in a specific place and time, meeting up to discuss ideas and share their approach to art. Usually over lots of gin. Now that we have access to a global audience with the click of a mouse, we writers need to approach our platform a little differently. Instead of hiding in a basement hoping to be discovered, we are in the perfect position to get our story out there, instantly, online.
The romance of the writer isn’t dead – it’s simply morphed in to a new phase in literary history. Think of people like Heather Armstrong, the owner of www.dooce.com – Heather managed to lose her job, earn a living blogging, and land a publishing deal all because of her online antics. Similarly, people have managed to make a success of their stories through an online platform in ways that Woolf and Hemingway could never have imagined.
While the possibilities of having a literary set hanging out in gloomy jazz bars and discussing what sort of quill to use may be long gone, the world of writing has evolved brilliantly, opening up new opportunities for writers to network and get themselves seen.
Having your own site online is the best possible place to get exposure as a writer. Through an online community, you get the chance to launch ideas, discuss plots, learn from people, and share your particular passion, whatever sort of writing you love. You can choose to serialize stories, or even join in a global movement like National Novel Writing Month to spur you on to new heights of productivity.
Whereas writers used to have to approach publishers with a single well-thumbed manuscript, going from one rejection to the next, we can choose to take matters in to our own hands by using the web.
It must be evident why I spoke of jungle and minefields as I opened up this post.
I’ve seen some writers whose online presence backfired through poor contact with the readers, ill-chosen comments, social media techniques that bear no other name than “spam”, or even through unfortunate web design choices. In a few cases, of course, those platforms collapsed under the sheer lack of talent in their books.
Over the next weeks and months, I’ll post my thoughts and experiences on this journey. I’d love to read yours, too.
Has there ever been a better time to get our stories out there?