When I was a kid, I had this idea that writers were supposed to get discovered. My favorite poet, Emily Dickinson, was “discovered” after her death, as I understood it. Models and actresses were discovered, I thought. Musicians, too, spent their days perfecting their craft in local bands and dingy night clubs, waiting for some producer big shot to notice that they had something special and sign them on a multi-record deal and international tour.
Nope. Turns out, that’s not how it works at all.
This week, do something to get yourself discovered. You may have a really fabulous talent and a passion for your art, but if you’re not reaching out to other people, don’t hang your hat on the hope of “getting discovered,”
Here are a few things you can do to get started:
Volunteer: I still teach some yoga classes on a volunteer basis because it helps me reach new people and become a better teacher.
Email your 5 best friends: These are the people who know you best and support you no matter what. Email these people individually to explain what you’re working on and ask them to support you by sharing your work with others.
Show off: That’s what the internet is for, guys. Post some selfies on Tumblr, humble brag on Facebook and Twitter, and of course, post links to your beautiful work everywhere you can.
Finally, keep in mind that the process of discovery is very rarely a single “Eureka!” moment. It takes a long time to find your right people and hone your message for them. To the rest of the world, it will look like you just sprung up over night, but you and I both know, you’ve been working toward your particular greatness all your life.
Why not just reach out to these people and make contact? We often consider networking a scummy, insincere activity done by shifty people who intend to take advantage of you. But actually, making a valuable connection can be simple, sincere and enjoyable.
This week, write an e-mail, tweet, or Facebook message to someone you’d like to have a connection with. There’s no need to be salesy if that’s not genuine for you. Just be nice. Be sincere.
Why do you want to be connected with this person? Why don’t you just say that? For example: “I have a new project that I think you would find interesting.” Or you know what’s always nice? Compliments. “I really like the work you’ve been doing and just wanted to let you know.” If it’s someone you’d like to be friends with, just try sharing something of interest to you.
Most people appreciate any sincere contact from another person, but if they don’t respond the way you’re hoping, it’s not a big deal. They might not respond at all, in which case it’s best to assume they’re just really busy. The worst thing that could happen is they respond rudely, in which case you obviously don’t want to be friends with that person and you can just let it go.
This one will feel like a risk, but I promise it’s worthwhile. You’ll get more positive responses than negative. Branch out.
They say we attract what we pay attention to. If you’re thinking grateful thoughts, you find more to be grateful for. If you’re thinking about defeat and chaos, that’s all you see.
It’s hard to police your thoughts all the time, but you can use your internet use as a way to curate your intake. This week, take note of who you’re following on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Flickr, your RSS feeds and any other social media tools you use. As you scroll through your many timelines on a daily basis, something many of us do not just once but repeatedly throughout the day, notice what you’re taking in and what you’re exposing yourself to. I’m willing to be there’s some negativity you could weed out and some snark you could do without. Is your Tumblr feed full of unhealthy body images? Unfollow. Is your Facebook page full of passive aggressive statements aimed at someone else’s nasty ex? Hide that shit. Is someone else’s wishful thinking cluttering up your inbox? Block it.
We can’t take away anyone else’s right to experience life the way they choose. If they want to be angry and spend their time yelling into the void of the internet, that’s just dandy, but we don’t have to listen.
Choose to pay attention to people who uplift you, inspire you, and shine as examples of the goodness and joy you want to create in your life. This doesn’t mean looking away from bad news — that’s part of our reality — but it does mean declining to indulge in needless nastiness and choosing to focus on possibilities, solutions, and basic human kindness.
Go on. Try it right now. Unfollow someone. I bet it feels pretty nice.
It may seem odd or wrong for a blogger to tell you to go off social media for a week, but that’s what I’m going to do. Back when I had a desk job, things would occasionally get really glum. I would feel despondent, bored, irritable, and unfocused. When that happened, I sometimes turned to compulsively checking social media sites, mostly Twitter and Facebook, but also Reddit and a variety of blogs where I often found content that could drag me mentally if not physically away from my dreary days. The result was that I would accomplish strikingly little and become even more despondent. Depending on how self-aware I was feeling at the time or how long my to-do list had grown, I would eventually put myself on a social media fast.
It became a game to catch myself typing in the URL of some time-wasting web site and stop myself before another hour or two went down the drain. Suddenly, I would have a huge (although entirely predictable) increase in productivity. Less predictable was the fact that I simply felt better when I was ignoring Twitter. On thinking more about it, I realized the reason I start to feel so down when I’m compulsively checking things on the internet is that the checking isn’t just looking for something interesting to read. Rather, it’s usually checking for interaction from others, comments on something I’ve written, responses to my tweets, and “likes” on my status updates.
Every time you check and find nothing, it’s a bit of a downer, especially if you’re doing it to escape an already foul mood. Furthermore, so much of the internet is carefully curated. People post what they want you to see online, whether that’s their badass attitude, super sweet new shoes, or vacation photos from Hawaii. Even if they’re complaining about waking up at 4 a.m. to feed the baby, they’re probably not going to tell you if they fought with their spouse about it in the morning.
This week, do yourself a favor and sign off the social media sites for a while. If you don’t think you can stay off them completely, make yourself a rule that you will only check them before or after work. Exert some control over the technology in your life and reclaim your brain. You may notice a subtle difference in the quality of your thoughts when you free up those cycles that you would normally spend on hitting the refresh button. You may feel more focused, calmer, and even more creative. You may even feel less critical of yourself, and your productivity will definitely improve.
If your self control could use a boost, try these browser plugins to block time-wasting web sites:
StayFocused: I can vouch for this one in Chrome. It’s pretty easy to use and customizable. I like the Nuclear Option for getting a lot done at once: no Twitter for three hours!
LeechBlock: This one is for Firefox and is highly customizable.
WasteNoTime: Another highly customizable plugin, this one works for both Chrome and Safari.
At the end of the week, check in with your internet habits and see if you want to make this a permanent change. How can you make better use of your energy and attention online?
I was wondering what the next big thing after Twitter would be, and apparently it’s Instagram, but do I really even want to use that? That’s what I thought when Twitter was new, and here I am, but I don’t want to play this lame keeping up game. I don’t want to prove that I am cool, smart, funny, creative and interesting 140 characters at a time anymore. Nor do I want everyone in the world to “like” my “status.” Whenever you’re posting a status update, your true status is, “Wasting time on Facebook while real life passes by.” People used to think gamers were lame (back when they were just called “computer nerds”), but now what about all these so-called “normal” people whose emotional lives revolve around getting virtual “likes” from people whose opinions ultimately do not matter?
I’m still on Twitter and Facebook, of course, for the same reasons everyone is still on them. I am no better than everyone else. I need a way to obsessively click through photos of the lives of people I no longer actually know so I can compare myself to them in the least realistic light possible. And I need a way to tell the world I’m funny and cool and stuff. Plus, it’s how I get my news. Hate me for it if you want, but I know I’m not alone. I can hear the trolls already: “You are what’s wrong with America!” Yes, dear. Aren’t we all?
I know several people who have decided to cut back their use of social media. Incidentally, social media can be shortened to “SM” if you ever get tired of writing it out. I find that appropriate. Anyway, some have quit one site or another entirely. Some have stopped all forms of digital sharing with the general public. Some are simply being more selective than they used to be, keeping everything very professional: no profane tweets, no drunk tweets, no passive aggressive breakup drama tweets.
Others have diversified: Joining Polyvore, then Pinterest; starting a Tumblr, then reaching back to Live Journal for that old school flavor; maybe even re-activating a Diaryland account (yeah, it still exists). Some of us are cross-platform blogging and bringing in Soundcloud and Youtube clips, although it’s a little hard to call Youtube social these days. And if there were a way to ad texture to a blog post a la that fuzzy bunny book everyone had as a toddler, you know I’d be first in line for that beta … unless of course it already exists and I missed it because I’m terminally uncool. Also possible.
Some people are still on Myspace. Heh. That always makes me feel better.
For me, the impulse is a complicated combination. I need to stay focused and not waste a lot of time and energy on a lot of outlets that at the end of the day are just meaningless-approval-seeking devices. I don’t want to take endless photos of myself, add sepia filters, adn upload them to the internet with faux ironic captions indicating I am pretending not to believe I’m a rock star fashion icon.
But here I am. And just like the would-be fashion icon, I am deluding myself that I can reach the world with my art via Twitter and Facebook or Pinterest and Instagram or whatever your social media flavor of the day is.
And now it’s time for a solution … I don’t have one. I am a writer, not a social media maven. And fuck the word “maven” anyway.