Michele Tracy Berger on the impact of social media in writing

“Blogging and using social media, for me, is part of the journey, not the destination. Becoming an exceptional writer is where I keep my focus.”

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Taking a quick glance at today’s publishing industry will show that social media is an important component of any writer’s toolkit. Gone are the days where a writer could solely rely on traditional methods (book signings, radio plugs, reviews) of publicity for success. Whether you’re an established bestseller or an up and comer, learning how to properly utilize a social media outlet is a necessity to thrive in an already crowded marketplace.

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of being introduced to Michele Tracy Berger, associate professor in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill. In addition to her career in academia, Berger is an author, creativity coach and aspiring fiction writer.  In the following interview, she shares her views on the role of social media in writing.

What prompted you to use a social media outlet to promote, or compliment, your writing?

I began a creativity coaching practice called ‘The Creative Tickle®’ in 2004 and built a website for it in 2008. For many years I gained most of my clients through word of mouth and teaching workshops. By 2009, I felt the inevitable tides of social media tugging at me. I wanted to both expand my business and connect with other writers, so I began my blog. I wanted a place that I could share insights about how people can practice their creativity ‘smackdab’ in the middle of their life. It took me some time to get the feel of what makes a good blog post. In the beginning, many of my entries were 1200-1500 words long, a definite no-no unless you’re writing for a news source. By 2010 I was an enthusiastic though inconsistent blogger. In 2011, I made a promise to myself to posting once a week. This commitment transformed my experience of blogging and has allowed me to develop into a better blogger with a bigger audience.

Do you feel it’s important for a writer to utilize a social media platform in today’s marketplace?

Yes, social media is key component of being a successful author. I don’t think, however, that you have to do it all. Choosing one domain (Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, etc.) and committing to it deeply is a much better way of approaching this new reality than trying to do it all and doing it haphazardly. Established bestselling writers have less of an onus to engage in social media because many had name recognition before the rise of social media and their readers are probably going to buy their books regardless of whether they tweet or not (though I have heard that most publishing houses now expect the majority of their authors to engage in some form of social media). For emerging authors, this is not the case. There is an expectation by agents, editors and publishers that an aspiring writer have established expertise and a viewpoint through social media. To do this well means being strategic about how one uses social media.

Michele's latest work of academia.

Michele’s latest work of academia.

Since author blogs have become increasingly popular, what are some of the advantages you feel they offer?  What are some of the advantages blogging offers to any writer hoping to have their work published?

Feeling isolated is a big challenge for writers and blogs provide a unique way to buffer that phenomenon. As a beginning writer it can also feel like ‘everyone knows each other’ and that you’re metaphorically standing at the writing dance wall waiting to be asked for a turn. Blogging explodes that barrier because its nature is communal—it’s like freestyle dancing with others in the middle of the room! Bloggers provide support to each other. Being in the blogging network helps writers to stay connected to each other and every aspect of the writing world (e.g. learning about contests, meeting other writers, meeting editors, attending writers’ conferences, learning about the craft of writing).

I have felt tremendously empowered by my blog. For example, having a blog allows me to reach out to new and established writers, after I hear them give a reading or learn about them online, and ask for an interview. I can show them that I do quality interviews and that my readership buys books and they like to find out about new authors. I’ve met bookstore managers, editors and publishers of small presses and have shared my blog with them.

Blogs also allow writers to bring their viewpoint and expertise to a diverse community.

What do you feel attracts readers to your blog? What attracts you to certain blogs?

I think my blog’s style leans toward an analytical and less breezy approach than other blogs on creativity. Although I don’t footnote my entries, they tend to have more of a formal tone. My readers know that I am going to cover a topic in-depth and organize, for them, the best resources that I can find.

I’m attracted to the depth and insight of a writer’s blog. I’m eager to learn about the craft of writing, what works for a particular author, how they resolve challenges and the motivations to write. I’m always looking for a complicated imagination as expressed through analysis, insight and good writing. Simply said, I don’t like a lot of fluff.

A fiction story of Michele's was published in this collection from Ink  Money Press.

A flash fiction story of Michele’s appears in this collection from Ink Money Press.

Have you ever gained further insight into a story or developed new ideas from the feedback readers have posted to your blog?

Yes! I started a ‘Love Your Creative Self’ series that investigated how we can be more nurturing of our creative lives. In the first post, I emphasized the importance of cultivating a relationship with your creative self. At the end of the post I posed the question, ‘What relationship style applies to how you treat your creative self?’ I noted some common styles including ‘the speed dater’ and ‘the adorer’. I planned to go on to the next topic in the series–procrastination. I, however, got so much feedback and questions about these relationships styles, I wound up devoting several posts to this issue and it shaped the rest of the series. Reader response is a critical component of a good blog.

Can the use of too much social media take away from an author’s intended goal?

Instant gratification can be a common feature of blogging. You post something, ask a question and get a response. You hit a nerve and are flooded by responses. Responding to feedback can be energizing, but also time consuming.

Instant feedback and gratification is unlike much of the daily experience of being a professional writer. And, you can get addicted to that feedback. A writer can develop an addictive relationship toward social media that encourages a ‘more, better and faster’ attitude. This attitude or orientation can interfere with the needed meditative and contemplative practice of going deep into language and imagination in order to produce original and thought provoking work.

I’ve heard writers struggle with feeling that much of their energy for writing is going to producing numerous tweets, blogs and FB updates. Making a plan about how one uses social media and sticking to that plan is key. Blogging and using social media, for me, is part of the journey, not the destination. Becoming an exceptional writer is where I keep my focus.

Visit Michele’s blog: The Practice of Creativity

Read Michele’s recently published flash fiction story: You Don’t Say: Stories in the Second Person

Read Michele’s academic books:

Gaining Access: A Practical and Theoretical Guide for Qualitative Researchers

Workable Sisterhood: The Political Journey of Stigmatized Women with HIV/AIDS

The Intersectional Approach: Transforming the Academy Through Race, Class and Gender

Transforming Scholarship: Why Women’s and Gender Studies Students Are Changing Themselves and the World

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