Social Media

On April 29 , 2013, I logged into Facebook and saw a photo posted by a friend. There was a tall plume of smoke rising out of the uptown area in Minneapolis. A building was clearly on fire. I thought, “Oh no, those poor people!” and said a prayer.

It was my apartment.

I’ve been a member of social media in one iteration or another for 28 years. I started using Facebook in July 2008. Prior to that, I was on Myspace and had a half-hearted blog on Blogger called ‘Writing is a Tapeworm’. Then it was chat rooms all the way back to 1991 and the ISCABBS. We’ve come a long way baby.

I have difficulty parting ways with social media. Agreeing to their terms when you sign up for the ‘free’ account sort of feels like making a deal with the devil. But even so, I have accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Meetup, YouTube, Soundcloud, and the recently deceased Google+. I also have ‘free’ email from Microsoft and Google. I have been forced to sign up for unused accounts on Instagram and Pinterest because someone was spoofing my email. No, you do not get to share smut under my good name.

Social media is a tool and like any tool, it can be used for good or ill.

I’ve shed some tears over things I’ve seen on social media. Local news reports of my apartment burning. Photos shared by friends before I had the chance to come home and see it for myself. Many of us have found out about personal tragedies prematurely on Facebook. Here is the problem of having mixed groups of people on one platform: we may need to reach out for the support of friends before everyone in the family has been notified… Facebook is a pretty abrupt and insensitive way to learn about horrible things. Yet, sometimes it has been the only way I would have heard the news.

People don’t talk on the phone or over the fence anymore.

I have friends and family literally coast to coast and across the globe. I use social media to keep in touch with them. I share photos and jokes and news. I talk about my writing. It’s just me, no flash. And my friends and family do the same to varying degrees. I have come to know some people on a much deeper level through social media and strengthen relationships that I have in real life.

My friend’s grandparents became fans of mine through Facebook. I watch my friends and family’s children grow. I watch them age. I’ve watched multiple relationships start and end. Some people I know have gotten divorced, dated, and remarried within the ten years I’ve been single. I’ve seen vacations and tragedies, deceased family and beloved pets, comments from those who have passed on my memories feed…

I have zero tolerance for social media related drama. I have been questioned in person about things I have posted online. FYI- I am what I am. You can stop following me and talking to me if I offend you. My hope is that most of my online activity simply confirms what you already know about me. I love to share photos and stories and the occasional zinger. I love cruising along with quotes that inspire me and music I am listening to, then drop the F-bomb for good measure.

Hey, I don’t want you to think someone has hacked into my account…

Social media pisses me off sometimes with too much self-aggrandizing and posturing. My niece gave me great perspective: “Everyone is just showing off”. In other words, do not compare your insides to other people’s outsides. Just because I am real, does not mean they are.

And people use it for different purposes. Yes, some brag to make themselves feel better than others. Some simply lurk. You would never know they were online because they do not post. But others are trying to sell themselves as an expert or an artist to increase business. Which is sort of what I am doing when I tell people about my blog posts on Facebook and Twitter.

I guess I am officially a blogger though not a very good one according to the numbers. Meh. I care about quality content more than market volume. My blog is a bit of a basket case in that it is not focused on one topic, against all blogging advice. They also say that the days of the personal essay are over. Oh well. I guess this is all about how to make money at blogging, how to attract followers, and seriously that ship has sailed anyway.

The topic of my blog is my writing and I write about many things in many forms. I am not in this to follow trends or have huge numbers. I write to write. My audience cannot find me unless my writing is accessible. Since the state of the publishing industry is what it is, and I do not have the credentials to get published, I publish myself here. And social media helps my audience to find me: people who want to read my writing and follow my blog.

I am speaking to the real people here, not the spambots. You know who you are.

But the social media machine is toxic. It’s the insidious data mining for manipulation and profit that terrifies me. Users of social media are not the customers of social media. Remember, you are logging in for ‘free’ and the paying customers are the advertisers. The algorithms run routines to figure out what interests you and serve up small validations or punishments to manipulate you into changing your behavior and buy their customers products.

Users search the feed for human connection and validation and find advertising. This is part of a greater, more disturbing trend in marketing in which companies try to associate your strong internal emotional world with their products.

We value you. We understand. Give us your money.

It’s sick. And it’s effective. And free is not free. Someone has to pay for the social media platform and until people are willing to pay a subscription for an ad-free space, it will continue. If you care to hear about how you are being manipulated, how this all works, listen to this 20-minute interview of Jaron Lanier, American computer philosophy writer, computer scientist, visual artist, and composer. He wrote a book called “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now”.

But unfortunately, Twitter is an author’s #1 tool. It’s free and you can index your posts with hashtags so that people looking for information on the same topic can find them. It is a huge platform, but I ran a free yearlong Twitter based marketing campaign in 2018 for the leukemia book I edited. Strangers managed to find my posts and ask me questions about the book. I watched the sales on Amazon go up and down in relation to when the posts would appear. It really works!

On the other hand, Facebook algorithms search for posts that indicate they might promote sales for something and hide these from the feed. Then they contact you about how, for small fee, you could reach more people. But here’s the thing Facebook: I’m not selling anything. I am trying to tell my friends and family about my free writing on my free blog for free. You know, relationships and sharing? You know, social media?

Around Christmas, I was offered a credit to try out Facebook advertising. I cashed that in to learn how it actually works and how effective it is. I chose to boost a blog post I wrote about Toys for Tots which was short on toys last Christmas season. I figured, if I was going to promote anything it should be of some value and help a worthy cause.

According to my little green book (my writing career business records), I applied a $15 credit for an ad that ran for two days. That ad reached 1,837 people and generated 104 post link clicks, and 3 shares. My blog stats indicated 5 clicks on the Toys for Tots website link within my blog post. I received no additional blog followers but one additional Facebook page follow. Because of the Facebook campaign, the Toys for Tots blog post got 185 views total. So, roughly a 10% success rate. What this would translate to in terms of books sales, I have no idea.

My blog posts normally get about 20-40 views depending on the photo, the topic, and the timing of the post. Pathetic, I know. If a lot of people react, social media will keep it visible in the feed and the numbers go up. This doesn’t include people that just come to my home page but since that statistic now includes web crawlers, it is a useless number to me. And this does not include the 140 people who have chosen to subscribe to my blog and get copies of it in their inbox every week. If you are trying to make a living at this, those numbers simply are not enough. You have to sell, sell, sell! I don’t. I am my own patron. I write because I must write.

So, what can we do? As a writer, it’s nearly impossible to get off social media if you are trying to reach your audience. Until someone comes up with the next great thing, some modern iteration of the old ISCABBS that allows us to connect without some insidious ulterior motive, I feel stuck with it. It’s the world we live in. I fear that despite all the good that has come of it, ultimately it is contributing to the chaos we see in the world today. It’s become a venue for people to vent their anger without actually doing anything about what is making them angry or realizing that it is social media itself that is fueling their rage for profit.

Please think about it.

 

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, May 2019

-Photo Credit: Phong Tran, April 2013, phonghtran.com

Months in review: Jan-Mar 2019

One of the most challenging aspects of writing books is the stamina it requires. There is a trick to writing. If I am happy, that feeling will come through and imbue my work. If I cry, you will cry. If I laugh… well, you might laugh. Comedy is hard. But my deep, turbulent, and powerful emotions are often quite clear to my audience. So is my boredom and stress.

So how then does one sustain the excitement through years of writing and revision?

It’s a lonely life, living with all this ink and paper. Last year, I finally got out and socialized with other writers at various events around town. I met a lot of people and had a lot of fun but quickly realized that the hours I spent out were hours spent away from my writing desk. Everything takes time. We have to make hard choices. And while I enjoyed supporting other writers and listening to their work,  I could no longer justify blowing a whole night to read one lousy poem.

“Solitude sometimes is best society.” -John Milton

Writing is an extremely isolating life simply because it takes hours and hours of concentrated alone time to produce anything of quality. I know this is the reason I was out. I got too lonely. Being among other writers can be a shot in the arm. You can steal their excitement and inspiration.

The best readings I have attended over the years were authors who spoke at the UMN as part of the English department reading series. I got to see Denis Johnson, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Natasha Trethewey read live- in the flesh!!! Absolutely inspiring and breathtaking…

I’ve talked to my mom about writing novels. This is roughly how that conversation went:

Mom- “Have you ever considered writing a romance novel?”
Me- “No mom. If I did, people would think I had been hit over the head.”
Mom- “Really?”
Me- “Yes mom. Really.”

*SIGH*

Sometimes, you just have to make the road by walking. There are no rules about how you get a novel written and really the only way to learn is to do it. I once read that there are two kinds of novelists- architects and gardeners. Architects already know exactly what the structure of their novel will be and fill in the prose. Gardeners have a handful of seeds (ideas), throw them, and wait to see what grows. I am a gardener. I have spent the last three months figuring out the architecture buried within the blob that is my current draft.

A former teacher once told me, “a book can do you in” and it’s true. If you intend to do it right, to cut up your soul and smear it on the page… I never have to look too far to know what makes me burn. I know what my calling is.

But writing a book is a slow, slow grind. You give up one day, only to return to it the next. I often ask myself, “Who is going to want to read this crap, anyway?” But whether it has an audience of 15 or 15 million, I am in it for the work, for the creation, for the birth of whatever *IT* is. Once it’s done, it will find that audience and it will no longer be mine. It will have a life wholly its own and there will be as many versions of it as readers.

How fucking amazing is that?

This past quarter, I posted 11 blog posts- 9 essays and 2 poems. I submitted some poems for possible publication. I got rejected from another submission (it wasn’t my best work). All the usual writerly stuff. And I have an enhancement to my blog in the works… to be launched in May.

Stay tuned!

  

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, April 2019

Months in review: Jul-Oct 2018

It’s November and this post was intended to be a quarterly Jul-Sep check-in but then life happened… I’ve had celebrations, out of town visitors, and/or business travel every weekend for the past five weeks. Since I mostly write and blog on the weekends you can understand my absence this past month. But really, who’s keeping track?

I submitted a piece for publication. It’s been over a decade since I last tried. Back then, I was writing children’s stories. If you know me, this fact may come as a bit of a shock- but it’s true. In the early days when I was first breaking out and sharing my work, they were simple, funny stories and did not disturb the deep fibers of my soul. Fast forward to today and you can read the lyrics that erupt when I strum those fibers.

I submitted the story after a friend and someone I consider a writing mentor urged me to do so. It feels like the natural next step to my writing career, such as it is. I have been asked by others why I am not published. And the answer is easy: because I don’t try. But the natural progression of questioning leads to why I don’t try, which I don’t have a good answer for.

You can chalk it up to laziness or perfectionism, but the truth is that it’s just the constraints of a professional working life. Consider our 168 hours every week, minus 56 of sleep (if we are lucky), minus the 60 hours dedicated to weekday work prep, commute, meals, and work day. That leaves 52 hours to rest, clean, shop, exercise, socialize, read, write, etc. Now add in the random universal chaos generator and there you have it. It’s not an excuse, just reality.

There is writing and then there is writing business. Searching for appropriate markets takes time and effort I am not willing to dedicate to my poetry and short fiction. So, I blog it here dear reader. I did manage to post ten times in the last four months, as well as attend open mics around town. This blog is my own magazine, entirely constructed of my work, for free and for my true fans.

But… what are my writing goals? What is it that I want to have accomplished by the end of my days? It’s not fame and fortune. We all know that is the same dream as winning the lottery. Still you can’t win if you don’t have a ticket, right? But I really don’t want that anyway. My dream is more about making a living outside the cube farm from the fruits of my creative writing. Maybe it’s my retirement dream, I don’t know.

My mission in writing is to make my readers feel the way I feel. I want others to know that they are not alone in this world. That the feelings and longings that they are ashamed of are a natural part of this human experience. I find life to be incredibly isolating- some of that by choice and some by circumstance. The difficulty of finding kindred spirits is universal. There are so many paths through life and different kinds of people navigating them. We often face the same trials with different responses and perspectives. I can learn from your experience and maybe you can learn from mine.

But those deep fibers have not rung out yet and finding markets for such stories will require fortitude, energy, and faith that I can and will find my place. That last one… that one fails me too often. Who exactly wants to read about all this crap rattling around in my head and heart? I have no great ego around my writing that makes me think the world needs to hear me, yet I am angered by the suggestion that I am not trying hard enough. I have fantastically wild dreams about my ideal writing life even while I still punch the time card…

The question I ask myself is why publish? Why not remain safe, pouring my guts out in anonymity? Why not leave all the notebooks behind and shock whoever is tasked with putting my final affairs in order? When I was first published in the Journal of Ordinary Thought back in 2002, a publication of the now defunct Neighborhood Writing Alliance in Chicago, I simply could not believe it. Yes, this was the parent organization of my writing group and yes, we were all guaranteed publication (unpaid) once per year, but there was still nothing else like seeing my writing in print. Some unknown someone was going to read it and react to it for good or bad. And in 2003, when I finished the first draft of my first novel, it felt as great as my college graduation. I felt like I could fly to the moon and back again.

Maybe that ride is reason enough for me.

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, November 2018