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On Writing: Part II – How Authors & Bloggers Can Use Social Media

Last year, Jeff Goins interviewed me on the subject of writing. I’m publishing the complete, unedited interview on the blog in three installments. Whether you are an author, a blogger, or someone who likes to post long notes on Facebook, I hope you will be inspired by the interview. 

Do you have any funny quirks or tricks to get you in the mood to write? Or can you just start?

I was afraid you would ask that. Before I write, I drink a pint of Absinthe followed by a friendly atomic knee drop to my cat (which she loves).

Just kidding!

Actually, I only do two things when I write:

(1) I’ll often light a candle on my desk (Peppermint, Jasmine Sea Salt, Honeydew Melon, and Apple Vanilla are favorites).

(2) Turn off everything that has sound. I need absolute quiet when I write. So no background music, no television or radio, etc.

So a candle and absolute quiet. Those are the ingredients that work best for me. I do most of my writing on my desktop (I use a Logtech G15 keyboard which lights up at night along with a G9 Mouse which has adjustable weights in it). Writing on a laptop is more difficult, so I don’t do any serious writing on it. I use Word 2007 to write articles, books, and blog posts.

Your mileage may vary, of course.

You’ve become a practitioner (and advocate, it seems) of using social media to connect with people in your tribe. How important do you think tools like Twitter, Facebook, and blogs are for writers and communicators now? 

Most of my friends who are authors are introverts. That is, they derive energy by being by alone. I’m an extrovert. I derive energy by interacting with people. For that reason, I’m naturally biased toward social media.

Blogs are essential. They give writers a format to hone their craft, test their ideas, receive critical feedback, and connect with those who have the same passions.

My blog, Beyond Evangelical, mostly attracts serious Christians in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. I blog about seven themes: God’s grand mission, the deeper Christian life, rethinking the status quo, missional church, writing & productivity, humor, and book reviews.

Twitter would fall into second place. In 2010, I wrote a blog post entitled Twitter vs. Facebook: Reflections, Comparisons, and Ministry Perspective. In it, I likened Twitter to a roundtable discussion and Facebook to a class reunion. I’ve met many great people through both Twitter and Facebook. This alone has made it worthwhile.

Update: Regarding blogging and social media, I’ve recently published Advice for Bloggers: 25 Tips. These steps have enabled my blog to hit 101,000 page views this month.

What’s one piece of crucial advice you have for someone who wants to get into writing books?

I actually wrote a blog post entitled Advice for Christian Authors: 25 Tips.

Since you’ve asked me to juice it down to one piece of advice, here it is:

Before you write a book, begin blogging for a few years. Blog daily if you can. As T.S. Elliot once said, “Writing everyday is a way of keeping the engine running, and then something good may come out of it.” Hone your skills. Receive feedback, and take it to heart. During that process, hire a professional editor to give you honest criticism on some of your blog posts.

If the editor is worth their salt, they will tear your work up in red, making many critical comments. That’s a good thing. It’s what you want. Without it, you’ll never know how to write well. Your friends value your friendship too much to tell you what they honestly think.

If you are serious about writing, you simply cannot have thin skin. So hire an editor to give you some straight talk. You may go into depression for a few weeks following, but once you recover, you’ll emerge a better writer.

One last thing. When it comes to writing, you’ll never arrive. So don’t be too hard on yourself. I’ve been writing for many years, and I’m still learning how to improve.

John Dos Passo’s words are as true today for me as they were when I wrote my first book:  “If there is a special Hell for writers, it would be in the forced contemplation of their own works, with all the misconceptions, the omissions, the failures that any finished work of art implies.”