I’m pleased to introduce our first guest blogger on The Writers Circle, historical novelist Michelle Cameron, the author of “The Fruit of Her Hands“.
“Connecting with Other Writers”
My son, a somewhat arrogant aspiring writer of 19, tells me that writing blog entries is going over to the Dark Side. And you don’t even want to hear what he thinks of Twitter. Or of me being on Facebook.
But he’s a college student whose social life centers around campus and classes. And he’s unusual among his friends because he doesn’t live with his thumbs perpetually fixed on his cell phone or completely immersed online. He doesn’t understand yet what it’s like to work in isolation from those who are passionate about what you care about.
I can mention writing at work only cautiously. My co-workers are not writers themselves and aren’t impressed with the struggle to get the words, the characters, the plot line right. My writing group (on hiatus right now) meets only every two weeks. While we dive headlong into the work we’re critiquing that day, and the words tumble forth as we discuss an aspect of writing that has bewildered us ― or that we’ve mastered ― there is a deafening silence between sessions.
So what’s left is the instant gratification of social media ― the quick, haiku-like pull of the 140-character Tweet, the specialized discussions of the Historical Novel Society or in the groups of shewrites.com. (If you haven’t heard of shewrites.com, you definitely want to check it out.) If I post an article about writing on Facebook, I’m certain to foster comments from my writer friends. If my profile status is “Stuck on this chapter,” my friends will respond asking me what’s wrong or counseling me to take a long walk to clear my head. Suddenly, there’s someone to talk to.
And using social media – even Twitter, which took me a long time to understand – can connect you in less virtual ways as well. It was because of a post in the Historical Novelist Society, for instance, that first introduced me to Judith and her writing. Another post, coming from the Women Who Write organization, a local women’s group, brought me to BooksNJ 2009 – and who should be standing there, but Judith, in the flesh. So we actually got to talk in person.
With my debut historical novel, THE FRUIT OF HER HANDS, just published by Pocket Books, social media has connected me to people I would never have had the chance to meet personally. It’s given me reviews in California and Israel, opportunities to speak in Boston, a place to stay in Washington, DC. A great portion of the blog tour I’m on right now came about due to my appeal to the historical novelists I talk to online. And while the jury is still out on whether or not the time I spend there will help actually sell books, there feels like there is a mild buzz building about the novel that couldn’t generally happen for a debut novelist. (If this is an illusion, let me keep it awhile longer.)
But, of course, there’s a seductive quality to all this chatter, a trap writers can fall into. It becomes compulsive, and I find myself wanting that fix several times a day. I have to be disciplined about how often I turn to these outlets. You can switch on the computer for “a quick check” and pick your head up considerably later, not knowing where the hours have gone. My writing time is limited and the last thing I want is to fritter my time away in something that feels productive but results in no actual work. Perhaps this is what my social butterfly of a son, who complains that there is no time for writing when he’s at college, is getting at when he shakes his head at my Twitter screen. “It’s going over to the Dark Side, mom,” he tells me. “Watch out for the Dark Side.”
Michelle Cameron’s The Fruit of Her Hands: the Story of Shira of Ashkenaz (Pocket Books, September 2009) is based on the life of the author’s thirteenth-century ancestor, Meir ben Baruch of Rothenberg, a renowned Jewish scholar of medieval Europe. Michelle lives in New Jersey with her husband and two college-age sons.