This post will be quite different from my usual posts. This post is about my semester long ‘project’ that I’m undertaking with fourteen others in Cathy Day’s 405 class at Ball State University. The class is called ‘Literary Citizenship’ and our first assignment is to write a blog that isn’t titled “‘Why I Took This Class’.
Hopefully Cathy finds that funny.
Anyways, you might be asking yourself what literary citizenship is. You might even think that it sounds a bit dry and boringly academic. I assure you it is not.
The easiest way to describe this idea is to call it networking but that’s not really what it’s about. I mean that it is about networking but it is also about getting to know people and being genuinely interested in what people are doing around you. This doesn’t just apply to writers or artists, although it is technically an English class. This can apply to anyone who wants to get further involved in the world of social media or someone who wants to promote their work without being ‘that guy’ who never tweets about anything except to urge you to buy their stuff. Nobody likes That Guy and this class is sort of about how to not be That Guy.
Personally, I’ve been using social media for quite a long time. I remember when Facebook had the infinite scrolling, when smileys and quizzes reigned supreme. I remember a time before FarmVille people! I got a Twitter about two years ago, mostly to follow my friends and learn about various events (parties). I’ve always used social media for my own personal use and I wasn’t really keen on the idea that once I graduated and got a ‘big girl’ job I would really have to alter who I was online. I think that cleaning up your online image is my generation’s version of cutting off your hippie hair and trading tie-dye shirts for actual ties. We try to pretend that it won’t matter, that we can simply set all the settings to private and no one will be able to find us. But that isn’t true. The debate on online privacy is gearing up around the world and there are a lot of issues that will have to be addressed in the near future. Ignoring it won’t stop it.
So instead of burying our heads in the sand like the cowardly ostrich how can we go out into the world of social media and put our best foot forward?
Well for one thing let’s go back to That Guy. We all know someone who is That Guy on our various social media sites. That Guy is someone who has something they really want to promote. It might be a novel they’ve been working on, an independent film, chainsaw bear statues, etc. So they’ve got a project that they are incredibly excited about so they write post after post about it. They want people to come see and support their work. Okay, very noble goals and perfectly reasonable. Isn’t this what all artists want?
The tragic story of That Guy, is oftentimes they are trying to promote something that really is important and pretty cool. I mean, chainsaw bear statues are cool right? But the issue is that That Guy often runs into is that they have spent so much time with their craft (which is a good thing!) that they’ve neglected their friends both offline and online (bad thing). So when they go onto social media they don’t have very many relationships, their only option is to sort of just shout: BUY MY THINGS BECAUSE THEY ARE COOL AND YOU WILL ENJOY THEM! (And oftentimes they will use the all caps).
If you’ve seen this then you immediately understand why thisis the wrong approach. For one, people don’t like to be yelled at in real life and they really don’t like to be ‘yelled’ at on social media.
Seriously this is how you look when you use all caps.
Don’t do it.
Second, most people immediately skim over That Guy’s desperate pleas. They have no idea who they are, what they do, what they support, and so on. Why should I care? Where were you when I was trying to sell my own work? This might seem like a callous response but we’ve all done it. You see someone trying to sell you something, someone you have no real relationship with either in the real world or the digital one, and you simply pass over it.
So how does one avoid becoming That Guy?
You must realize that the internet is not like anything that has ever been in existence before. We are still learning what works and what doesn’t work. Even people who have grown up with the internet still don’t really know what they’re doing. It’s a lot of trial and error to get the ball rolling. But don’t despair! We have figured some things out and you can at least find a starting point.
Number One: you need to become a literary citizen. Again, this is something new and another thing that we don’t really know everything about yet. But hang in there, it’s actually pretty fun! At the very core of being a ‘litcitizen’, as Cathy calls it, is being interested in what other people are doing. This might seem like a no-brainer but can you remember the last time you asked another artist about their workwithout talking about your own? Imagine how excited you would be to find a comment on your social media site of choice about how much someone loves your book/art/work/bear statues. You can spread that kind of excitement to people within your community. And in the digital age, or whatever they’re calling it nowadays, it’s literally never been easier. You can tweet someone while on the bus and make their day with literally two seconds of effort.
Number Two: (this is sort of a subheading under Number One) You need to be passionate about something. While this idea is aimed mostly at books and writing it can be applied to almost anything in the realm of art and even outside the realm of art. Whatever you are passionate about I can guarantee that someone else is just as passionate about the same thing. As Cathy says on the Literary Citizenship website: “work to create a world in which literature can thrive and is valued”. If you want to have a world that will crave your work then you must help build that world, you can’t expect to use it without helping.
Number Three: Learn about the internet and social media. I understand that a lot of people feel incredibly frustrated when they try to learn about the internet and I think that part of it is because it seems to effortless to many others. But if you are especially internet savvy then use that knowledge to help others around you who are struggling. If you are struggling don’t be afraid to admit it. The internet holds an unfathomable amount of possibilities for artists all across the globe and it is important, if not imperative, that you know how to use it.
At the Literary Citizenship website there are tons of links to other sites and blogs that detail how people can use the internet productively (I know productivity and the Internet? Whaaa?)
But really, how you present yourself online is one of the most important things nowadays. Potential employers will Google you. Don’t laugh, they will and you need to beat them to it. Make sure that your online self is just as impressive as your real self. You won’t regret it and doing these things can be kind of fun. If you have things online that you wouldn’t want an employer to see then you need to find a way to either delete it or explain it. Preemptive strike!
At the end of the day we all want to be recognized for what we do, especially our passions. If you want to come into a community where that is possible you must work towards building that community. Don’t be afraid, don’t worry that people won’t take you seriously, those kinds of thoughts lead to unproductive lives. As artists, or whatever else you do, no judgement here, it is imperative that we don’t simply focus on our career or our work. History has proven that artists that band together make much more impact on the world.
Al of these things I’ve learned in only two classes with Cathy. These issues are important and I believe that she is on the right track to make students, especially English students, aware of the opportunities that can be grasped out in the real world. Learning about these opportunities and exactly how to pursue them is exactly why I decided to take this class.
Rock on readers, go forth and be book loving, community building ninjas!