I attended a couple of really useful professional development workshops given by Leicester Writers’ Club this spring.
The regular masterclasses the club stage for its members are one of the many fantastic things about being a Leicester Writer. A core group of experienced, well-published authors, many of whom also lecture on creative writing courses at nearby universities, regularly share what they know with the rest of us for little more than the price of a packed lunch from Tesco’s. The quality of knowledge and skills picked up over each day-long course are akin to sticking on a pair of seven league boots and taking a huge leap forward on your personal writer’s journey. Priceless.
The professional development sessions focused on marketing ourselves as writers rather than on writing craft itself. Over the two workshops, long-term members Emma Lee and Siobhan Logan got us to evaluate what we were already doing then led us through good practice in networking, blogging, using social media and reviewing other people’s work. It was eye-opening stuff and I came away with a strengthened belief in myself as a ‘writer’ and a determination to sort out my shop window. Which is useful, because it’s in something of a mess.
How to properly brand ‘Alison the Writer’ has puzzled me since first being advised to create a blog by our tutor on the Creative Writing Masters course. Conflicting advice from a wide variety of sources (including online and in ‘how to’ books) and indecision over the best path to follow has prompted me, variously, to set up –
- a blog;
- a Patreon page;
- a twitter account; and
- three websites – my author website; a platform for the teaching resources I’ve created over the years; and a platform for the creative social enterprise I set up in 2012 to support my work in the community.
I’ve dabbled with a newsletter and have a fairly active Facebook presence, though mostly just for the benefit of friends.
To complicate matters further, I have a LinkedIn page – which a creative coach recently told me is the only platform I should be posting on – and I write for a local history website I co-developed in 2014 as part of a funded post. The post was short-term, but I’m still passionate about collecting our town’s history and contribute articles to the site whenever I have time.
The advice I’ve read is to decide what kind of writer you are and then stick with that, avoiding confusing your audience with different facets of yourself. The problem is that there are lots of facets to me, all with equal validity, and try as I might to choose one, I can’t. I write stories for children. I love history – fiction and nonfiction. Memoir leaks from my fingertips, often at inconvenient moments, and though I’ve tried to ignore it, I’m a teacher at heart and want to share what I know about teaching with others. All these aspects demand expression through writing and that writing needs a platform on which to reach the world.
But keeping up so many platforms – particularly whilst earning your living elsewhere – is time consuming and pretty much impossible. I’m spread too thin and paranoid about damaging my professional credibility. So I end up doing very little on any of them and never writing down the thoughts in my head. My writer’s voice is silenced, in effect, which leaves me feeling more than a little unhinged. (Those chattering voices need syphoning somehow and, sadly, I don’t have the magical skills to use a pensieve).
At the end of the Leicester Writers workshops I emailed Emma Lee – a very experienced blogger – to ask what I should do about my blog, whose subscription was up for renewal and which I shared with the world anonymously. She suggested I let go of the blogger account and merge the articles on it with those on my author website, giving them a brief edit to help them fit. But weren’t the topics too ‘private’ for my ‘professional persona’ to share? ‘There’s no ‘should’ or ‘should not’ when it comes to how much personal stuff gets included on a writer’s blog,’ she answered. ‘Some writers use it as a starting point. Some writers avoid it. It’s a personal decision as to how much information you want to give.’
It’s a tricky one, this idea of acknowledging my thoughts and feelings so publicly, of being brave and expressing my true, authentic voice under my own name. Of standing up and stating so forcefully ‘take it or leave it but this is me!’
But very necessary to my development, both as a person and as a writer. Indeed, the lack of willingness to do so might very possibly be the thing that’s stopped me finishing that one important book that only I can write.
It’s time, I think, to let the chattering voices say what they really want to say …
So that’s what I intend to do. Over the next few months I’ll be re-working blogs I previously published on other platforms and bringing them all here. Nailing my colours to the mast and putting my name to articles which have previously been anonymous.
It’s an important step for me as a writer and the only way I’m ever going to merge the different elements of myself into one, strong voice.