The past few weeks have afforded me the time to do a bit of extracurricular reading, which has served as a poignant reminder of how the reading/writing feedback loop works, at least for me. I think every book of writing advice under the sun tells us to read widely, variously, and voraciously, but I find what happens after is not discussed nearly as often.

Only rarely do I find myself directly influenced by any text I’ve encountered. I’ve never told myself to write a story or poem just like the one I’m reading. Every now and again I’ll come across an interesting poetic form, for example, and try to reverse-engineer it via a few trials of my own, but for the most part the new input caroms around the inside of my skull like billiard balls. Today I’m rereading Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s World of Wonders, for example (I selected it for a class sight-unseen, based on good classroom experiences with Lucky Fish, skimmed it over Christmas, and am giving it a class-prep scouring right now), which is a lovely blend of natural observation and personal reflection. Inside my melon, however, the new content I’m pouring into my brain is colliding with memories, stray thoughts, and daydreams as well as snatches of facts and all the interruptions one is apt to encounter when one tries to sit still for an hour or three. It makes for an unpredictable mixture, but from it–because my brain is feeling pretty spongy this morning–I’ve been able to pluck out several unexpected bits and bobs that might turn into poems or stories as well as a few Notes to Self that could figure in my revisions for the novel manuscript when May rolls around. It’s much like adding loam to depleted soil–there’s a little nourishment to be had, but there’s no telling what will grow from it.

The chief challenge when attempting to encourage the reading/writing feedback loop is capitalizing on those chancy, flickering collisions. For the same reason I keep a bedside journal (and have an overhead bedroom lamp I can turn on remotely with the push of a button)–to catch fleeting thoughts before I drift off to sleep, thoughts I would otherwise surely forget–I tend to keep my phone beside me when I write. My Notes app is filled with ideas and reminders, suggestions I hope my future self will be able to take advantage of. As a tag-along clause, it’s important (for me, at least) to jot down hints and intimations with sufficient clarity for Future Me to follow up on. If I don’t, I generally find myself mystified by the cryptic, impressionistic ravings of this “Bill Wandless” person–if that is his real name.

Those habits of receptivity and recording, coupled with practice as constant as I can manage, might well be the most important formative forces in my writing life. While I sometimes rather wish I had a bit more control over what those forces actually form, it’s hard not to be astonished and delighted by the way my mind can surprise me.

Massaging the Message

As far as social media goes, I tend to be supersaturated. I use one platform to keep up with old friends; I split Twitter three ways, with one site serving as a professional destination, another as a site dedicated to my morning doomscroll, and another devoted to hypnosis. I also frequent about five Discord channels to keep abreast of hypnotic oddities. All of which is to say I have Ideas and Opinions about social media.

You’ll find plenty of guides out there with good and useful advice for representing oneself professionally on various platforms. This is not one of them. This, however, is a collection of user-end reflections that I hope will suffice as food for thought. A light snack, mebbe.

The first rule of thumb, as I see it, is Giving Folks Something to Find. That might seem like it goes without saying, but I can think of more than a half dozen writers and creators off the top of my head who host professional destinations they update once in a blue moon. (In at least one case I mean that literally: an active writer of no little renown hasn’t updated their official site since mid-2020.) I don’t think one needs to go bananas, posting every ten minutes, but I think it’s important to give folks a reason to visit one’s corner of the Web every now and then. I clean out my bookmarks every couple of months, and much of the cleaning centers on deleting sites that seem defunct.

The second rule of thumb, such as it is, is to be complex and genuine. Even though I’m subdivided into a half dozen Wrackwellians, I still try to exhibit a bit of variety in my various online personae. Just because one destination is devoted to hypnoweirdness doesn’t mean I won’t talk about books, music, games, or my various Ideas and Opinions from time to time. I harbor suspicions about people who are always on message, whatever the message might be. Humans tend to ramble and digress; to do otherwise seems to me at least tedious and, on occasion, even inauthentic. As most creative folk will tell you, there’s no persona so bland that someone won’t take offense to it, so you might as well go ahead and be yourself. Given time, the like-minded will find you.

2a, while I’m at it, is to exhibit some variety even when you’re posting self-promotional content. It’s part of The Hustle, and it should not be disregarded, but (as above) I can name a half dozen creators off the top of my head who post the same promos at the same time every day. There’s probably some tactical savvy in that practice, but as a reader I just scroll on by every day. If they’ve actually mixed in any new content, alas, I’ve certainly missed it.

The third is to network authentically, which is I think a smidge different than simply being complete and authentic. Follow creators you like. Ask questions and offer answers to some when and if you can (but be sure not to cut in if you can see someone is purposely engaging another respondent). Be supportive and kind. Promote projects you’re excited about. Be circumspect, polite, and mindful of context. If you make a mistake, apologize openly, wholly, and sincerely. I like to think when you do those things that folk will be happy when they find you. Your web presences might not take off as rapidly as you might, but they’ll grow in time.

3a, while I’m at it, is to hold back if you think any online behavior of yours will be viewed as tactical or transactional. Because it probably will. Fun fact: a writer has done a great job of digesting the reasons to resist that impulse, but because one of my stories is under consideration for a volume they’re editing, I won’t link it here right now. (Though I will later if I remember.) I think one is always free to promote the work of one’s friends, but of course most readers will take those recommendations with a grain of salt. In my experience readers really latch on to disinterested promotion. If I tell you I absolutely loved Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom, for example, and link to his site, or if I tell you I’m very much looking forward to Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel and point you toward one of the creator’s Twitter feeds, then you might consider checking them out. Maybe you’ll consider me a Gentleman of Rarefied Taste, which is a sidelong benefit, but you probably won’t view the referrals as a crass attempt on my part to sell you something. It’s useful and good to express admiration; creative folks need and deserve plenty of support. But people are pretty dang savvy when it comes to judging if folk are posting to score points or are hoping to gain in some way by making the recommendation. They tune out if they detect fawning or insincerity or–worse still–if they see you’re trying to hop on someone else’s coattails to promote your own stuff.

Somewhat related to the third point is the fourth: try to be mindful of sloppy slabbery. You’ve seen them before: early reviews for a writer’s Hot New Thing come in, and suddenly your Twitter feed consists of an undifferentiated slab of links to those reviews. I might pause and take a look if the recommendation happens to come from someone whose opinion I respect, but otherwise I’ll scroll right by and maybe miss out on something I might have otherwise considered. As above, it’s easy to tell when someone is being gracious and graceful, easier to tell when they are clogging your feed to Create an Impression. This is doubly true when we can all queue reviews up so that folks just see a couple each day. I tend to think that yields a more effective kind of buzz.

That’s all for the moment, but only because I’ve overshot my dedicated blogging time. I have more Ideas and Opinions, alas, but they’ll have to wait for another day.