I could end this post right there, but you probably need a bit more to go on before you see what I’m getting at.
I have not always been a writer. I liked making up stories as a kid, stapling them into little books with my own hand-drawn covers. They most involved princesses and monsters and I’m guessing that’s what led me to start reading horror and mystery and all the dark stuff about the monsters that surround us, hidden inside human skin (this is a metaphor, btw – I’m not actually talking about those lizard people from “V,” but come to think of it, that might be true too).
Anyway… once I decided I was going to start writing, which was 11 years ago now, I didn’t really know that it would change my life so completely. See, it’s not just the actual writing part that makes you an author. There’s all the other stuff, like publicity and marketing, building a fan base, networking with industry professionals, and, of course, drinking cocktails in hotel bars at 5am.
A lot of this stuff can be done online (expect the cocktail part, because virtual cocktails are pointless), but when you open that trapdoor—your blog, your twitter handle, your Facebook profile, your Facebook page, the Facebook book groups, Goodreads, Instagram, Pinterest, a mailing list, and probably another load of things I haven’t even heard of— it’s hard not to get stuck down there in the cellar full of people making noise like BUY MY BOOK and LOOK AT MY NEW COVER and I’VE WRITTEN 2K and OMG PROCRASTINATION and MY BOOK IS IN A SALE and BUY MY BOOK!!!
Sometimes it gets dark in the cellar.
I’ve seen lots of weird online spats. Things that would simply not happen in a hotel bar at 5am. People talk differently online. Things get misunderstood. Things can start to unfold too fast and run away with themselves until you’ve got no idea what just happened, but you know that you feel like you’ve been punched in the gut. That’s when you have to step back. Look at what you are spending your time doing. Is it productive? Are you researching, writing, editing, chatting to friends and sharing useful information? Or are you getting embroiled in crazy flame wars with virtual strangers?
This is where real life helps.
It can be easy to forget real life. You need to get out of the house, talk to people who have nothing to do with books or writing. Eavesdrop on the general public and steal their lives to create characters for your novels (joking… not joking). I know this won’t apply to many of you. If you have busy day jobs and families and lots of non-writing friends, then you are probably striking a good balance. But sometimes, even if you do have a day job and a family and some normal friends, if you’re at home alone a lot, it’s easy to get trapped in the virtual world and forget that there’s a real one outside. With sunshine, and rain, and replicants masquerading as baristas in your local Starbucks.
This is not to say that everything online is bad for you. Without the online world, how would you find the old school friends who used to steal your lunch, and that ex that you thought was still covered by a restraining order? How else could you start innocently watching something on Youtube, and get trapped in an autoplay loop that requires a hostage negotiator to get you out? How else can you research things like “common edible mushrooms,” “IKEA fabric sofas,” “how cameras work,” “undetectable poisons,” “John 3:16,” “sharpest kitchen knives,” “deciduous garden trees,” and “serial killer categories” and claim that they are all for research purposes? How else can you obsessively check your Amazon ranking and read your latest one-star review from someone who “read ten pages of this disgusting filth before deleting it from my kindle?”
I guess what I am trying to say, is keep an eye on yourself. Keep yourself in check. Write your books. Network. Have fun. Just don’t get embroiled in unnecessary online frippery. Maybe think about going to an actual conference (if you haven’t already) because you can’t beat those 5am cocktails with your writing buddies, and that weird guy who everyone thinks someone else knows…
S.J.I. (Susi) Holliday grew up in Scotland and now lives in London. A life-long fan of crime and horror, her short stories have been published in various places, and she was shortlisted for the inaugural CWA Margery Allingham prize with her short story Home from Home, which will be published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine this spring. She has three crime novels published so far, a mix of police procedural and psychological thriller, set in the fictional Scottish town of Banktoun. They are: Black Wood (2015), Willow Walk (2016) and The Damselfly(2017) – all featuring the much loved character, Sergeant Davie Gray. Her next novel, a Christmas serial killer thriller, The Deaths of December, will be published by Hodder in November 2017. Susi also works as a pharmaceutical statistician, and you will find her at crime fiction events in the UK and abroad. You can find out more at her website: www.sjiholliday.com and on Facebook and Twitter @SJIHolliday.
To learn more about Holliday’s latest book, click on the cover below: