Debra Eckerling (@WriteOnOnline), founder of the writers’ support group Write On!, discusses common writer challenges, the value of blogs, what it means to take writing to the next level, tragic networking mistakes, and more in this 5 On interview.
Debra Eckerling is the founder of WriteOnOnline.com, a website and community for writers, which focuses on goal-setting, troubleshooting, and networking. She is the author of Write On Blogging: 51 Tips to Create, Write, and Promote Your Blog and Purple Pencil Adventures: Writing Prompts for Kids of All Ages, an editor for Social Media Examiner, and host of Write On Online’s Guided Goals Podcast.
Debra writes and speaks on the subjects of writing, networking, goal-setting, productivity, and social media. She is co-producer of #140conf and hosts a monthly hangout for writers, artists, and entrepreneurs in Los Angeles, California.
5 on Writing
KRISTEN TSETSI: You write content now that aids other writers, but you began as a writer writing to write. What was the single piece, whether fiction or nonfiction, you most enjoyed writing?
DEBRA ECKERLING: The ones that stand out are usually the most recent (it’s fresh), the next (the excitement and anticipation), or the first. My first screenplay was so much fun, because, after so many years of being a movie-lover, I wrote a screenplay. My first novel, which I wrote during National Novel Writing Month several years ago, was super-cool, because what writer doesn’t want to write a novel? My first interview with a celebrity was John Cleese. I was living in the Chicago suburbs at the time, and he actually did the interview while flying from New York to Los Angeles, which made the experience even more memorable.
The story that most stands out in my mind I wrote long before any of those firsts. The essay question on one of my college applications asked, “If you could be anyone, who would it be?” They were likely expecting an historical figure or mainstream personality. I said I would want to be an animated version of myself, because I really didn’t want to be anyone else … and I believed everyone should know what it feels like to turn their head 360 degrees. It was so much fun to write. And, although it may have been my first experience taking an assignment and turning it on its head, it certainly would not be my last. I got into their creative writing program, by the way.
You wrote a book of writing prompts for young writers. Do you have a writing prompt (not for others, but for yourself as a writer) that stands out in your memory as a favorite, or as having consistently been the most inspiring?
I talk about journaling a lot. It is the first thing I mention after the introduction in both of my books, as journaling had a major impact on my development as a writer, and as a person, too.
During junior year in high school, my creative writing teacher made journaling mandatory: five pages a week. I typically exceeded that number by several pages, while some of my classmates exceeded it by a lot. (I have a vague memory of someone turning in 50 pages one week, though it may have been more.) It really helped me develop my style and tone, but also to work things out on paper and express myself.
The way I use journaling now is more like free-writing or what I call “directed journaling.” If I am stuck on something or even if I want to explore new ideas, I just start babbling on paper. I start by making a list, whether they are topics I want to write about or things I want to cover in a book or article, and then fill in notes as things come to me. That’s why I recommend variations of the process for my clients, and use a version for myself, too.
At WriteOn!, you help writers take their projects to “the next level.” What does it mean to take writing to the next level for a poet, a short story writer with a few published stories, a freelance writer for marketing publications, or an unpublished novelist?
The main thing that makes someone a better writer is more writing. Yes, you need to learn (take classes, read books, research online), so you can sharpen your technical skills. However, if you really want to be a better writer, you need to keep writing.
The next level is really the next step that will catapult your development, and it’s different for everyone.
Write On!, founded in the 1990s, is also a resource to help writers with troubleshooting. In the years since you founded the writers’ support group, what have you seen writers struggle with more than anything else, and what do you say to help them?
I think a writer’s biggest challenge is lack of support and encouragement. Not all writers have people in their lives who “get” how important writing is to them. These friends and relatives will downplay their loved one’s writing and treat it like a hobby.
I was fortunate to grow up with a support system. My mom always encouraged me to follow my passion.
People who lack support tend to make their writing less of a priority; they spend less time working on projects and honing their craft. They also have lower self-confidence and do not want to put themselves and their writing out there.
This is what I say: Only you can and should tell your stories. For some reason you are compelled to write. If you have something you want to say, you owe it to yourself and your readers to put it out there. I also say if you need more support or a nudge in the right direction, you know where to find me.
Write On Blogging: 51 Tips to Create, Write, & Promote Your Blog offers a comprehensive list of steps toward getting a blog not only started, but looking professional. But if you could offer a single critical, must-have, word of advice to a writer about to start a blog, what would it be?
Do your prep work before you start your blog. Come up with your mission, your design, your expert slant. Decide what you are going to write about and how many blog posts you can commit to a week, post length, etc. Come up with a feasible schedule and stick to it for at least three months. Better to commit to one post a week or two per month and stay on schedule, than to say you will post three days a week, get bored, and quit within a month. You can always reassess, change things up, or expand your blog at some point.
That being said, don’t drive yourself nuts and wait for everything to be perfect. Just give yourself a good start.
5 on Publishing
You were a production editor in publishing, for a time. What was the most chaotic or stressful aspect of managing the evolution from unpublished to published manuscript, and what was the most fun?
I feel very fortunate in that, when I worked as a production editor, it was during the transition from typeset to digital. I worked on books that were produced both ways.
The most chaotic and the most fun were probably the same thing: working on multiple projects at once. I once completed five books within a ten-day production deadline. These were all nonfiction, and ranged from coffee table books to crafts. My job was to make sure all of the deadlines were met in all departments—editing, art, typesetting—and to review as I put the pieces of all the books together. It was exciting to be a part of that.
I still enjoy that variety. I am always working on many different types of projects simultaneously.
You ask in many of the interviews you conduct with others, “What do you know now that you wish you had known at the beginning of your career?” The same question to you, as it relates to generating an audience, marketing, and the use of social media.
Wow. I wish I knew that was such a difficult question.
One thing I have learned is that extra time is never going to magically appear. If I want to work on something new—a passion project outside of my ongoing deadlines and client responsibilities—I need to make the time.
So, if you have something you want to create, whether it’s a new writing project or social media marketing plan, don’t put it off. Commit to an hour a week and put it as an appointment on your calendar. Then keep those appointments with yourself.
Even a little time each week will add up. Before you know it you will make progress on that thing you keep putting off. You can have a novel, non-fiction book, screenplay, podcast, stellar social media presence, or more than one of the above.
You write in the introduction to Write On Blogging, “This is not a book on how to monetize your blog with ads and affiliate links. It’s on showcasing your expertise through content, so you get more business and sales.” How much practical sense does it make for a creative writer, or anyone whose book or other writing doesn’t fall into a niche, to write a blog?
A blog increases your visibility, while showcasing your expertise, no matter what your business. And that includes the business of writing. Furthermore, whether you self-publish or go the traditional route, you need to cultivate an audience. And if you are promoting yourself—which you will do even if you have a publisher—you need to get people excited about your upcoming publications. How do you get them excited? Allow them to get to know you and what is going on in your world. A blog enables you to do that.
Networking is one of the subjects you speak about, and you also address it at Write On!. What are the three most tragic mistakes a person can make in their efforts to network professionally, and what three pro-tips should they always keep in mind? Was there a mistake you made that taught you something you would never forget?
Here are the three huge mistakes people make in networking and how not to do them:
- Not networking. Staying home is the biggest mistake. Yes, you can meet new people via social media, but nothing beats real life connections. Put yourself in situations where you can meet new friends and contacts, even if it’s just once a month—although once a week is better. Go to a variety of events, such as workshops, book signings, mixers, you name it.
- Being salesy. Don’t pitch yourself in networking situations, unless of course that’s the point of the event. Instead, have conversations. When you meet someone new, find common ground. Talk about food, movies, books, your favorite local hangout. Make it personal so you are also memorable for when you follow up. It’s also a lot more fun.
- Not following up. After you meet a new connection, offer your business card and get one from them, too. Then, within a few days, write a note and connect on LinkedIn and/or Facebook. For the people you really like, make plans to get together. Remember, networking situations are just a springboard for relationship development.
Everywhere you go and everything you do is a networking opportunity. I have become friends with people I met at jury duty years ago. And, thanks to Facebook, we still keep in touch. Not everyone will be a direct business connection. However, some could become friends, while others may to offer you an intro to someone you really want to meet.
As far as mistakes are concerned, and this isn’t necessarily specific to networking: Be careful what you publish and what you say online, because you never know who will read it.
Several years ago, I wrote dating articles for a newspaper in Los Angeles. In one column I mentioned someone I dated when I still lived in the Chicago suburbs. I didn’t mention him by name, but I included a recognizable situation. Well, we reconnected a few years later, and he asked what I had been up to. I told him I had been writing and said he could see some of my work on my website. I never heard from him again. Not tragic, but oops!
With so many possible ways to reach readers using social media, what outlets do you recommend for writers who only want one or two accounts to keep track of? Does it depend on what the writer writes, the writer’s personality, or both?
I do not think there is a best platform for social media, as it’s based on your genre or personality. However, if there is a network you already use regularly, that is the one you should be on. You want to communicate and engage on the social media platform where you are comfortable. That way, you can allow your personality to shine through.
That said, those who are social media shy and only want to use two platforms might start with LinkedIn and Facebook. Then, when you are ready, add Twitter to the mix.
LinkedIn. Since this is a professional network, a lot of people prefer to connect on LinkedIn after they meet a new business contact. Put up a profile and post on it just a couple times a week. Share your own links, as well as articles from others (tag the ones you are connected to when you share). If you want, experiment with putting posts up on LinkedIn Publisher. Since there is a lot less noise on LinkedIn than there is on other social media, and since fewer people actually post updates on the platform, it is more likely yours will be seen. Be sure to like and comment on others posts, as well, to increase your visibility.
Facebook. Facebook is a great way to stay in touch and top-of-mind with people you already know. Post article links, graphics, quotes, anything that relates to you, your writing, your genre, writing news, etc. As with LinkedIn, comment on other people’s posts and reply to comments on yours. Bonus points for those who want to experiment with Facebook Live. Stream live video when you have news, or are speaking, at a book signing, or are attending a fun writing event.
Twitter. Use Twitter to connect with new people. Follow your writer friends, as well as favorite publications, publishing houses, authors, agents, and more. Then, tweet not just your content, but content you think your followers would like, too. Want to write for a certain publication or ask someone to write about you? Follow them on Twitter, retweet them, and engage in conversations. Then, when you do outreach, they already have a sense of who you are. Need a source for an article? Tweet questions and see who responds. Or respond to questions from others.