While speaking at a local writer’s conference, I had the pleasure of meeting Suzanne Harris, a writing coach and “get-it-written” strategist. Her work helps writers take charge of their writing life, deal with resistance, finish their projects and make more out of their writing dreams. So I asked her if she could apply some of her insights to platform building – here’s what she has to say…
As a writers’ coach, I know first hand how many of you struggle to fit writing into your busy lives.
You’re already heroically juggling any combination of full-time, part-time, freelance, or volunteer work, along with grocery shopping, meal making, appointments, child care, errands, house work, yard work, family, friends in need…
Yet when you get a small in-between space you slip off to your pages and let the words come, because despite it all, dammit, you are a writer.
But you never signed up to be an entrepreneur, and now all this platform stuff… where the heck are you going to find time to do all that?
I want to ease your fears and tell you to just forget about it and focus solely on writing.
But I can’t.
Because stories are meant to be shared.
Stories ache for an audience. Most of us want our work to mean something. We want to touch people, move people, inform, inspire, or entertain people.
If you want your literary baby to get out into the world to do the work it was meant to do, you will need to lay a bit of groundwork.
The reality is, at some point you will have to make time for the business side of your writing life if you want to reach the people who will buy your books.
Because it doesn’t matter if you self-publish or get accepted by a traditional publisher, you will need to be able to do these things:
- Present yourself out in the world.
- Identify, find and interact with your audience.
- Promote your work so potential readers can discover it.
Time is the Great Challenge for Us All
“When will I ever have time to write if I have to do all this platform building stuff?” one of my clients moaned recently. “Writing is the thing I love.”
I guide stalled writers back to active, fulfilling writing lives through my program, The Unlocked Writer™, and one of the first things we do together is carve out space and time for them to write.
The same strategies we use to create time to write can be applied to making time for platform building:
- Clear the mind clutter.
- Accept what is.
- Be deliberate in your efforts.
- Create efficiencies.
- Take it in stages (don’t panic!).
Clear the “Mind Clutter”
If you’re balking at the idea of promoting yourself, chances are one of the biggest things working against you is your own mind.
You may not even realize how your own thoughts and beliefs are getting in your way.
“This is going to annoy people.”
“I’m just going to embarrass myself.”
“Self-promotion is so cheesy.”
“What if my story isn’t that good?”
“I’m not smart enough for this.”
“I don’t have anything to say.”
If you don’t deal with your own self-sabotaging thoughts, getting down to business is always going to be a struggle. Clear the mind clutter and cultivate an attitude that serves your dreams instead of hindering them.
Look at and examine your thoughts:
- Anxieties around failure or success. (How do you define each? Is there a healthier way to look at it?)
- Your beliefs around promoting yourself. (Any negative messaging from your internal critic or voices from the past?)
- Fears and vulnerabilities around being visible. (What do you think is going to happen? Why? Then what would happen?)
- Issues of worthiness. (Are you streaming negative messages about the value of your works and contribution to the world?)
- Perfectionism. (Is the idea of being ‘not ready’ or ‘not good enough’ keeping you from taking action?)
Accept What Is and Go with Ease
Platform building is a part of the writing life, and yes, sometimes you may be way out of your comfort zone.
Take a deep breath. Use anxiety management strategies to ground yourself as you navigate this new-to-you arena. Find a technique that works for you, and then practice it. (You can download an overview of common techniques here.)
Go forward with a spirit of curiosity. Learn. Experiment.
Intend to have fun.
Be Deliberate in Your Efforts
Make a plan.
Making a plan for your platform building–like making an outline for your story–will help you leverage your efforts and save time.
You’re a pantster, you say?
That’s fine for writing, but don’t be a pantster with your platform. You will waste time and energy when the goal is to conserve it for your writing.
With thoughtful planning, your efforts will work together to complement and reinforce each other. Plan to be deliberate in your platform building. Research and choose your tools*, tactics and strategies carefully.
A writer’s life contains lots of non-writing activities that require time: research, musing, searching for a publisher, writing query letters, maintaining a website. Building your platform is just another part of this whole.
By the time you’ve written your first draft you’ve probably established a regular writing habit and trained your friends and family to leave you alone when you’re working.
If you can’t set aside additional time in your week to manage your platform building efforts, you’ll need to section off a bit of this writing time to deal with the business of writing.
In my experience, if it’s not on the schedule, it doesn’t get done.
All my clients have their writing time on their calendar. By the time you have your first draft completed (if not sooner) it’s time to start scheduling some business time, too.
- Allocate some time each week for business building. Even short bursts count.
- Put tasks on the calendar. Make them non-negotiable. (You’re doing this with your writing time, anyway, aren’t you?!)
- If you are just starting, schedule the learning time, too. There are tools to research and technology to figure out. Learning what to do, developing new skills, and actually implementing what you learn, all require time.
Honour the commitment.
If it’s on the calendar, do it.
If you find yourself avoiding, go back to the mind clutter segment and see if you have some work to do there.
Make the most of your time and energy. As they say, work smarter, not harder. Here are some ideas:
Keep things simple.
- Choose a clean, simple website* for less upkeep and fuss.
- Don’t scatter your social media efforts. Choose the one or two social media streams your potential readers use most and stick with those.
- Don’t think you have to write separate copy for your newsletter and your blog. Use your newsletter to introduce your blog post and link to it. Use your blog posts as newsletter items.
Leverage your efforts.
- Brainstorm blog topics for 6 months or more at one time. Put them on your calendar.
- Write a batch of blog posts at a time. Really. It takes so long to ramp up and get into the zone, why stop at one and do it all over again next week? Create efficiencies by writing several blog posts (or at least drafts) in one sitting and have them standing by, ready to go.
- Apply the principle of ‘batching’ to other tasks (e.g. social media posts, promotional copy) where you can.
- Repurpose content instead of starting from scratch.
Take it in Stages
You don’t have to do everything all at once. It’s impossible.
Instead, plan to take it in stages. Start small, and as you gain proficiency, stretch a little further.
You’ll benefit from starting early, plus you need to give yourself the time to learn what you need to learn. Solicit help where and when you need it.
Even tiny steps take you forward.
Once you have your plan, break your tasks down into small steps. How small is small? Ideally, looking at the week ahead, you’d break your tasks down to fit the windows of time you’ve set aside for platform building.
Got a half day? Batch blog posts.
Your scheduled sessions only an hour long? Break your steps into one-hour pieces. Yes, even if you have to divide your Write blog post into 3 separate chunks.
Only 15 minutes a day? Break your task down into micro-sprints!
Think chewable bites.
You Can Do This
We ALL would rather be writing, but every job has not-so-great parts mixed in with the parts that excite us.
The good news is, cultivating the right attitude plus some careful planning can make it a lot more enjoyable. And you’ll be able to congratulate yourself for being fully engaged in the writing life.
What do you find is the most difficult aspect of this process for you. Where are you getting hung up? Is it the “mind clutter”? Making a plan and sticking to it? Let me know in the comments below.
Suzanne Harris is a writer and writing coach who helps stuck writers take charge of their writing lives, deal with resistance, finish their projects and make more out of their writing dreams.
*Links noted with an asterisk are affiliate links.