Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Cuckoo’s Flight, a companion to the highly acclaimed Bronze Age novels Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Read full bio
I’m constantly getting notices about blog posts or boot camps about how authors should use Facebook ,Twitter or any of the whole plethora of social media. They add to my stream of guilt about things that I’m obviously not doing as well as I should. But lately I’ve been reflecting on whether we should be using them professionally at all.
It’s hardly original to comment on just how much time can be spent on them. I won’t say wasted because sometimes I love the banter and true conversations on Twitter, and if you’re enjoying something like that it’s not a waste of time. Writing is a lonely profession and it’s fun to be able to join in a coffee-break kind of conversation, just like you might in a more normal job. You know, the kind where you have to get dressed to go to work, have to leave your own house and actually communicate with other people.
But there’s a reason that it’s a lonely profession: because at some point we have to actually write something. And despite an ad on Facebook about learning to write a book in a weekend – which annoyed me so much I was tempted to mark it as offensive – most authors need to take time to think as well as write. Think before writing, think during writing, think while you’ve put the finished first draft aside and are trying not to think about it, and think a whole heap more during redrafting. Much as I love the conversations with my editor when I’m redrafting, (I’m not being sarcastic, I really do!) I still need time to go off on my own to reflect on why something isn’t working. And the writing itself has to be done in solitude, even if that solitude is in a cafe full of people who aren’t talking to you except to bring you coffee.
So sometimes it’s lovely to stop thinking about the wretched book and enjoy catching up on Facebook. But notice I said ‘enjoy’. Seeing pictures of friends’ new babies is heartwarming unless you’re desperately trying to have a baby yourself. Then it seems that you’re the only person you know who isn’t posting pictures of amazing pregnant bellies or cute babies.
It’s pretty much the same with books. With all that thinking (see above!) and the writing, most of them take a year or five. It doesn’t matter how many witty #amwriting updates you post, the fact remains that the book still isn’t published. And meanwhile all your friends are posting pictures of new covers, inviting you to launches, doing happy dances over reviews, receiving awards – all the things you feel you may never do, because you’re going to be writing this one book for the rest of your life.
I’m not sure why I’ve been reflecting on this: partly because when a friend admitted to real angst over reading over people’s posts, I could see a grain of truth in myself as well, and wanted to think about why that is. And partly because I’ve been hibernating in my cave lately, going a bit deeper into myself as I focus on the new book, and realising that much as I love the chatter, I still need times of silence.