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How social do online writers really have to be?

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Melissa Chadburn is a lover and a fighter, a union rep, a social arsonist, a writer, of color, smart, edgy and fun. Her work has appeared in Guernica, Salon, and the Rumpus, among others.  In Ask a Freelancer, Chadburn fields questions about writing, the blogosphere, platform building, and all things scary. She doesn't presume to know everything but she knows people that know more things than her and if there's one thing she’s learned it’s that there's nothing to be gained from withholding information. Reach her at fictiongrrrl(at)gmail.com or follow her on Twitter. She loves your whole outfit right now.

Dear Freelancer,

I have been lucky to have been able to connect with a lot of writers online. I’ve met a good deal of people on Facebook and some on Twitter. But then when we actually try to “meet” for real, like in person—well, it’s awkward. Sometimes I discover things I don’t like about these writers I admire—like they drink too much, or they don’t tip or something. Also the literary events that I go to can feel clique-y and strange. I’m a much more of a one-on-one type of person. I wake up after a reading or literary event feeling sad or lonely. Then I get frustrated that I feel so sad or lonely when it seems that this day in age networking has become more and more part of our job as is writing. I’ve heard so much about literary agents or publishers inquiring about whether or not you’ve built a platform for yourself or how many followers on Twitter you have. I don’t know if you can find a question in here, but do you have any input?

—Izzy the Introvert

***

Dear Izzy,

Ah, a familiar story. As Kierkkegaard, that cheery fellow, once said:

"I have just now come from a gathering where I was the life of the party. Witticisms flowed out of my mouth; everybody laughed, admired me, but I left, yes, the dash out to be as long as the radii of the earth's orbit and I wanted to shoot myself.”

I thought about this Sunday morning while I was reading in bed. It reminded me of a tour my friend went on as filming and photographing raves. He said when he got back to his apartment in Brooklyn and he was like, “Who turned out all the lights?”

But he’s a social person while my favorite thing to do is to read in bed. So Sunday morning I was cuddled up drinking coffee all my four leggeds draped around me while I read 2012 Best American Essays.

I was struck particularly by an essay entitled "Vanishing Act," from Lapham's Quarterly, by Paul Collins.

It starts like this:

In a New Hampshire apartment during the winter of 1923, this typewritten notice was fastened squarely against a closed door:

Nobody may come into this room if the door is shut tight (if it is shut not quite latched it is all right) without knocking. The person in this room if he agrees that one shall come will say "come in," or something like that and if he does not agree to it he will say "not yet, please," or something like that. The door may be shut if nobody is in the room but if a person wants to come in, knocks and hears no answer that means there is no one in the room and he must not go in.

Reason. If the door is shut tight and a person is in the room the shut door means that the person in the room wishes to be left alone.

Through the door could be heard furious clacking and carriage returns: the sound, in fact, of an eight-year-old girl writing her first novel.

This is a true story. The girl was Barbara Follett. She went on to write a highly acclaimed novel, The House Without Windows, which was published when she turned twelve. In February 1927.

The story begins, "In a little brown shingled cottage on one of the foothills of Mr. Vacrobis, there lived with her father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. Eigleen, a little girl named Eepersip. She was rather lonely..." Eepersip emerges from the forest dressed in garlands to try to lure other children away, including her own younger sister. Unable to convince anyone to join her outdoors—in her "house without windows" —Eepersip eventually disappears altogether, transformed into a wood nymph.

There are lots of reasons why I delight in this story of a 12-year-old little girl author. One is that she honored her craft and her boundaries. How great is that? I definitely can glean a few lessons from her sturdy note on the door. The other is: her story was born out of her imagination's remedy to her loneliness.  She thought of the famous composers whose music she listened to as her friends and playmates.

I accept myself as an introvert. Most often I prefer solitude or a good book to the company of others and how fantastic is that!? I remember all the hours I spent by myself as a little girl talking to my stuffed animals. Happy to play with an empty cardboard box. Sitting in cupboards repeating words to myself.

It's okay for keeping company to feel like "work" sometimes. It just means you know how to have a good time on your own. I personally would prefer to struggle being around other people than struggle with being alone. I see people that don't know how to be alone and sometimes they look to me like space aliens. I suppose it’s best not to struggle at all.

Shine on,

—Freelancer

Photo by re birf/Flickr