Rather Than Building a Platform, Consider Contributing to Your Communities, Part I

By Your Salonniere

New year’s is generally about embracing the new. We aim to reform ourselves and rid of the superannuated, but why not consider our old selves? Why must everything be about what’s to come? How is it that we forget and so easily dismiss what we already have and who we’ve been? Constantly obsessed with revamping ourselves, we often assume the same mania when we log online as well. Peruse any article on “how to build an online presence” or the best way to build a website, and you’ll instantly be numbed by the same doctrine about shaping a new brand of you for your platform. This kind of rhetoric discounts authenticity and seems to favor trends versus what’s been tried and true.

So many experts focus on breaking-in, completely disregarding that each writer, whether emerging, new, or techno-phobic and mastered, are already a part of a vast network of communities, be it family, neighborhood, religious congregations, work, children’s daycare–the list goes on. Each of us must start where we are and pay tribute to what we already have. Espen Hammer in the NY Times essay “On Modern Time” published January 1, 2011 writes: “We are entrepreneurs and consumers in a liquid, fast-moving society. We look forward rather than backward, to the new rather than the old, and while a huge space of innovation and possible change is then opened up, we seem to have lost a sense of the unquestionable meaning that those who came before us seemed to have had in abundance.” The minute we log on to Facebook, the minute we Tweet, or sign-up for a new blogsite, we’re not re-creating an identity and trying to build an audience, we are arguing, instead, that we have something to contribute to the community that has shared, fought, collaborated, clashed and conversed for millennia.

Before clicking “post” and before building a brand, consider the people who have helped lead you to where you stand now. Look around, get a lay of the land, and acknowledge that the road you’re traveling on has been tread before though the previous experiences and journeys may not be exactly the same as yours, you are not traveling alone and you certainly aren’t charting new territory.

Adopt a sense of humility and hold tight to it, which will keep you grounded. We often become delusional with amnesia of the past, which shows a considerable lack of respect. We are a part of an eternal conversation, whether we choose to participate or not. And when we set up a Tumblr account or post on our blog, we are sitting down at the table and opening our mouths to speak. So acknowledge those sitting at either side of you and across the table. Be a part of your community, instead of being a loudspeaker for your personal gain.

To ensure your foothold is lasting, you won’t want to rely too much on the temporal while, at the same time, knowing that most things, especially digital are ephemeral. Esmer goes on to argue, “There are, no doubt, temporalities of the human body, of nature and of the psyche. At least they follow certain biological, cosmological, and psychological rhythms, often involving perceived patterns of birth or creation, growth, decay and regeneration. Equally significant, however, the way we interpret ourselves and our relations to other human beings is deeply shaped by its own forms of temporality.”

How do we interpret ourselves and our relationships? Our interpretations shape the way we interact with ourselves, with one another and vice versa. Where do we place ourselves in relation to others? How do we approach our own individual time and space?

The easiest, most straightforward way to interact is to start with where you are. What have you already accomplished? What are you already an expert on? Who are your communities and what roles do you play within these communities? How are you currently contributing? How has your role changed over the years? What are you working on? How do these projects fit into your community? What projects from others have helped guide and inspire your own work? Who do you look to for inspiration?

To further the idea of contributing to your community online, here’s some practical tips on gaining a foothold to where you stand, considering why and how you got where you are today. We start with the basics:

  • Simplicity is lasting. Too many websites and blogs are cluttered with images and text that really make a mind frantic and confuse the eye. If you want to be in and of the moment, stay focused, and highlight only what’s absolutely most imperative. Here are a few favorite websites that inspire spare sophistication and lend to a timelessness:

The New Inquiry

Lysley Tenorio

Anthony Doerr

Carolina de Robertis

  • You’ll notice each of these sites have a natural sense of navigation; they’re intuitively easy to maneuver with minimalistic menus that include the most basic and essential categories, such as:
  1. Bio- give a brief description of who you are; where you’re from; and where you currently live, especially if your subject matters revolve around these regions. Definitely include recent publications from the last 5 years. You can save a more comprehensive list for the specific web page dedicated just for your publishing record. Don’t forget credentials that relate to your writing: any research topics you specialize in, particularly for non-fiction writers; accolades; awards; recognitions; workshops; residencies; grants; and honors.
  2. Events & News- always keep updated with upcoming speaking events or panels you’re participating in.
  3.  CV or Resume.
  4.  Publications Record, which you may want to separate by genre, if necessary.
  5.  Reviews, Media and/or Interviews.

More on joining online communities forthcoming with Part II. In the meantime, which websites do you find inspiring? How have you approached your digital engagement? What do you contribute to your online communities? Join the conversation.

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