First, do no harm

How not to build your platform

Doctor and aspiring author Jan O’Hara wrote this interesting post over at Writer Unboxed about how writers should follow the medical maxim, “First, do no harm.”

Her point: Too much focus on blogging and tweeting can get in the way of writing a book.

So true! But then there’s a bunch of stuff about how, instead, a writer should buckle down and never miss a deadline and so on.  This way of thinking can knock down a bunch of “shoulds” … only to replace them with a whole ‘nother pile of “shoulds.”

This made me think about how the greatest harm is in compromising what you really want to say.

My feeling: Social media ‘rules’ aren’t sacred, even deadlines aren’t sacred, but the work is.

Sometimes you have to blow deadlines to get to a deeper level of your work.

Be open to that possibility. If your deadline doesn’t let you produce the book you really need to write, let the deadline go — but do your real writing.

But don’t I need to work on “building my platform” at the same time?


For first-time authors, the number one thing is to crank out the first draft of the first book.

Later, in your period of revision, getting feedback, etc., you’ll have time to build your platform. Everyone’s attention span is like a guppy’s these days, so I can’t see any point to fretting about this years in advance.

Plus, technology best practices are guppyish too. Three years ago it was “you MUST blog”; now it’s “no one reads blogs, be on Tumblr.”

So your knitting book released this very minute would certainly benefit from a Pinterest following, but if you haven’t even started the book?  Write, knit, purl, edit—and three years from now, when you’re done, you’ll still have time to set up your Pintwitterbook account.  By that time, you’ll be able to upload holographic pictures of your scarves, like the ones that people wore in Star Wars.

What was I saying? Oh yeah, writers should focus.  Ahem.  Right.

My point: Don’t worry about your platform until you can see the precise date when you’ll need to climb up onto it.

Then, after you publish, something magical happens.  Your first book (plus the website, email list, etc. that you build to promote it) becomes your base. Hey, look, you made a platform! Out of, like, sentences and paragraphs and stuff. Instead of tweets.

There are, of course, tons (tonnes!) of other reasons to blog and tweet. If it feeds your soul, gives you a healthy rant outlet, or nurtures your work in progress by giving you real-time feedback and/or research directions and/or friendly cheerleaders … by all means, blog your little heart out.

But if you’re just doing it because you’re “supposed to,” please stop. Really think about what you’re getting in return.

For me, at this point, I try to ration my blog/tweet/etc time. I try to invest time in it only when:

1) It’s not interfering with my writing goals, but helping me to clarify my thinking (like this) or part of my down time (like Facebook).
2) It’s fun.
3) It’s not taking up huge amounts of time.

4) All of the above may be untrue, BUT It’s going to result in immediate gain (turnout at an event, income from an upcoming workshop, etc) that is worth the temporary loss of writing time.

In that last sentence, note the connection between “immediate” and “temporary.” (I put those words in bold to help you. Because I’m snazzy like that.)

“Vague general gain to be harvested at some point in the future” tends to lead me into “the great sinkhole into which writing time is sucked up by the evil forces of gravity created by the sucky demons who live below the earth.”

Finding myself in the sinkhole of sucky demons tends to make me very cranky.

Now, as the original poster wrote: “I’d love feedback. … Did reading this article give you a net benefit, or should you have written instead?”


The platform of the future.

2 thoughts on “First, do no harm

  1. ditto, very cool images! I think that if the twitter face book thing is something natural and exciting, as it is for many nowadays, then Yay! And, as you pointed out, time and place and added value, temporary, and immediate and snazzy things like that!. I find I have to gear myself up for social media. I do have to work on it! Love the shoes in particular! Sangeeta.

  2. Hi, Minal. Thanks for the shoutout and link.

    I feel obliged to point out that I said it’s probably not the best practice to miss a deadline for the sake of gaining another thousand Twitter followers, but in the end it doesn’t matter. You’ve obviously put in time thinking about what your goals are, and what constitutes “harm” for you. That’s totally valid and what I hoped to achieve.

    Fascinating images, BTW! You weren’t kidding about that.

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