Self-promotion is tough for most writers. I think because we spend so much time in our heads. In spite of its vibrant #bookstagram-related communities, Instagram is notoriously difficult for writers to navigate successfully. Our lives are too unsexy. Sitting at a computer typing for hours does not make for compelling visual content. There are only so many iterations of photos of your laptop next to a hot beverage that you can post.
I write fiction under the pseudonym, Harrison Kitteridge, and I set up an Instagram account under that name with the goal of promoting my work. I sputtered through a few iterations but eventually deleted all the posts and turned it into a “magazine” called Harrison Kitteridge Writes, where I’d share short writing in the captions. I was having some success on the writing platform, Wattpad, and thought I might be able to siphon some of my readers over.
I decided to give each weekly issue a theme and began with “Frailty.”
I was experimenting with flash fiction on Snapchat and decided to share my one line stories. Here’s the first instalment:
I chose stock photos to inspire “very short short stories.” The first one was called The Shed.
THE SHED (A VERY SHORT SHORT STORY)
The shed was always padlocked. And only Job had the key. He wore it on a string around his neck. As far as anyone could tell, he never removed it. The locked, windowless edifice in the back garden was the subject of much speculation for the boarders Job and his wife, Emmanuelle, took in to help pay the mortgage on the large house they’d hoped to fill with children.
Every Saturday morning at precisely 9:00 a.m., Job entered the shed and did not re-emerge until that night. The time of his exit varied. On a few occasions, he’d even stayed inside until the next day. A brave soul had tried the door one night and found it had been locked from the inside.
The shed was Job’s domain, and no one else was welcome.
“What’s in the shed?” the boarders would whisper to each other. Job’s wizened face and austere silences kept their questions at bay. Over the years, a few had tried asking Emmanuelle, but she’d shrugged, and the nonchalant gesture stood in contrast to her brows pulling tight. Was she being evasive because she knew what secrets her husband kept locked away in the shed, or because, like everyone else, she’d been left to wonder? Many theories to explain the mysterious shed and its unknown contents had been proffered over the years. That Job was some sort of serial murderer who stored trophies of his killings in the shed was the most popular explanation. “It’s stacked to the roof with Russian nesting dolls,” someone had once mused.
A nosy boarder whose hobby was birdwatching was determined to get to the bottom of things. To that end, one Saturday morning, he took a post up a tree on a nearby hill where he had a clear view of the door to the shed through his binoculars. Job unlocked the shed and the man caught a glimpse of the interior. It was empty, and the walls were soundproofed.
The shed was a padded cell where Job went to scream.
I also had a segment called “Writers on Writing” where I shared a brief essay inspired by a quote from a famous writer.
Writing is a kind of self-vivisection. To poke and prod at the characters is to poke and prod at myself. If we are our thoughts, then whatever’s wrong with my characters is wrong with me — they’re all in my head, after all. There are times when I firmly believe that each of us is capable of anything — that we just have to be put in the right (or wrong) position. I’d like to think that I’m not merely jaded and cynical but that a lifetime of observing bad behaviour from people who believe unreservedly in their goodness does more than put callouses on the soul — it allows one to discern better the character of others.
I write mostly about crime and love, and every sin manages to creep in with those two themes on the board. The darkness in the human soul whispers to all my characters, even the heroes, and it is that internal conversation that I keep plumbing. Why do some people act badly, and why do others show restraint? Does it come down to the quality of their internal dialogue? What winning arguments do the debating devils and angels make?
To be a writer is to be a watcher, and what I’ve observed is that there are plenty of people who aren’t psychopaths who can’t tell the difference between right and wrong. I used to think they were being selfish or indifferent or were having a bad day, but I’ve come to realise that they can only follow the rules that have been set before them. They are unable to muster the tools of compassion and empathy and employ the golden rule to address even the simplest moral conundrum. I’ve yet to genuinely explore this in my writing even though it’s something I think of often. Perhaps because I lack the courage to put certain pointed questions to myself.
I also reviewed films and wrote about issues that interested me. I eventually added writing prompts.
It was an interesting experiment, but I burned out on it after sixteen issues. I think it was the combination of putting together all the graphics (not my wheelhouse) and writing all the fiction I was at the time (I was posting flash fiction to Snapchat daily and sharing a book on Wattpad). That, and formatting Instagram captions is rage-inducingly fiddly.
I haven’t posted since October of last year, and I’m not quite sure what to do with the account. I’d thought of it as a failure, but looking back on it, I’m actually quite pleased with how it turned out. Maybe I’ll go back to it some day.
I thought I’d share this all because we live in the age of the side hustle. Nearly everyone has some personal project or business they need to use social media to promote. I couldn’t quite get this idea to work, but maybe those of you who feel more comfortable on Instagram could find a way to sort out the kinks.
You can check out all the back issues of Harrison Kitteridge Writes here.