Lessons from Jeffrey Eugenides

Lessons from Jeffrey Eugenides

Recently, I had the distinct pleasure of hearing Jeffrey Eugenides speak about the writing of his Pulitzer winning novel Middlesex.

As Prof. Eugenides was talking about the NINE YEAR experience of researching, writing and rewriting, it struck me that his craft is in some ways the ultimate MACROmedia – the antithesis of trying to distill your thoughts into 140 characters and belching them out in real time.  There were, however, a number of nuggets of wisdom that he shared as a novelist to which a social media content creator can relate:

1) Eugenides shared that the most hated comment he receives after introducing himself is “I always wanted to be a novelist – I just never had the time” – implying that pretty much anyone could write a Pulitzer Prize winning novel given enough “time off”.  On the social media front, we often hear “How do you find time for that crazy stuff?  I’m too busy!”  Social media can indeed save you time used correctly and allows you to maintain more and different types of relationships at once.  It does not replace the in person networking that most businesspeople consider to be part of their careers, but it can greatly enhance it.  In short, you make time for the things you deem important and once you do, you’ll be surprised how efficient you get.  (Check out Ian Sohn’s great piece on making time for social media here).

2) “You can’t do too much research, but you can put too much in your book.” This is a helpful guiding principle to anyone who gives presentations on a regular basis.  The point of a presentation is never to download the complete exhaustive sum total of your knowledge on a subject – it is to include only what is relevant to your audience in a way that is compelling and will make an impression on them.

3) Individual identity trumps gender.  “I” is more important than “he” or “she”. This is a takeaway specifically from Eugenides’ struggle with the challenge of writing from the perspective of an intersex narrator, but I found it to be an applicable concept to my life.  Social media and the ways it allows us to express ourselves – in words, images, avatars, and connections enables self definition and expression that breaks the old business rules.  Social media can help us defy the paths that used to be set by education, company, old boy networks, etc.  Social media + the economic flat spin should make this even more true – the time is now to craft your own social media “I”.

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