One year and 23 days ago, I sat on a hill in Austin, TX and wrote a two sentence poem down in a journal. But, because I’m a product of the social media generation, I have a sick desire to document every second of my life and then force feed it down the throats of all my friends who probably don’t really think about me as much as I imagine they do. So, instead of stuffing my journal back into my backpack and enjoying a balmy night outside technology free, I held the poem out in front of the skyline and took a photo, then spent the rest of the night staring at my phone screen as I flipped through VSCO filters.
Something good came of this though. My friends kinda liked the poem and the photo, so I decided to take more photos of my writing out in front of the sunset soaked landscapes I had grown accustomed to photographing. Within a few weeks, my work had been featured by Instagram, Buzzfeed, Vogue, Nylon and more. A couple months later I quit my job after I published my first book based on my social media accounts. Then I spent the next few months writing two new books (one a novel, one a poetry activity book) and working on a handful of new photography projects. All this isn’t to say my life is really cool or anything, or that being pseudo famous on the internet is something you should necessarily to aspire to. Hell, if you work in finance or something you probably make a whole lot more money than I do. If you’re a videographer you probably get to see way more of the world than I have. And if you have one of the other thousands of fulfilling jobs in the world you’re probably just as happy as I am. But if you’re a writer, it can be extremely gratifying to have a lot of people on the internet read and appreciate your work. So it’s only natural to strive towards having a lot of followers on Instagram and Twitter and Tumblr.
Looking both at what has gotten me to where I am today, and out at the social media landscape in general, I believe the most surefire way to gain traction online is to present a simple, proven concept in a fresh new way. For example, I had always wanted to share my writing on Instagram. I knew of a lot of writers, poets specifically, who had been sharing theirs on the platform for years, and they had amassed hundreds of thousands of followers, which opened the door to a very successful writing career for them (see Tyler Knott Gregson and his book deal with Perigree for his bestselling book Chasers of the Light, based off his Typewriter Series on social media). But more or less they were all sharing their work in the same way (computer screenshots or close up photos of typewriter paper), and I knew if I did the same thing my work would never stand out. It wasn’t until I thought to juxtapose a handwritten journal with landscape photography that I knew I had something that would get attention. The idea itself isn’t groundbreaking, but it was different enough that people would want to share it.
With that, I’ve had a lot of other ideas over time for unique ways to share my writing in a photo series on social media. But I’m probably never going to get around to doing them myself. So if you’ve always wanted a way to do it but the idea just hasn’t come to you yet, maybe one of these is right for you!
1. Go down to city hall at dawn, or anywhere in town that has a big set of outdoor stairs. Bring chalk. Write a line of your poem on the front of each step, either ascending or descending, so everyone approaching the steps can read your work. Then take a photo. Give your series a creative name like #soliloquyonthesteps or something better than that idk.
￼2. Get a few big white canvases and a few buckets of paint. Put it in your backyard and invite some friends over, then paint your writing onto the canvases. Take a photo with all of you standing around your messy masterpiece. But not just a boring photo. Make sure in the photo you’re all like wiping paint on each others faces or something so everyone knows how fun you are irl. You could name this series #paintedpoetry, but honestly I think you can do better than that. This idea is extra good because at the end of it you and your friends have a ton of free art for your bedroom. Art is usually hella expensive. It’d honestly be kind of rude to not use some of the money I just saved you to buy one of my books.
3. Do you have a girlfriend or a boyfriend or a friend that has some blank skin on their body? Time to fill it up! When you finish your poetry series or a few really good quotes, write them on their arms and legs. To get more hipster points, use a Polaroid to take the photos and scan them in. If you use an old camera and take the photos in a scene with a delicate aesthetic, like a bed with white sheets basking in early morning soft light, you don’t even have to write whole poems, you can just write delightfully vague yet emotive lines like, “I should have kissed you more before you left” and it will resonate just as well. I know it probably sounds like I’m kind of mocking this idea, but if you don’t think it would make you Tumblr famous overnight you’re wrong, which is why I’m for sure going to do it and call it #saudadeonskin once I get settled into my apartment. So if you want this to be your idea you better hurry.
4. Spend a day picking wildflowers with your friends. Bring basketsful down to the beach or to the city park and use them as your ink and the ground as your paper. If done right, this could be beautiful. If not done right, it could be dreadfully corny and farcical. Fine line. But at the end of the day at least you spent some time picking wildflowers with your friends. That’s always good for the soul. Whatever you do, don’t call this series #flowerfeelings. That would be on the farcical side of the line.
5. Take a few days to learn Adobe Illustrator if you don’t already know how to use it. Use your handwriting and your sketches to make artsy posters of your writing and print them out. Give them to your friends and take a photo of the one you gave to them hanging above on the wall next to their bed. This plays especially well if you or your friends have well designed bedrooms, featuring lots of exposed brick and natural lights and succulents. #BedroomBallads might be a good name for this one, I’m honestly not entirely sure what “ballad” means though so maybe not.
6. Get a bunch of blank white balloons and write your poems on them with a big black permanent marker. Throw a big party and fill the room with your balloons. Works especially well if all your friends look like Skins characters and you decorate your house or apartment to look like you’re preparing to film an indie pop music video at the party. I don’t actually have a name for this one but I’m thinking maybe you can do something comparing the balloons to thought bubbles. Oh wait that’s kind of good actually. What if you took photos of two people interacting at a party and your poetry series or whatever it is that you write is written on the balloons over their heads. Then you name it like #thingsleftunsaid. Don’t even try to tell me you couldn’t turn that into a coffee table book that would find it’s way onto every single coffee table in McKibbin Lofts.
7. Get the paintbrush out again and also find a few spare white bedsheets. Scrawl your words onto a sheet and photograph it blowing in the wind. You can go a few different routes with the artistic direction for this series, depending on the subject matter you’re writing about. One idea would be to make the scene like a clothesline in a big wheat field next ￼to an abandoned midwestern farm. You’d call the series like #lovelostintheamericanheartland or something and your series would be the literary equivalent of a concept album, telling a multipart yet unified story about two people falling out of love in a small midwestern town. Maybe you tell the story over the course of a day. So you take the first photo of the first poem with the clothesline illuminated by sunrise, bringing with it the promise of a new day and a fresh start. But as the day progresses, the relationship in the story slowly deteriorates until your conclusion as the last light over the small farm turns to dusk. Another idea would be to make the scene like a clothesline on a small balcony of a Parisian studio apartment. I don’t have the idea yet for the story, but I’m sure you could figure it out, and the scene would likely lend itself to gentle, pulchritudinous subject matter. Obviously this is perhaps the most ambitious idea on the list, but it’s the kind of photo series that could hit it big on social media but also land you an art gallery showing if you commit yourself to it.
8. Speaking of gentle, pulchritudinous aesthetics, potted flowers on a windowsill with the window open and a breeze flowing through is an ethereal image begging for the addition of your belle-lettres. The traditional flower pot, skin toned and drearily dull on it’s own, makes for a perfect writing surface that will photograph well. Writing on these flower pots and placing them in a photogenic setting is not so dissimilar from what I do with my journal, but you’ll get to feature flowers even more heavily, and often times flowers can so perfectly add the right complementary element to the emotion expressed in what you’ve written. Sunflowers imply cute, sweet sentiment. Floral weeds like oxalis represent lonely angst. Roses support passionate and fabled, if not overdramatic, love stories. Matching flowers to your writing and photography adds another challenging but inspiring element to your project.
￼9. And finally, break those Polaroid cameras out once more for one last idea. Incorporating Polaroid photos into visual projects is certainly nothing new to millennial artists, so you might be reluctant to let me slide this idea into a list of “UNIQUE ways to share your writing.” However, Polaroid photos are incredibly popular for a reason, and with the right concept you can still use them in unique ways. Simply writing a poetic caption on the bottom of a Polaroid probably won’t cut it anymore. It’s been done too many times, so even if you do it well, getting people to notice you will be a challenge. There needs to be a theme people can sink their teeth into for an extended period of time. This was more or less the idea behind a series I was working on earlier this year called #momentsandtheirensuingemotions. The concept was to take a camera with you on an entire day you spend with the person you most enjoy spending time with. No posing allowed, no staged scenes, just photos of real moments between the two of you. Then, at the end of the day, take the photos and write one sentence expressing how you felt in that moment. I really love this idea, so I’ve paused it to start from scratch with the goal of presenting it in a bigger way. I want it to be an art gallery series, not just a social media series.
So those are my ideas. Remember, the first step is just to start sharing your work, so if you’d prefer to just post word document screenshots or close up photos of typewriter paper, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s just going to be exponentially harder to get noticed because you’re doing something hundreds of people before you have already done. Finding that unique presentation can set you up to become pseudo famous on the Internet. Being pseudo famous on the Internet probably isn’t as cool or lucrative as you imagine it is, but you do get tons of free stuff and, more importantly, it can kickstart your professional writing career and open doors to publishers and freelance opportunities you probably wouldn’t have otherwise. As most literary agents will tell you, marketing books that turn a large profit is becoming harder and harder for the major publishing companies like Penguin and HarperCollins, so when they are looking for new authors to publish they are looking for writers who already have a large audience seeking out their work.