Nailing it: Using Pinterest as a Writer

Shanna Germain is a leximaven of the highest order, exploring her love of the written word through a multitude of formats and style. She also claims the titles of (in no particular order): girl, gamer geek, wanderluster, flower picker, tire kicker, knife licker, she-devil, vorpal blonde and Schrödinger’s brat. Her website is and you really should check out her pinterest boards.

I’ve always used images as inspiration for my writing. For my first novel, I cut pictures out of magazines and collaged them together. For my second novel, I made DeviantArt pages. Eventually, I copy and pasted images into Scrivener.

Now, I’ve thrown all of that out the window for Pinterest. It gathers all of my images in one place. I can quickly pin them and forget them, at least until I’m ready to use them for a new piece of fiction. But more than that, Pinterest does something wholly new—it allows me to share my inspirations with collaborators, colleagues and even readers.

The way I use Pinterest is divided into three different (but often overlapping) elements:

  1. Inspiration
  2. Collaboration
  3. Promotion



When I started using Pinterest, it was all about “Ooh, shiny,” which I think is typical for most people. I was just adding images that inspired me in some way – potential characters or settings, ideas for plots. I thought it was all for me. But then other authors and artists (and even readers) liked the pins, or shared them on their own boards. Thus, inspiration suddenly became collaborative. As a solitary writer, this was pretty awesome.



An interesting feature of Pinterest is shared boards, where you can invite any number of people to pin to a single board. I’ve used shared boards to collaborate on at least two projects. For the first, Geek Love, we used a number of shared boards that allowed all of the members of the team to pin images. Thus, our inspiration boards quickly grew, all the while giving future readers (and our Kickstarter backers) a glimpse into both our planning process and our geekiness.

For Numenera, a tabletop roleplaying game that I’m working on, we have a private board of inspirational images just for our artists. Because the game is early in development, we’re not ready to share the images with the world yet, but it means that our artists can easily view and comment on the board.

Word of caution: Be careful inviting people to shared boards without asking; I get dozens of invites a week to shared boards that I have no interest in, from people I don’t know, which can be grumpy making.



A lot of promotion on Pinterest seems to happen almost accidentally when you’re using it for inspiration and collaboration, but there are definitely ways to facilitate it. Here are some of my favorites:

Share Secrets: Create boards for your characters, your setting and anything else that inspired you (these are often the same boards as my inspiration boards, so they serve a dual purpose). Readers love to see behind the scenes and to get a glimpse into the writer’s mind. Be sure to tell them about the project. I use board titles like Novel: Published and Novel: Currently Writing so readers can see what I’m working on now and what they can purchase.

Show Off: Create boards that show your book covers, fan art, author photos, publicity events and more. Make sure you provide links so that people can find your books and your website.

Be Searchable: Use keywords in your description that are likely to get searched, title and describe your boards in ways that are both interesting and informative, and include links to purchasing sites where appropriate. Don’t re-pin with someone else’s description (unless it’s perfect); make your own.  If you want more information, check out sites like Repinly, which look at pinning stats like popular categories and searches.

Be Social: Follow people whose pins or products you like. (Tip: Look into following libraries, museums and galleries—many have a Pinterest page, and they’re often full of great book and art pins). Comment, like, or otherwise engage with other pinners.

Be Time-Savvy: This might be the hardest one, oddly enough. It’s very easy to get lost in the shiny world of Pinterest. Once you start clicking and linking, you may never return. However, it’s important to visit regularly, because when you pin items, they go to the top of the general Pinterest page, which increases the chance that people will see you. My goal is to visit once or twice a day, pin a few things that I really love—and then go back to writing.

Share the Wealth: Create boards of books you love, covers that make you drool and anything else that you can think of to support other writers, artists and creative people. Give artists linkbacks or credit when you can.

Spread the Word: Use Pinterest widgets, such as the Pin It Button, which lets readers pin images or follow you directly from your website or blog. You can also post your pinned images to Facebook and other social media (but I would use this sparingly, because people can find it off-putting).


The Downside of Pinterest

Of course, Pinterest isn’t without its flaws:

  • There are some potentially serious copyright issues because most images are posted without permission from or credit to the creator. (Solution: include a link to the source or ask/credit the artist)
  • You can’t pin from Facebook. I have no idea why. (Solution: Download the image, then upload).
  • You can’t upload multiple images, as I discovered when I tried to upload all of my cover images (Solution: Sit there and do them one-by-one or pick only the best).
  • Pinterest’s terms of service are clearly written, but often poorly enforced. I’ve had pins removed for “nudity” because they showed someone’s stomach, while many explicit “adult” sites continue to thrive. (Solution: Read the TOS and post carefully, but expect surprises).
  • There is a new business Pinterest but it’s just out of the gate and it’s hard what the benefits are. (Solution: I’m trying it out. I’ll let you know).


Putting it All Together

If you’re just starting with Pinterest, now would be a good time to think about all of the above and ask yourself what your goal is. This will allow you to organize your boards in a way that’s most useful to you and to your followers (I organize mine in ways that are easiest for me to follow, and that are hopefully intuitive to readers. I use Inspiration: XX for general inspiration pictures; Novel: XX and Short Story: XX for novels I’ve written or am writing, and everything else has simple titles like Shanna Germain’s Books, How to Write, and Fan Art. Each board gets a short description as well).

If you’ve already started, but need to reorganize (the situation I found myself in), board titles and descriptions can be changed easily, and you can organize the boards (I put boards that are for promotion at the top, and more personal boards near the bottom).

Since its inception, Pinterest has grown in unexpected ways. It has already caught up with Twitter in terms of usage, especially among affluent women and hip urbanites. Whether you’re a beginning writer or already on your way, you can use Pinterest to your advantage by finding inspiration, collaboration, and a greater readership.

So long, Stan.

You don’t know the things that shape you.

And I mean it. You don’t. They’re so big and so important to you that you have no perspective on them. They’re such a constant presence that you can’t tell them apart from air. You can’t feel them affecting you, influencing you. To you, they’ve always been there, and always will be.

But maybe you get a chance to understand them, when you move away from them. When you grow up, move on, seek to explore. And once you’ve moved on, once you’re wandering a strange new world, you see things and think, “Haven’t I seen this before?” Or you find yourself thinking along a certain process of logic every time, looking at the same things and doing the same things with them.

And you wonder, “Where did that come from? How do I know this? Why do I do this? Why is this so interesting to me?” And you start to think about it.

I stopped reading Ray Bradbury when I went to college. I haven’t really returned to him since then, not in earnest: I started writing, and to write better I felt you had to read things you’d never read before, and expand your horizons.

But the more I write, and the more I think about the things I want to write, the more I find myself returning to Bradbury’s world, to his ideas, to what he wanted things to be like, and what he wanted to warn us about.

It made me proud to hear people say The Troupe felt, in parts, like a Bradbury story. And when they said that, I realized he was who I’d gone to for my next one, one I was still writing, American Elsewhere. I’d been writing in his shadow. I’d sought him out specifically, without even knowing it. I was continuing a conversation I’d been having with his work since I was a child.

It’s okay to write in his shadow. It’s too big to get outside of, really. It falls across so many genres, so much of history. It’s layered in the earth like strata of stone. We carve pieces out of his stories without even knowing it, and stack them up on top of one another. And we work and live with them beside us, unaware they’re in the background. And I think they will be for a long, long time.

So long, Ollie.

So long, Stan.

Cynthia Ward on “Watching Avatar While White”

A huge thanks to Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward for guest blogging here at Booklifenow the past two weeks. This is Ward’s last post, and the last post from either writer, who together are responsible for Writing the Other, a book I recommend in Booklife. The following post I find particularly fascinating because of the “what-if’s” Ward explores below. Fiction tends to gain part of its power from complication and complexity—the ways in which events or character interactions lead to unexpected places. Character diversity, if not just window dressing, is one way to introduce further complexity to narrative. This is part of writing individuals rather than types. (I have to say that both Nisi and Cynthia are a lot more patient with Avatar than I am—I thought it was just flat-out awful.) – Jeff

[SPOILER WARNING: If you haven’t seen the movie Avatar, you may want to skip this post.]

I went into Avatar knowing little about it, beyond a few accusations that it was “a ripoff of FernGully: The Last Rainforest” or “a ripoff of Dances With Wolves” or “a ripoff of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The World for World Is Forest,” and a lot of descriptions of Avatar as “so awesome, you should see it in 3D.”

Having seen Avatar, I would agree with Nisi Shawl’s take that Avatar is beautifully immersive. I haven’t been that stoned on a movie since 1982’s Blade Runner (although, when I was leaving the theatre in ’82, I didn’t trip over the stairs and reel into the walls. If someone re-releases Blade Runner in modern 3D, I suspect my head will literally burst).

I haven’t seen FernGully nor, unfortunately, have I read The World for World Is Forest, but I did see Dances with Wolves. And, yes, Avatar is an uncredited, SFX-drenched reissue of that old story (which we’ll get back to in a moment).

I also thought that writer/director James Cameron was borrowing heavily from other sources—palpably obvious inspirations I’ve rarely (if ever) heard others mention: the Dragonriders of Pern (clearly, Hollywood has finally developed the technology to bring Anne McCaffrey’s intelligent, human-bonding dragons convincingly to ‘life’) and the three major series created by Edgar Rice Burroughs: Carson of Venus, John Carter of Mars, and Tarzan of the Apes.

Burroughs’s Barsoom (Mars) series came to my mind initially because of all those multi-legged alien animals. Meanwhile, the Wikipedia description of Amtor (Burroughs’s imaginary version of Venus) might as well be a description of Cameron’s fictional planet, Pandora: “Amtorian vegetation, particularly on Vepaja, tends to be gigantic. Vepaja is notable for the enormous forests…with trees reaching into the inner cloud envelope.” If I recall correctly from my childhood reading, Amtorian forests are even the same color as Avatar’s.

However, the main reason Avatar reminded me of Burroughs’ most popular series, and the movie Dances with Wolves, was because of the way they made me feel.

Continue reading

Writing and Racial Identity Versus the Spinrave

This is writer Nisi Shawl’s last post for Booklifenow, and I hope you’ll join me in thanking her for her great posts, this one included. Nisi is the co-author of Writing the Other, with Cynthia Ward, who will be contributing a last post later this week. I’m very grateful to both of them for such thoughtful and useful words. – Jeff

A subscriber to the Carl Brandon Society list serve asked for specific criticisms of the Spinrave recently published in Asimov’s SF Magazine. That is work. Just reading it is an effort, let alone trying to translate into something resembling sense. Hence my response below to the request for “specific criticism”:

“Okay, I would take the time to analyze the article if someone paid me for it. My rate is $50/hour.

“As a sort of free sample, I’ll say I agree essentially with (another poster to the list serve): consider the source. The source being Norman Spinrad, who not only doesn’t know anything about the subject upon which he bloviates for page upon page, but who seems to be inordinately proud of his ignorance. Norman is like this. My short response: tldr.

“I will also add that his positioning of Mike Resnick, a very good writer, as an African writer, is so insanely disorienting as to induce vomiting. And comparing him to Octavia E. Butler, who never, as far as I am aware, ever claimed to be an African writer, is an action on a par with opening a chest full of tokens and rummaging around blindfolded in it, and pulling one out at random to toss onto the hearth of rhetoric.”

The subscriber requesting explication declined my help. He thought my fee was too high—though another poster advised me to double it—and made do with the numerous other posts available on the subject.

Among them we find N.K. Jemisin, who deals with one specific point. It takes her 500 words, not counting her contributions to the post’s comment threads. Imagine if she had attempted to render the entire Spinrave comprehensible. How many short stories and/or novels of hers would we be doing without while she whacked her way through his thorny densenesses?

My offer stands.

Ante Spinrave, I expected to devote the whole of this final guest post for Booklife to analyzing a panel I recently pulled off at Radcon, an SF convention held in Eastern Washington. The panel was titled “Writing and Racial Identity.” Besides myself the participants were Eileen Gunn, Alma Alexander, and Bobbie Benton-Hull. Here’s the description I gave programming:

“What does your race have to do with what you write? Depending on your race, are certain topics forbidden to you? Obligatory? None of the above? If your race matters, how do you know what it is? By what people see when they look at you, or by what you know of your genetic background? By your cultural upbringing? By what you write?”

We had a grandly civil hour-long discussion about how our racial identities did and did not contribute to what we wrote, did and did not determine what we wrote, about how we dealt with others’ expectations of us as writers based on what they knew and/or assumed about our racial identities, how we constructed those identities for ourselves with our writing and in other ways. I loved that we spoke as equals, according each other and the subject all due and appropriate respect.

Because it is a complex subject, one that deserves careful thought.

One white panelist related a classroom encounter with Faulkner in which her instructor held up this famous white male’s avoidance of a black female character’s interior life as an ideal to emulate; to write some things she has written, the panelist has had to unlearn what she’d been taught. Another spoke movingly of the ethnic and religious distinctions that formed the core of her upbringing in Central Europe. I wondered aloud if my difficulty placing stories with white protagonists was due to editors wanting “more black for their buck;” that felt risky to me, since one of the field’s top editors sat in the audience’s front row, not five feet from my face.

Our fourth panelist had been raised as an American Indian and spent her life knowing absolutely that this was who and what she was. Then she discovered through genetic testing that her biological heritage is a mix European and Sub-Saharan African. No American Indian. She still struggled with integrating this knowledge at the time of the panel, framing her thoughts on her identity as a question, referencing a female character in the movie “Dances with Wolves.”

It was all most interesting to me. Way more interesting than the Spinrave. In my description and in my moderation I had aimed to show that race is an issue that affects writers of all backgrounds, all races, that racial identity is labile, is inflected by more than one sort of information, and in turn has complex and complicating effects on what we say, how we say it, who we say it to….We touched on each of these subjects with a sure touch, though in some instances only a brief one. There’s so much to talk about.

There are so many smart people to include in the discussion. I want to hold this panel again someday soon. Maybe at WisCon? The panel will give its participants and our audience much to think about. And they will think, and do research, and speak carefully. And it will make sense.