More than a hashtag


I am an avid, though by no means particularly prolific, Instagrammer. It is a pleasure to take a break from work to scroll through my feed and see what the people I follow are up to – live vicariously through their adventures, congratulate their successes, and (most importantly) appreciate their everyday lived experience and recognisable normalness. Granted, social media is a curated medium – often posts are laboured over or second-guessed. Some might never even end up being published. Many profess this to be bewildering, even stressful.

Image by   Karen Andrews

Image by Karen Andrews

I admit I am not immune to an occasional tension, an uneasiness of sorts on Instagram: wanting to improve my photography skills by practising different angles and composition techniques on the one hand, and casting that desire aside to just get the shot. Get it done, before the moment is over. Happily, the latter feeling usually prevails.

Having this kind of self-awareness is fine, but several years ago something started to nag me. There’s more. There’s a deeper connection. Think. What is it? Then I realised why it felt familiar: it was the same nervousness I experience throughout my writing process. Do I dare, do I risk sharing a piece? What if it’s bad? What if it is ignored? (I rarely dwell on the potential positive outcomes.) Do I try to blend my writing and social media presence together?

Eventually I decided to set myself occasional creative challenges, thus making myself openly accountable to keep them. That way, even if some (or all) of the work wasn’t my best I still had noble intentions; I would be creating a ‘digital legacy’ of sorts, following on from an ephemeral poetry project I ran in my suburb;. Finally, I would have new writing I could either happily let sink to the bottom of the internet sea, or revisit if I felt there was further potential.

The ephemeral poetry cards were handmade, photographed, and first digitised on my blog in the month of November because it fit beautifully within the productive, ethos of #NaNaWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Later I decided to keep up these creative challenges in that month and into April as they coincide with an online creativity course I run at those times, although I share the prompts in advance and anyone is welcome to participate. Now they remain on my Instagram account @KarenAndrewsAU which I then share to my author Facebook page. I used to share them to Twitter but stopped, as I personally feel that text poetry works better on that platform – or at least looks more at home there, depending on how it is formatted.

That is an interesting point to consider. There are a variety of image creation or editing applications designed to showcase quotes, captions and more to maximum aesthetic effect. I began by using photographs, either my own or free stock images. While they were more aligned with the visual orientation of Instagram, I felt they often looked cramped. As I researched, I noticed other Instagram poets often stuck to a simple background palate, letting the words be enough. This is now how I prefer to post my poems.

A reasonable question to ask when contemplating similar creative endeavours is how it might impact your audience. I admit I ponder how many people I might bore or alienate. I worry about it less each time I do a challenge, but I also pay attention to a dip in follower numbers – out of curiosity, not masochism. My ego used to suffer if I noticed a bunch of unfollows – at least it did until one day I commuted into work on the train. I like to watch people on their phones and observe different content consumption habits. On this particular occasion I watched a woman scroll down her Instagram at an almost impossible speed, without stopping to read captions or comments or even thumbing the heart button if she liked it. I realised that she, and others like her, mightn’t want to come across a micro poem they’d have to stop to read if it interfered with their habits. That was fine, understandable.

It made me appreciate all the more those people who choose to stick around and follow my account. It encourages me to continue. It’s also why I use hashtags to index and amplify these poetry posts to others who are looking for creative inspiration or to discover a new writer. We are out there in our thousands, wanting to populate the web with a little beauty.

Karen Andrews is an award-winning writer, author, editor and publisher. Her work has appeared in many publications throughout the country. Her blog is a two-time finalist in the Best Australian Blogs competition and she regularly conducts workshops on the subject. She can be found on Twitter @KarenAndrewsAU