4 Ways Social Media Can Screw Up Your Writing

  1. It can EAT YOUR LIFE. Go ahead. Spend all your time and energy blogging, texting, IM’ing, hunting down great writers’ articles and posts on Twitter, connecting with other writers on Facebook, updating your LinkedIn profile, registering with StumbleUpon, Digg, Squidoo, and all the other bazillions of blogonetworking tools out there. You’re going to have to start setting an alarm to get yourself up on time in the morning, and your family is going to get used to enjoying dinner without you. And you still won’t be able to keep up with it all.

    Writing? Were you going to find time for writing?
  2. It can MAKE YOU STUPID. Everyone says, “You know what’s great about Twitter? A hundred and forty characters. Teaches you to write clean & kwik.” Yeah. But the thing is, 140 characters is a silly number of characters. Who picked that number? And why characters instead of words? Not a professional writer. No professional writer is going to say, “It is more important 2 say it in fewer char’s than it is 2 say it in exactly the right words.” And does it count as writing clean and quick if you write all kinds of crap in those 140 chararacters, whether you need to or not?

    “Hey, U! Gud 2 C U! I 8 chocolate 2day. Did U?” Go back to high school until you’re done hanging out in front of your lockers, dudes.
  3. It can CONFUSE YOUR PRIORITIES. Why are you writing? Because you want to be A Writer—you want to live in a garret on the Left Bank, hunched over your pages with your pen gripped in your sweaty, honest hand, getting those words down so you can meet up with other writers at the Lilas later for red wine and philosophical talk into the heart of the night? You want to master this craft in the solitude of your individual silence, excavate with your simple little words the vivid, heartbreaking, deathless experience buried inside the world we navigate all day long every day? You want to be good? You just want to be published? You just want to be read?

    Everywhere you go on social media, you’re going to find people yelling through megaphones, “YOU. Yeah, you! Writer! Come over here! I’ve got something to show you! It’s going to change your life! It’s going to give you wheels! It’s going to make you famous! MONEY-BACK GUARANTEE! You don’t get famous with AT LEAST ONE PERSON, I give you your money back! Plus a million bucks! How about that, huh? Who’s going to turn down a million bucks? Not me, buddy! I’m not that rich! Are you that rich? You can turn down a million bucks? Hey—don’t walk away! I’m talking to you! I’m talking to YOU! Hey, Writer!”

    They might as well attach an IV to your bank account and set up a permanent siphon. And you get for this. . .what? Do you even remember what you wanted?
  4. It can KILL YOUR SOUL. Because you’re not on this planet to be glued by the fingertips to a computer. You weren’t born with eyes that only work on an LED screen. You’re here to go outside and walk on the earth, to breathe huge amounts of air, to put your hand on the trunk of a growing tree. You’re here to wrestle with your dogs like Mark Vonnegut and invent the greatest tool rack ever like John Steinbeck and shade your eyes against the sun across the velde like Nadine Gordimer and put your hand to the face of your own child like Anne Lamott. You’re here to be you.

  5. And you’re not in the blogosphere. Look down at yourself. Put your hands on your chest.

    Do it right now.

    You’re sitting. Right. There.

34 thoughts on “4 Ways Social Media Can Screw Up Your Writing

  1. Marisa Birns says:

    Amen! I did not want to come to Twitter last summer. Didn’t think I would like or need. But, of course, the best laid plans of mice and (wo)men…

    For too many months, I spent HOURS on social networks (yep, got on Facebook, too) though I promised myself it would just be a ‘moment or two’.

    And I love what you say about a writer needing to life eyes from the screen.

    This brings to mind one of the first quotes I saw someone tweet and it was this from Thoreau: “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”

    Love and appreciate this post.

  2. Lady Glamis says:

    Oh my gosh, AMEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    See, I just quit my blog, Innocent Flower. Why? Well, that’s obvious.

  3. Victoria says:

    Yeah, Marisa, I resisted the whole social media thing like BLAZES for years.

    My geek husband was saying, “Hey, people are starting to keep online journals. They call them web-logs,” and I was saying, “Oh, my god, does the narcissism never end?” A few years later he was saying, “No kidding, blogs are getting to be pretty interesting,” and I was saying, “You want to know what I had for lunch? Ask me.” A few years later he was saying, “So, now that you’re not able to telecommute to Silicon Valley because the computer industry just shunted your job to India, you’d probably do really well as an independent editor if you had your own blog,” and I was [rolling eyes], “I REFUSE to tell people what I had for lunch!”

    Twitter: same conversation.

    I am not on Facebook and never will be. Thank god. I don’t think I could take being “friended” by strangers who want me to know they’re bored. It’s bad enough hearing from people on Twitter that they’re in line at airports.

    Oh, and my own fiction? Lost in my dust many moons back.

  4. Victoria says:

    Michelle, you quit the Innocent Flower? No kidding?

  5. @lil_monmon says:

    Well put. I’m only just starting out on the social media marketing and I need to keep things in perspective. Thanks for providing some.

  6. Juanita says:

    So true. I hate the people who try to suck you into schemes saying they will make you money! I do find that blogging/tweeting etc can be a good way to vent or clear my mind when I’m stuck on something with my writing though. I guess its all about balance and moderation. Just like chocolate…

  7. Kathryn says:

    Computer misuse costs the average business $6,250 per person per year. If you think of your writing as your business, there’s your number right there.

  8. I needed this post.. We keep being told we’ll never get an agent if we don’t have 100,000 followers on every social media site on the Web, and the pressure gets ridiculous.

    Even though this week I made the Writers Digest Best Tweets for Writers list, I have actually been feeling guilty because I haven’t had enough time to spend on social media–because my HOUSE FLOODED!

    Taking care of real world business should be allowed to take priority. Then real writing. THEN the Twitter-fritter-blogface nonsense. Thanks for the reality check.

  9. Victoria says:

    Yeah, Kathryn, that’s what my boss at IBM said in 1994 when she read my email after she laid me off and found out I’d been applying for other jobs for two months. Not to mention the unflattering portraits of her I’d been drawing for friends. I don’t think IBM is ever going to want me back.

  10. Victoria says:

    Thanks, lil_monomon, Juanita, and Anne. You know what I like to do? Write about what I KNOW. And, as I have learned, maintaining three different blogs and a Twitter account. . .can really eat up a lot of life.

    Anne, congratulations on the Tweet for Writers! Jane picked up one of my posts this past week, too. But my house did not flood. So I guess I owe you one.

  11. e.lee says:

    A bit harsh? Then again, this post not only applies to writers; its also for people who want a quick easy audience,, the type that tweet every 5 seconds, update inane statuses for their 5000+ ‘friends’, post photos tag everyone in them including the hamster, set up MySpace and Facebook pages for their newborn kids and pets.

    As writers we know that winning over an audience is not quick or easy.

  12. Jeffrey Russell says:

    I suppose that once my book is finished, edited, and is as good as it will ever be, I’ll see about tweeting and Facebooking. But for now, I’ve got some rw-writing to do…

  13. Glynis Smy says:

    I have backed away from the many groups I joined. I became confused with advice and keeping up with other writers.
    I started to doubt my abilities. I followed links that were tweeted to me, and felt inferior.

    DH was annoyed with me, and told me to stop my daily visits. To get on with writing in my own way, as I did before. Study creative writing, not fret about what others had achieved, they were in my shoes once.
    It was the best thing he ever said to me. I downed sized my lists, linked to a few blogs of interest. I facebook for family only and tweet once or twice a week with writers. I have gone back to my Olive tree in the vineyards, it missed me as much as I missed it…yes we talk. 🙂

    I have refocused and my ms has benefited from my new schedule.

    Interesting post, thank you.

  14. This is fantastic. Yes, twitter and blogging and the like can help you network, help you find and disseminate great information, keep you focussed, but when you’re on your fourth straight hour retweeting and refreshing it’s good to remember WHY you came in the first place! Thanks for this post.

  15. Lady Glamis says:

    Victoria, yep, I quit the blog. Never thought that would happen, but it got to the point where I kept asking myself, why am I doing this? And there was no logical answer except that I kept wanting people to pay attention to me. Sigh. That’s a ridiculous, stupid answer to keep a blog. So I quit. I’m still on The Lit Lab, but that blog isn’t all about me – it’s all about the craft of writing. I still have my family blog, but that’s about my family, and if I open up another public blog, it’s going to be to promote my work, not me.

  16. Victoria says:

    Hey, you know what’s hilarious about us? We’re all on social media yakking it up about how we should be getting off social media. We’re the ultimate contradictory animal.

    I LOVE that about us. Seriously. It’s my favorite thing about writers! That contradictory tension alone is what makes great fiction great.

    And today I posted a list that includes this type of thing, this community of writers talking about writing. I just wish we were all sitting at a sidewalk cafe on the Champs Elysees in the sunshine drinking wine together.

  17. Victoria says:

    Michelle, that carrot, “People paying attention to you,” is why writing has exploded so exponentially since the advent of the blogosphere. We’re vulnerable because we are human. And human beings need to be paid attention to.

    We live such lonely lives in this age of double-income, veal-fattening-pen, 60-80-hour work weeks, when those of us lucky enough to have decent-paying jobs in the US mostly live in cities, and our cities are getting so dangerous we don’t even like to go outside anymore. We are dying on the vine, here in our little cubicles or at home alone in the suburbs with our little children.

    The Internet has given us a way out of that, it’s true. In the 1960s businessmen became alcoholics and simply abandoned their families in their mid-life crises, and the housewives OD’d on Valium.

    But we don’t have to choose between being them or becoming virtual. We can look around for other alternatives. The real world is vast and full of surprises.

  18. Lady Glamis says:

    Thank you for those thoughts, Victoria. It’s so true that writing seems to have exploded since blogs have saturated everything. It’s definitely a way “out.”

    Yes, we’re sitting here talking about getting off social media while we’re ON social media, and that’s lovely and ironic. The truth is, I’ve made such great friends here that I can’t completely give it up. 🙂

  19. Pam says:

    I really don’t mind if writers would stop using social media, 85% of them do it wrong anyway. I am a social media douchebag at Yahoo! (okay so that’s not my real title but I like to say that) and a book blogger and I see LOTS of authors doing it wrong. Like the guy who I said “Great book let’s see where the next series takes us” to, Direct Messages me the complete plot and ruined the ending for me. K Thanks no need for me to read it now!

    The thing is Publishers want to know you, yourself are marketable now. I have seen authors like Heidi R. Kling, Lisa Mantchev, & Maggie Steifvater gain an audience for their books a year before they were released!

  20. BubbleCow says:

    I set rules for social media, otherwise work would never get done! I find one of the most useful exercises is to dedicate windows of time to checking twitter/Facebook etc. I think lots of people feel services like twitter need an intimidate response, this is not always the case I would say 80% of the time responding an hour or two later to a tweet is fine…

  21. Steph says:

    I agree Victoria. Not long ago I wrote a piece where I suggested writers (or would-be writers, more like) to do a time audit for a week and see where their writing time goes. Being online in all of its different guises is a huuuuuge time drain for most people who do know how to prioritise then lament a lack of ‘time to write’. I think there is always time to write, as I completed a PhD while working as a management consultant (at 12+ hour-days), but people need to realise that they need to pull the plug on mindless twittering (or facebooking or browsing or… fill in the blank, whatever your poison) if they want to get anything, including dinner, done!

  22. Victoria says:

    I know, Lady Glamis. “Lovely & ironic!” There’s a real need being met through having friends in this virtual world—we get to hang out & be witty around the water cooler, and it actually looks like we’re working.

    This unstoppable creativity is truly one of my all-time favorite things about human beings. You think you’ve got us backed into a corner? You haven’t got us backed into a corner.

  23. Victoria says:

    Pam, that is hilarious. DM’d the whole story? That’s almost surreal enough for us here on THIS blog!

    Hey, I drove by your office yesterday. And the day before. We were in town for Maker Faire. Now I’m desperate to own my own ride-able cupcake.

  24. Victoria says:

    Hey, BubbleCow, it’s good to see another editor here!

    That’s excellent planning. I met with Millicent Dillon this weekend, and she was fascinated with the idea of Twitter. She’s a five-time O. Henry award-winner and has written biographies of both Jane and Paul Bowles, and we met to talk about her friendship with Paul, and instead she’s asking me, “But how do you talk to each other? What do you call it? Tweeting?” (Imagine saying that with a straight face to someone who was once Paul Bowles’ literary executor.) “Do you read everything everyone else says?”

    Yeah. I USED to. Hilariously enough. But now I just check to see if anyone’s written to me personally. I’ve got clients expecting attention back here in Realityville. And I just can’t afford the time.

  25. Victoria says:

    Steph, three years ago my husband spent six months building a house without a weekend or day off while also holding down a full-time job as a tech writer and selling articles on the side. He had to take meetings on a cement slab at our pump house because that was where the phone line was. Time to hang out on social media? I don’t think so!

  26. Victoria, thanks for this post. In a way, it’s telling me what I already know… but sometimes you just need to be told it to make sense of it!

    I tentatively joined the blogosphere and Twitter a year ago. I’ve been going in fits and starts on the blog, but Twitter has opened up a whole new world for me. And that’s both good and bad. By finding the right people to follow, it has led me to so many good articles about writing, and especially about the publishing world (and they are very helpful to me, as the publishing world is changing so rapidly right now). For example, it was a Tweet that led me to your post here, today.

    So suddenly I am spending an extra hour (or several) every morning reading all of these amazing articles. The good side of it is that it has been like an intensive course, educating myself about the industry: especially investigating all the new avenues for authors in the realms of self-publishing, ebooks, marketing… so I am coming up with a pretty informed plan for my next book. The bad side of it, of course, is that all of that time comes directly out of my writing time.

    So now it’s time to wean myself from all of that – I have learned lots, and I must remind myself that I don’t need to keep reading more articles about the same thing (at least not right now). I need to have the willpower to claim back my writing time. It’s so true, how addictive it all is. Very happy I’ve never signed up for Facebook!

  27. Sarah says:

    ugh so true. Especially number one. And for me it’s less about writing the blog posts that suck my time, but reading and commenting on other’s blogs, which i feel beholden to do because they are my followers.

    I’ve recently come to the conclusion that i need a time check.

    Thank god i don’t tweet. Or go on FB for more than 5 minutes a day

  28. Victoria says:

    Jacqueline, Scott Berkin said something very significant a few weeks ago: he said the Internet has made it so ‘interesting’ isn’t enough. You can’t read everything interesting. You don’t have the time.

    I’ve learned a ton about the industry since I started this blog a little over a year ago. And of course this is the portal to my business. But you’re absolutely right that the majority of the articles on writing out there are just saying the same thing over and over again.

  29. Victoria says:

    Sarah, I am totally there with you. This is my new way of staying in touch without having to remember all the blogs out there I’d love to comment on but just don’t have the time for. Is it working?

  30. Victoria says:

    Why what? You nailed it, Jen.

  31. Victoria says:

    Glynis, I saw the photo of your home on your site. I can’t believe you live in Cyprus. What a dream.

  32. June says:

    My goodness, is this ever true. I have a blog and really love it, but it’s an incredible time suck. So is Twitter. They’re addicting. I haven’t joined Facebook yet, but I’ve come darn close. Was just talking to someone yesterday at a writers conference and they were strongly encouraging me to do it. I hardly have enough time to write as it is. Your post has convinced me not to. At least not yet :-/

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