A few months ago I went on an accidental social media fast. It was the September/October school holidays and we were busy living the dream. Painting windowsills, clearing out the shed and ripping out winter weeds so our garden no longer resembled the Amazon. Some mornings we ventured far and wide with the kids, giving me the perfect, guilt-free excuse to not check into social media for the day. The problem was that one day became two, then three, then….
At the end of the week, trailing behind my family on the popular bike paths that hug the Swan River and circle Perth’s pretty CBD, I reflected on what it felt like to have not checked into social media for days on end. It was the start of spring and the city was stunning. I felt an amazing sense of calm – no niggles whatsoever about what might be happening online, or whether I may have neglected to respond to a comment or two. It was like my baseline had been reset.
I’ve been going hard at social media since I joined Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Blogging and Goodreads just over a year ago. I love social media — I’ve made great friends online and feel connected to a highly supportive community. I’ve learnt a great deal about the industry and the craft of writing, but I hadn’t realised how much time and mental energy was required to keep up with all those platforms on a daily basis. I used lists and hacks wherever possible, and became adept at each platform (a month of total immersion across all platforms in the beginning made this easier in the long run), but I let it seep too far into my writing time. I justified time spent on social media as being necessary – believing that it would increase my chances of being published one day. I still believe social media is vital to success – even if only for the community support it can provide when things get tough, or because there are always like-minded people online who will celebrate your small wins with you.
Stepping back from social media for a week helped me realise I was reaching a tipping point. Interacting intensely across several platforms was creating a momentum that was becoming difficult to handle – if I also wanted to write, care for my family and enjoy some downtime, that is. My social media fast taught me that I can’t be everywhere at once. I don’t need to be everywhere at once. And that’s okay.
I’m in the enviable position of not having a book published yet. I say ‘enviable’ because at this stage, without anything concrete to promote, my social media is more discretionary than mandatory. Allowing me a certain freedom in how I manage my social media interaction. I’m aware there may come a time when I can’t afford to disappear offline into the ether whenever I feel like it, and that I’ll need to put in extra hours late at night to keep up. I’m sure I’ll appreciate having taken this time out while I could.
When the ‘accidental’ week was up and the kids went back to school, I made a conscious decision to stay offline for longer. I wanted to think about social media’s role in respect of the writing stage I was at – which is not the stage of a high profile author my social media was trying to emulate!
I was surprised that I had formed a few social media ‘values’. I wanted my interactions to be more genuine, having realised that I often ‘liked’ or ‘commented’ on posts purely to people-please, or because I wanted to be seen as the life of the party – working the room and making sure to connect with everyone who was up for a chat.
No wonder I was worn out!
Having since eased back into social media, these are some areas of change I’m working on:
I had previously set early mornings as my ‘social media time’. But as my follower numbers increased and communities grew, there wasn’t enough time to connect with everyone across all platforms in my ideal morning window. I found myself sacrificing writing time to keep up to date.
Now I exercise at 5.45am instead. I often manage a quick Twitter or Facebook check while wrangling the kids before school, but whatever social media I don’t get around to has to wait until the writing for the day is done, and the needs of the family have been met. I have not been sending a good message to my children with my face constantly behind a screen…
This wasn’t an easy change. My conscientious nature likes things to be neat and up-to-date before letting creativity flow. ‘Work before play’ has always been a huge mindset. In some ways I still consider writing to be ‘play’ – it’s enjoyable and I’m not yet earning an income from it, but I won’t get where I want to if I don’t prioritise it.
The social media fast taught me that the number of followers, or ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ I received on my accounts weren’t actually all that important to me. Sure, it’s great when my phone bleeps to let me know someone’s liked something, but I feel a strong urge to respond in kind – to return the compliment. Social media is meant to be social, after all. I’ve started telling myself that maybe others genuinely like my posts for the content or smile it gave them, not just because I like their stuff back. I now put a little more thought into my motivations for liking a certain post or tweet, and don’t take it personally if my own posts are met by the sound of crickets.
Scheduling posts across platforms
Prior to my social media fast I didn’t schedule posts, apart from easily placing a few re-tweets in a Buffer queue. I’ve decided that for now, scheduling is not for me, despite the time it apparently saves. Intuitively, I would prefer not to push the same photo or post across all platforms in a short space of time.
Again, this is coming from someone who doesn’t have a book or service to market, and at some stage my approach will probably need to change, but for now I’m happy with a more boutique approach. If I wait long enough, I’m sure some shiny new scheduling app will come along at just the right time to entice me into the practice.
How often to Blog?
My blog is just over a year old. Initially I was caught up in the idea that blogging frequently is necessary to build a readership, and that’s certainly true if you want your blog to rank high in internet searches, or if you intend to monetise your blog, or if it’s a portal to your products or services.
But I realised that I enjoyed blogging most when I didn’t feel pressured to actually write a blog post. It felt ‘right’ when I blogged purely because a topic interested me, or because I wanted to share milestones of my writing journey. I used to worry over what to blog about, whether it would be good enough, whether it would be relevant to anyone, whether anyone really cared about what I had written. For now I intend to channel all that mental energy into novel writing, and have given myself permission to blog only when I feel I have something relevant to say, or to review a book I particularly loved.
All that advice!
Memes, Facebook posts, one-line-tweets, blogs and articles – there’s a constant stream of advice on social media about how to write, where to write, how often to write, to plot or not-to-plot, which POV to use, which software to use, which book is hot right now. And I care deeply about all that stuff. I really do. Too much in fact! I inhale writing-craft articles. Click tweet links that sound promising. I’ve learnt a hell of lot in a few short years, but I’ve also taken a lot of the advice a little too seriously. Pushed myself beyond what I was capable of because of some article I read.
A break from the well-meaning advice, in hindsight, felt like I’d stepped around the street corner out of the blustery wind and into a sheltered stillness. My desire to be the best writer I could be meant I put too much emphasis on the advice available out there, and not enough on my own intuition. I was trying to fit my manuscript into some sort of formula, making sure all it’s components were spot-on.
Restricting my social media intake means I simply don’t have the time to be swayed by conflicting opinions on how to write, and I need to rely instead on what feels right for me at the time.
A lengthy, all-inclusive social media fast might not be right for everyone, but if any of this has struck a chord and you’re losing equilibrium, maybe there are small tweaks you can make. I’d love to hear your suggestions.