Do Writers Need Social Media?
It seems like everyone is breaking up with social media in 2018.
Or at least thinking about it.
Doing it for a week and going back to it.
Winnowing down the channels they devote time to, because who has time for social media? Who honestly has time?
My Social Media Detox
I took a 5-week break from social media a few years ago, when I backpacked through Southeast Asia for five weeks. No phones, just a tablet we used to book guesthouses with free WiFi from airport Burger Kings and Skype with folks back home.
At first I kept checking my pockets for my phone. The habit made me realize how hooked on constant connectivity I'd become. By the time we got back home, our phones felt strange and heavy in our hands.
We'd been freed from the addiction for a few weeks, but we fell back into apps and social media over the weeks that followed.
While I know the benefits of giving up social media, I also know it's necessary for writers. Social media aggregates everything from news to jobs to publishing opportunities.
For a writer, giving up Facebook isn't about no longer wishing some high-school friend happy birthday but missing that reminder for a Twitter pitch contest or that call for submissions from a literary magazine that could advance our careers.
Also keeping writers hooked on social media is the messaging from TPTB in publishing that we aren't enough as we are—and neither are our books. Agents and other publishing professionals want platform. They need to believe we can deliver an audience before our books comes out. For nonfiction, no platform often means no path to publication.
Social Media Detox for Writers
A photographer I follow recently shared a YouTube video about his year quitting social media. Sure, the video was posted on social media, but YouTube appears to be his only channel, aside from his blog and email newsletter.
The photographer, Dave Morrow, challenges himself to run little experiments for self-improvement. He maintains curiosity about the practice and what changes it can bring him. So he challenged himself to do a year social media detox because he suspected the need to stay connected—comment, post, reply, and so on—was serving as a low-level distraction from his photography.
He wondered what would happen if he reclaimed that emotional, physical, and mental energy and put it into his passions—travel and photography. He figured he'd be happier by focusing more time on his passions. But he also suspected he would get more work done, since he isn't distracted by the need to check in on channels all day long.
He still blogs and creates videos, but he was able to immerse himself into these things rather than multitask. Hearing his describe two hours of immersive work editing a video, I had to ask myself, what if I could sink two uninterrupted hours in a day into working on my novel?
Something he said surprised me: He imagined he would see a drop-off in web traffic if he stopped using social to promote blog posts and photography workshops, but traffic levels remained the same.
As his social media breakup continued—and he invested time in creating longform content devoted to solving problems for his users—his site traffic went up.
Without social media, his blog is doing better than before.
Plus, he's helping people become better photographers while sharing work he enjoyed making.
With social, content would resonate for a day or week, and then die off. To stay engaged and avoid traffic dropping off, he would need to invest more time in sharing content. There was never a payoff level with social where the hard work is done. "Even if it helped people, I help a lot more now. I've touched a lot more people with my website than I could have with social," he said.
It reminded me of a travel blogger friend, who said each blog post took her something crazy like 12 hours between creating Pinnable graphics, researching the post, writing and editing the post, and promoting it.
This final insight stuck with me: "Turn off social media and devote every single second of that energy to create things you have a long-term vision for and you love doing consistently."
It made me wonder, what are we losing out on as writers by keeping up with Twitter or Facebook or Pinterest as part of our quest to get published?
For every half hour I spent carefully curating tweets in the hopes of attracting future readers, how much progress could I make editing a story that would get published and bring me more readers? How many agents could I add to my list of to-query agents, and would one of them be The One? Which new writer could I discover and fall in love with?
Also ... what are we really getting from the investment of our time?
Another writer tried a social media detox for a week. In that short time frame, she read more books, had more conversations, and felt more inspired. Ultimately she went back to social with a determination to strike a better balance. Giving up social, she suggested, is easier than admitting that we all have a choice about how we are spending our time—and some of us are choosing to dwell in Insta-land for more hours than we care to admit.
Writers need to believe the payoff of being consistently present on social media is a platform ready to buy our books when they make their way into the world, but we are not sure of the precise trade-off in hours to get that authentic connection that drives sales.
I'm not sure—and I imagine wading into it will demoralize me, like when I wrote about the LGBTQ wage gap and realized I'd probably be poor forever.
It's easier to buy the lie that if we only tweet 2.3 times more per day, we'll have the engagement we want, and that will lead to the career goals we dream of than to shrug it off and admit only a few variables are inside our control.