social media

  • Is social media harming the writing community?

    Is Social Media Harming The Writing Community?
    Is social media harming the writing community?

    Are you a writer or editor spending too much time on social media and feeling bad about it? Is it eating into your writing time, your editing time, your work hours, your free time, etc?

    Social media as slot machine

    Did you know that social media companies employ ‘attention engineers’ who use Las Vegas casino gambling techniques to keep you hooked? And all so they can make a profit at your expense.

    Dr. Cal Newport has compared social media to having a slot machine on your phone. The companies have invested tens to hundreds of millions of dollars to keep you on their sites.

    If you look at their sites a lot, they track user minutes and it increases their stock value.

    Even something as seemingly innocent as the ‘like’ button is a result of attention engineering. Let’s face it, people love getting ‘likes’ because it indicates social approval.

    And humans love social approval.

    Also, there’s a dopamine hit when you get liked, retweeted, and so on, and that can get addictive.

    Social media is designed to take up your attention – and as much of it as possible.

    Social media steals your life, motivations, and goals

    But what are you giving up when you spend hours on Facebook or Twitter?

    You are losing time you can’t get back. Time you could have spent on other things.

    Like writing a book, or finishing the book you’re currently working on. Or writing more books. Or going for walks, swimming, or cycling, etc.

    And at least as importantly, you could have spent more time with your family and other loved ones.

    If you’ve spent a very long time on social media, that time wasted can clock up to years of your life.

    What else could you have been doing with that time? Do you still read as much as you used to, or watch as many films? Do you socialise with others in the real world as much as you once did?

    Social media destroys your focus

    On top of all that, social media is not just a massive time sink, it’s also destroying your ability to focus.

    If you want to write, or you’re editing, you need to concentrate and immerse yourself in that project.

    However, social media has trained users to become more fragmented in their attention. Notifications break your concentration as you rush to check what’s happening online.

    You might intend to only check in for a moment or two, but even if you resist the temptation to stay longer, it will take you longer to focus again on your project.

    So, you’ve actually lost even more time.

    Is social media harming the writing community?

    I often worry about the potential harm caused to writers by online writing communities on social media. Because even if the communities have helpful information, the platforms they use are designed to be addictive.

    Like a slot machine.

    We’re told that the Twitter writing community is helpful and supportive. Yet, someone going in to ask the community a quick question might find they’re still on Twitter an hour or so later.

    That’s time lost to writing, and even if you go back to focus on your work, it’s unlikely you can just immediately concentrate again.

    So, how much are these online communities actually draining writers of time, energy, and focus?

    How much are they actually preventing you from fulfilling your writing dream?

    It doesn’t help that social media provides people with an immediate writing identity. You can put anything in your profile. Once you’re part of the writing community, you get validated, even when you’re posting too much to actually write.

    You end up with an unearned identity. Which fits with the modern tendency to want things now.

    Actual writing success takes a long time. Certainly, if you want to have a sustainable career, it will take years.

    But on social media, you’ll find people claiming social media is necessary for writers.

    Is it?

    It might partly come down to how much you’re able to resist the worst temptations and regulate yourself. I cover useful apps further down this post.

    However, there’s another problem, and it’s a serious one…

    Toxic politics and censorship

    The online writing community can be dangerously political and censorious. This can lead to self-censoring for fear of being attacked, which can block your creativity. There’s far too much herding going on.

    Some writers also use their followers to attack rivals and to bombard reviewing sites with negative reviews. This is reputation destruction, and it’s usually presented as righteous and virtuous.

    But that’s how censors saw themselves in both left-wing and right-wing totalitarian regimes and theocracies. There were a lot of politically captured artists, writers, film makers, editors, and academics in these regimes.

    They used the prevailing ideology to climb the greasy pole. They took out rivals.

    Sometimes rivals were actually sent to the gulag or killed.

    No one admires these regime artists now. When regimes fall, the arts pivot. Those who stood up to censorship and tyranny become lauded while old regime artists fall by the wayside.

    Sadly, people don’t seem to learn the lessons of history.

    That’s another reason why social media is dangerous. It encourages mass bullying, censorship and extremist ideologies.

    Additionally, the algorithms thrive on conflict.

    Nevertheless, if your ideology can’t compete in the marketplace of ideas without you silencing or bullying rivals, then there’s something wrong with your ideology.

    Minority writers living in fear

    And if you’re a minority writer who is now afraid to write fiction based on your own group, because your group is heavily policed by an arrogant and self-appointed activist class, maybe social media is the last place you should be.

    I’m seeing minority writers genuinely afraid of these online tyrants. The so-called ‘allies’ (who belong to the traditional oppressor groups) drown out the voices of ordinary members of minorities – and this is by design.

    We can’t have minorities thinking for themselves or just being individuals.

    If you’re a writer or any kind of artist or thinker, you can’t let these people get inside your head and block your work.

    If you’re a member of a minority or other historically oppressed group, you are not a member of a Borg-like collective, and you are not obliged to write according to the expectations of a grifting middle-class activist class.

    The definition of freedom for minorities should include the definition to be yourself and not a footsoldier for the left, the right, or anyone else.

    I see a lot of fear in the online writing community – fear of the bullies currently running riot. I see fear in publishing because activists have got into positions of power – deliberately too because this is how ideologues capture organisations.

    Even editing organisations are captured.

    Writers have been cancelled while rivals gloat and industry professionals celebrate on the likes of Twitter.

    The more time you spend on social media, the more you’re likely to have these toxic activist voices in your head.

    They will block your ability to produce your best work.

    They will prevent you from writing your own truth.

    And meanwhile, you are likely anxious about what you post – going back to see if you’ve offended some complete stranger from the other side of the planet.

    This is another reason why people often break what they’re doing in the real world to check social media.

    And this leads to anxiety and being trapped on a never-ending hamster wheel of social media posting and reading.

    Is social media worth it?

    I’ve blogged before on apps that are useful to help concentration and focus. But while social media’s attention engineering is hugely immoral, even impacting the human brain, the political aspect adds to the toxic mix.

    Then there is engagement. Twitter can be poor when it comes to engagement. The advice is to engage with other people’s posts – but this then circles back to the problem of how much time you’re willing to spend there.

    And even if you are getting engagement as a writer, is it delivering on sales or boosting your readership? Or is your readership primarily other writers who buy your book in exchange for you buying theirs?

    Of course, this is more an issue of your target audience versus the audience that’s easiest to grow. It’s also about learning how best to use a platform.

    Useful apps that give you back control

    It’s not that you have to give up social media. There may be platforms you find less time-consuming and less stressful. You can also use apps to control your access.

    I recently looked at more apps I hadn’t tried before. I find some of them extremely useful.

    The most useful of all is a straight-out social media blocker like Cold Turkey which has both a free and a paid option. I’ve used the free one for years and it’s definitely worthwhile. There are others like Forest, which allows you to grow a virtual tree as an incentive to focus.

    There’s also Delayed Gratification. This allows you to customise a list of sites where you can set up a 10-second or 20-second delay before you can access them.

    So, with Twitter, you could give yourself a 20-second delay that prevents you from immediately getting into the site. When you make things harder for yourself, it helps to break the habit.

    There’s also UnDistracted which allows you to control your use of Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Reddit, and Netflix. There is the option to block each of these sites, but you can also control whether you see the feed, the trending topics, recommended videos or followers, etc. With YouTube, you can force-direct to your subscriptions. Add in removal of the sidebar and recommended videos and you have fewer juicy videos to keep you distracted.

    There’s also Insight by Freedom which allows you to track your time on various sites. The bar graphs might truly shock you when you check where you’ve been spending time. Freedom also has a social media blocker, but it’s not free, apart from the trial. Insight by Freedom is free on the Google Play Store as a Chrome extension.

    There are many more useful apps. If you need to break your work time down into more manageable segments, you can use a Pomodoro timer.

    If you want to know more…

    There are a lot of interesting videos on YouTube on the subject of ‘Why I quit social media‘.

    Of course, being on YouTube means scrolling yet another site!

    But you’ll see what people have to say about quitting for months or even a year or more. How their lives changed.

    You’ll also see, particularly in the comments below, that many people who quit FB, Twitter, and Instagram choose to stay on YouTube, even though it too is designed to be addictive.

    All I can say is, beware of YouTube. It’s another rabbit hole. I think it has a lot of amazing content, which is why so many people justify still using it. But it’s best to use it in a controlled fashion. I find it useful to access YouTube via my TV because then I treat it as an alternative to real television (which I have little to no interest in).

    I also recommend checking out any talks Dr. Cal Newport gives on social media addiction. There are also whistleblowers from social media companies who have spoken out about the problems.

    Otherwise, I have some openings in my developmental editing calendar. You can opt for an opening chapters edit, a manuscript critique, an advanced beta critique, or a full developmental edit.

    You can check my editing services page.

    More posts from the blog

    Pressing the reset button

    Boost your writing with the Pomodoro technique

    Social media blockers

  • Fear of marketing yourself on social media

    Blog image for Fear of marketing yourself on social media.
    Fear of marketing yourself on social media

    I once knew a woman who couldn’t go into an LGBT bar on her own. She didn’t even like going in with someone else unless she’d had a drink first. Alcohol became her crutch because she never dealt with the original problem. Which was fear of walking into a social environment alone, and maybe feeling judged and self-conscious.

    It was perfectly obvious what the solution should have been – go in alone anyway, without a drink. When you’re so used to doing something, it becomes second nature.

    I admit I haven’t quite reached the level of second nature when it comes to marketing myself on social media. I still don’t like it much. There are a number of reasons. For one thing, a site like Twitter is enormously distracting, so it can become counter-productive to spend much time there. I end up forgetting what I was supposed to be doing.

    Another thing about social media is that there’s already a lot of marketing there. And if you need to market yourself – a book or service – it can seem almost impossible to post anything that rises above the general noise.

    Fear of marketing yourself on social media

    There’s also the fear of being annoying – a lot of people don’t like marketing posts. They’re okay in moderation, but in the writing and book end of Twitter, marketing tweets are in abundance. (And this is one reason why if you’re marketing a book, you should have the best cover design, so it stands out from the rest.)

    Authors and editors are often fairly introverted people. But if we want to find readers or clients we have to market ourselves on social media. Whether it’s Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, or somewhere else, we need to make people aware that we and our work exist.

    One of the downsides of being a writer and working with fiction is having an overactive imagination. This means you can dream up all kinds of nightmare social media scenarios that might result from posting. If we take Twitter, it can be a bit of a minefield. It can also be very difficult to get any engagement when you do post. And some of the engagement tactics are not to everyone’s taste.

    Follow trains, which can run foul of Twitter’s Terms of Service, don’t appeal to everyone. They can also lead to a lot of notifications. #writerslift hashtags can end up with a long thread of self-promotion, which can be demoralising if you don’t feel your own posts can compete.

    You struggle to be heard and you’re ready to throw in the towel. You know you could try other strategies but they don’t always appeal. Like sharing too much about your private life. Or giving too much away about your feelings. Or talking about your opinions or political views.

    Posting personal content

    It’s true that posting more personal content can allow potential readers or clients to get to know you. This is why a social media account that only posts marketing messages will be harder for others to connect with.

    I recently heard about trauma marketing. This is where you use personal trauma to market yourself. This plays to the victim culture that thrives on social media, but it’s also manipulative and drowns out and cheapens serious trauma. Monetising trauma for financial gain and marketing does seem pretty icky – unless it relates to the topic of your book. In which case, it makes more sense.

    Imposter syndrome, perfectionism, failure

    If you’re struggling to post on social media, you might want to ask yourself why. Are you afraid people won’t notice? If that is your fear, then the worst thing you’d expect is not to get any engagement. Perhaps you suffer from imposter syndrome or perfectionism – you might be afraid to post links to your website because you’re not confident about either your site, your content, or both. This is likely to be even worse when you’re just starting out. But the more you put off posting, the worse your fear will get.

    If you avoid posting, you never deal with the problem, and your voice and your work go unheard.

    The fear is driven by avoidance of pain

    Humans are primarily motivated by two things – pain and pleasure. Pain takes precedence since it’s connected to our survival. If we anticipate pain because a tiger is coming our way, we will work hard to get away. If we anticipate a flame will burn us, we’ll avoid it. If we think a social media post will bring a ton of trouble on our heads, we won’t post it.

    Even if we want success, we also fear it. Because we anticipate, rightly, that not everything that comes with it is good. It brings negative attention, extra responsibilities, extra work. It pitches us into situations where we are constantly in danger of failure, complete with an audience to witness our falls.

    There’s also the fear of the unknown and the new, the things we’re not yet accustomed to. When it comes to social media, it’s best to jump in and get in the habit of posting. If you write a blog, try doing it often enough and reposting links to older content so you develop a routine. The more you do it, the less painful it should become.

    Mix personal and helpful posts between the marketing

    It’s also worth mixing up non-marketing posts with personal posts and posts that are helpful and add value for readers. If your posts seem helpful or you show yourself to be helpful to others, they will remember you more and engage with you more often. You can also post fun stuff – if you’re selling a service, your clients need to feel you’re approachable and friendly.

    And if you do attract controversy from a post, it’s not always a bad thing. There will always be people who agree with you or who just agree to disagree.

    Which platform(s) would suit you best?

    There are courses and mentorships you can do on social media marketing. Some are more helpful than others. But it’s worth deciding first what platforms you prefer to use. If you like visual marketing and social media sites, Instagram and Pinterest might be better. Pinterest is the biggest image search engine outside Google, with a higher income demographic.

    Twitter is good for microblogging or threading tweets. But it’s also a 24-hour news site, and you will quickly find yourself sucked into staying on the platform for longer than you intended. This is particularly a problem if you struggle to find time for your writing. You don’t need added distractions. Yes, the site has a big writing community, but sometimes that too is a big distraction.

    There are also plenty of writing groups on Facebook, plus writers on Instagram. I’m less familiar with these two.

    One thing that’s really important to point out here is that spreading yourself too thinly over multiple platforms could be a real mistake. It partly depends on how efficient you are and how well you manage your time. You could use scheduling tools and have particular days you post on a platform. You could use one or two platforms more often and others only once or twice a week.

    If you fear posting on social media, ask yourself why. If you’re worried your posts will look silly, there are plenty of silly posts on social media and people aren’t looking for perfection. If you’re worried your blog posts and website aren’t good enough for people to see yet, it’s still worth throwing yourself in there and posting anyway. You could just be suffering from imposter syndrome and some traffic to your site could build up your confidence.

    Fear of marketing yourself on social media is no joke. Many business owners are held back by it, never reaching their full potential. The same is true of authors.

    One of the most important things is to remember social media is designed to reward users and keep them on the site. It’s meant to be addictive. So, if you’re a writer or you have a small business, you need to be careful you don’t spend too much time there. Social media blockers like Cold Turkey can be very useful in terms of managing your time on these platforms.

    Cat looking at laptop photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

    Other IndieCat blogs you might like

    Social media blockers

    Don’t make this mistake on your author website

    Boost your writing with the Pomodoro Technique

    How to order the stories in a collection

    Why your book cover design matters

  • Social media blockers

    Blog image for 'Social media blockers'.
    Social media blockers

    Social Media Blockers Provide a Quiet Room

    Spending too much time on Twitter or other social media? Checking the #writingcommunity and #amwriting threads there far too often? Come on, be honest!

    This is pretty much the modern equivalent of tidying your desk or playing with your pencils. If you really want to maximise your writing time, you need to get tough. You need a social media blocker.

    I know, I know … you have this really good reason to be on Twitter. You have this writing or plot problem and if you just put out a tweet about it, maybe someone will answer. A blocker would totally interfere with that.

    So, there you are on Twitter, or FB, or wherever you hang out, and while you’re waiting, a million other fascinating tweets/posts will appear. Before you know it, a couple of hours or more have gone by, and you’re running out of writing time.

    Another problem is that social media just fractures your concentration. The internet throws so much information at us, and for so long, that our attention spans have diminished. We’re chasing one shiny new piece of information or entertainment after another.

    Sometimes you just have to get tough. One way to do that is to use a social media blocker …

    Protect your writing time by using social media blockers.

    I use the free version of Cold Turkey, though there are others available.

    On Cold Turkey, you can make up custom lists of sites you want to block. My two worst time wasters are Twitter and YouTube, so I have that as my A-List. My B-list is just Twitter. So, um, Twitter is definitely my downfall, with YouTube a close second.

    For other people, it’s Facebook, Instagram, or some other place. It’s always worthwhile checking your browsing history to see just how long you spend on certain sites, going from one page to another.

    Virginia Woolf talked about the necessity of having a room of one’s own to write fiction. But the internet gives us a neverending window of passing traffic, entertainment and noise. It removes that quiet room needed to get some writing done.

    And that’s why it’s worth using a site blocker. Cold Turkey comes with a timer, and you have the option to add in a break time.

    There are other alternatives – including a number of Chrome add-ons. Pause, for example, literally pauses your access to a site by showing a calming green screen for five seconds (or longer, if you want to adjust the timer). You are encouraged to reflect on whether you really want to continue to the site or not. This add-on is produced by Freedom Labs and you’ll find it in the Chrome web store.

    Then there’s the ingenious Forest, which encourages you to ‘plant virtual trees’ instead of visiting your usual internet haunts. It’s more of a nudge app than a blocker. So if you don’t mind your trees dying when you leave the app, then you need something stronger. Forest works on iOs, Android and Chrome.

    Other blockers and nudgers are available, some free, some with paid options. For now, I’m happy with the free version of Cold Turkey.

    Personally, I find it a bit of a relief to have the block on. And if you really do have questions you want to ask others in the writing community, you can always jot them down and ask them when the timer is up. Social media will still be there.