Social media has always been a source of stress for me. I’ve had a like-it/hate-it relationship with it for a long time. I like when I make a new friend via Twitter or Instagram. It’s wonderful to exchange shared interests and thoughtful ideas with someone new in your life, especially someone I usually don’t or can’t see in person. But I hate it when I land on a post that makes me feel bad. I can feel anxious, inadequate, angry, sad, or even helplessly confused.
This bad tangled feeling culminated last summer. I thought long and hard about whether to leave social media all together. Finally, after agonizing over pros and cons, I came up with one way I can resolve those dark feelings while connecting with the positive people in my life.
The Artificial Aspect of Social Media
For me, the worst part of social media has always been the artificiality of it. There’s a never-ending stream of perfectly adjusted photos showing people, places, pets, children, food, and all else at their best possible moments. A woman walks on the beach with a slim body in a bikini on a beach. A sunset glows with various gorgeous colors on a lake. A child smiles with a mouth adorably covered in chocolate. And worst of all, glamorously dressed friends smile arm and arm, reminding the viewer what a great time they had without them.
And I have to confess, I’ve done it too. I love an alluring shot of a flower in my garden or how a rain drop pools on a leaf. I think my pets are the most adorable animals in the world and my travel outings are just as fun and interesting as anyone else’s. When The Forgetting Flower was released, I didn’t hesitate to post photos of the book reading and its release party. I’m culpable too.
But when posting these moments, I feel a strange mixture of pride and guilt at how lovely my life moment is while how unhappy someone else might feel at seeing it. I can’t resolve that while showing off, another viewer is secretly feeling envy or shame or plain sadness. I don’t like that dichotomy.
The bottom line is we’re all showing off something. One person shows off their awesome garden while another shows off a cute pet and another shows off an awesome vacation and another a fit body and another a best friend, and so on. And while that’s happening, someone else is feeling a negative emotion about it.
The Dichotomy Is Toxic
And it’s not just my sense of the experience. Everyone from computer science professor Cal Newport to public health researchers have talked about the negative effects of social media on people’s self-esteem. How it fosters depression and loneliness, especially in young adults. How it creates too much distraction and prevents the deep work of great art or scientific discovery or advancement in business. The effects are real and not healthy.
So I asked myself why was I still on it? Well, as I mentioned, I liked the camaraderie, especially on Twitter, of like-minded people. I’ve met gardeners and writers on that platform that have transferred into real-life friendships or at least acquaintances. I found publishing and promotional opportunities on Facebook groups. I’ve stayed up to date on my close friends’ latest career and family milestones on Instagram. And on Pinterest, I’ve found outstanding gardening, decorating and food ideas.
But I had to take a long hard look at how I could connect with those moments while preventing the sadder aspects. How could I post without seeming braggy or artificial? Finally, I realized the answer.
It’s Not About Me Anymore
I realized that if we’re all just showing off, then why not think of social media in those terms? So in my head, I renamed “social media” as “show off media.” This gave me a new perspective. Hence, I also gleaned a new approach. I became instantly self-conscious of what it was all about. And how I was contributing to the darkness.
In response, I vowed not to post anything that I didn’t think might help someone. If I posted a beautiful rose from my garden, then I better name the rose and give brief information on why and how others could grow it. When I shared vacation photos, I better include why people might want to go there, or ask where they had been recently. If I promoted my books, I’d need to include how they could entertain people and how buyers could get a discount or freebie.
In other words, I made it all about them.
Feeling More at Peace on Social Media
In doing so, I’ve felt cleaner and more whole. More positive. Now when I post, I feel like I’m serving the world a tiny bit. If I need to let folks know about book news in particular, I’ve found this website is the best place to do that. If readers come to my site, that probably means they already want information. So now, overall I feel like I’m helping. If I don’t feel like I can help someone on a certain day, I don’t post. It’s that simple.
There’s been another upshot to this approach. Under these parameters, I’ve avoided social media altogether for longer stretches at a time. I still check in for those good moments, but more readily hop off when I don’t find positive energy or posts that make me feel better.
For the last few weeks, my head and heart have felt fulfilled while also generous. And because I feel fulfilled and generous, I can spread those positive vibes around. As I go forward, I hope to reduce other people’s stress while enhancing my own online life.
So let me know how you’ve been feeling about social media lately. Have you been using it a lot? Gone off completely? Or still trying to find a happy balance? One thing’s for sure, it’s a tricky little devil.
Showing up is so important. Do you know that quote by a famous film director (whose name I won’t mention) about how 80% of success in life is just showing up? It’s so true. I’ve seen it over and over again. Someone got an opportunity not because they were the best but because they were there. Someone proved their worth by enduring an event they really didn’t want to be at. And the examples go on.
My husband I have taught that lesson to our kids their entire lives. When you show up, even if you don’t want to take that test or go to camp with that annoying kid or babysit your sister, you send a message that you care, that you’re willing to try, that you’re able to suffer through the painful parts of life.
In some ways, I can’t think of a more important lesson in life. Kindness, persistence, honesty. Those are all important too. But showing up bonds you to others in good times and bad. It shows serious character.
Showing up as an Introvert Artist
So as artists, how do we show up? The first way of course is to show up to our desk, our easel, our counter, whatever, and create art. But afterward, when we’ve made the art, what do we do?
Well, we can show up to performances or gatherings or meetings. And showing up socially often goes against our introverted instincts. Artists tend to be shy. Not always, but often. A lot of artists are artists because we enjoy solitude, right? Because interacting with people makes us nervous or self-conscious or plain exhausted. We like to live inside the imagination, not necessarily in harsh or dull reality.
But in today’s internet-connected world, we have an advantage. We can show up online. Join groups, discuss ideas via social media or post about what excites us via a blog or website. We don’t have to shower and dress well and put on our more patient, happy public face. We can share ideas and inspiration from the comfort of a couch. Not a bad compromise.
What Venue Is Right For You?
In terms of social media, I’ve always been partial to Twitter. I like it for two reasons: a) I learn stuff and b) I laugh. There’s information on there that educates me and witty or sarcastic commentary. Also, I have attracted real-life friends on Twitter. Those friendships have blossomed based on shared interests, not some sense of us being friends because we once worked or went to school together (though that has a worthy bond too), but because we share a passion or interest.
This is why Facebook and Instagram don’t charge my battery like Twitter. Those platforms are more about social causes, random memes, and personal photos. My husband calls it a glorified address book — which is fine, that can be useful too. Instagram, of course, is the glam version of Facebook, with an expected polished presentation of users’ kids, vacations, sunsets, and milestones. Shrug. I don’t have the energy to constantly present my most glossy perfect self.
Also, the company that owns those two platforms has refused to curb false political propaganda. Twitter is at least making an attempt. So while I still use those last two platforms, they don’t spark joy for me at all.
What If You’re Not Into Social Media?
What if, like many authors I know, you aren’t interested in posting about your life or sharing content? Well, this brings me to what I think is the most important way to show up as an artist: on your website.
When you create an online home base, you’re opening yourself professionally to the world. People know where to find you. You’re offering up your art and perhaps the inspiration behind that art. If visitors like it, great, if not, they can click away. But I think a website, and more potently, blogging, brings about connection. It brings the artist and those who like the art closer. It’s virtually showing up for whoever would like to engage.
The Seth Godin Philosophy
Marketing guru Seth Godin talk a lot about this. He thinks the most important thing an artist can do to promote their work is to “show up with generosity and intent.” In other words, he says, if you’re an artist, don’t just show up online shouting about your book or movie, show up as a real person and give us a glimpse of who you are.
Even more importantly, be prepared to be generous, intentional. How can you help others? Why are you there? Know what your mission online is about. If you do, I believe you’ll find at least some like-minds who will be interested in your work.
If You Have Ideas About This Blog, Let Me Know!
And so, for me, I’ll be blogging more often. I’ll be showing up. If you don’t want to show up, you can always unsubscribe from my blog, I won’t be hurt. But for those who are interested, or even want to have a conversation, I’ll be showing up at this website almost every day, on my couch, ready to help those in whatever way I can.
With that in mind, if you have ideas about what I should write about, please let me know in the comments!! My areas of expertise and passion are writing, books, gardening, plants, inspiration, France and Europe, music, motherhood, and the environment. I’ll be writing about those unless I hear otherwise from you! Cheers.
Photo by Arnal Hasanovic.
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I’ve been thinking a lot about tribes and how important they are in a writer’s life. Writers are often solitary beings so joining a group, any kind of group, can be stressful and intimidating. We writers write because writing is easier than interacting. Not for everyone, I know, but it’s certainly the case for me.
So while I’m a writer who enjoys being alone, I also yearn to connect with people. Not often, probably far less than others, but I do have that yearning. I realized this when I first took up fiction writing as an adult about 12 years ago. I’d left my job as an editor and while I knew other nonfiction writers and editors, I lacked a creative writer tribe. So I applied to an MFA program.
The Goddard College Group
I chose Goddard because it was a program that focused on quality work but didn’t discriminate against writers who wrote plot. My interest was not only in the literary, the strong sentence and profound insight, but in the thrill and ride of suspenseful events. And so, I attended Goddard’s low-residency program for two years. I ended up getting what I’d wanted from that experience. I stretched my mind and skills as a crafts person and I found a community. I mean, a really great community. I met writers who were as serious as I was and we went through the growth trenches together.
It’s not surprising to say I felt untethered after graduating. All of the students scattered back to their respective cities from across the country and I was left with a small core group of Seattleites that eventually dissipated. I still have a couple of local friends but mostly my Goddard tribe is spread far and wide.
What Social Media Offers
Enter the internet. So, when I wasn’t raising my kids and spending time with my family (how did I, a loner, end up with three kids again?), I joined groups on Facebook and made friends on Twitter. I found a core group of online gardener pals who I was able to share my passion for plants with, and I joined writer tribes. I joined a group called Women Writers who were supportive and caring. Later, I joined Sisters in Crime (even though I was unsure I belonged there), and a writing moms group called Writer Moms. I added the Women’s Fiction Writer’s Association too.
These groups have given me so much support. I’m able to ask for specific advice and have received useful help and experienced wisdom. I’ve found free information about building an online presence, book marketing, how to publish, how to write, and other tips I didn’t know I needed. I also got integral support in balancing my mom life with my writing life. I’ve found online friends who’ve been generous with their time and knowledge. It’s been a productive and amazing experience. In return, I’ve tried to offer my own support and advice.
Twitter in particular has been fruitful for me. In addition to making friends, I’ve received a few professional opportunities. I also found my author coach. And I made one very important connection.
Stumbling Upon Publishing
I found the Writer Moms group via their usual Monday night Twitter chats. I started participating in these chats and checked in a couple times a week on the Facebook group. I got an incredible amount of support as a mom and a writer here. During these months, I stumbled upon quality articles and excellent feedback. I even learned about a couple of small presses I didn’t know existed. I had been querying for a few years and submitted my manuscript to the two small presses. Within months, I had a book contract. It was unexpected and wonderful. All because I’d joined and participated in this particular online writers tribe.
So today online, when a writer friend threw out the question of whether online social media was a waste of time, I didn’t hesitate to answer. And after reading this, you probably know what my opinion was. I think it is worth joining writer tribes, you never know what might happen, who might notice you, who you might notice, and how you might connect. I don’t think writers should expect to make instant friends and have instant success. The network of fellow creatives I’ve built has taken me years to foster, and even now I’m still, arguably, a nobody! But at least I’m a nobody with a huge supportive tribe, headed toward a brighter horizon in my career.
Recently, I made a shift in how I view my time. Like all writers, I crave long blocks of uninterrupted time. Whether I acquired that was always on me. Was I answering email instead of writing my novel? Was I running errands when I should be home revising a short essay? Was I on Twitter on a night I’d devoted to producing a new blog post? In other words, was I being naughty? Was I being weak? Was I not being disciplined at my craft? What this approach has mostly done is made feel guilty about the booklife I should be doing versus what I am actually doing, while giving rise to a vague feeling of being disorganized and out of control. It’s depressing.
Jeff VanderMeer’s Been There
Then I read horror writer Jeff VanderMeer’s book, Booklife. He doesn’t feel guilty about how he uses any of his time. He knows online and offline time are both necessary. So he developed a way to resolve those two worlds. The world of writing in a solitary, uninterrupted state and the world of the social, interrupted state. He literally schedules all aspects of his time, starting in the morning with exercise, his writing hours, online time, and real life leisure or non-leisure time. He sketches it out in half-hour blocks and sticks to it 75%-85% of the time. Also, I imagine that target helps alleviate his guilt when he doesn’t follow the schedule. Not expecting to stick rigidly to it all the time lowers the pressure to succeed. It’s nicely realistic.
I learned a lot from this approach. First, I don’t beat myself up about the time it takes to live in a social, interrupted state. 1) I have a day job, 2) I have kids, 3) I have an online presence. Not to mention I have a husband, pets, chores, extended family, other interests, etc. All of these will pull me away from solitary, uninterrupted time into the disrupted and social. It’s the reality of life. Therefore, I now look at that solitary time as a gift, and that’s been a profound shift.
Don’t Take Time for Granted
Because time is a gift, it is precious. Therefore, I don’t take the time for granted anymore. I don’t beat myself up for being social or running errands. I simply plan. On what days and at what times are my kids at school or camp or watching a movie? How long do I have? What can I do in one, two, five hours? Can I get into creative silent mode enough to produce something? This is the approach I take now. I’m more organized about when I creatively write and when I do online work: write during the day when the kids are gone, do online work and real life tasks when the kids are home. I’ve resumed an old routine of taking one night a week away from the kids to write at a coffee house. On the weekends, I take advantage of bonus time my husband offers by taking the kids to the park.
Just as VanderMeer says in Booklife, I don’t always stick to the plan. But my emotional outlook improved. I now focus solely on whichever state I’m in, which spawns feelings of satisfaction and control. I get more done either way. It’s the Booklife approach, and I’m thankful to have found it.
Tell me how you view your uninterrupted and interrupted states of time. Are you barely keeping your head above water as I was or do you feel like you have a plan?
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