On Social Media Breaks, and the Pressure to Stay Connected

As someone who’s adept at using the internet to connect with folks and broaden my audience (I can safely make that statement without disclaimers now), you might think I’m one of those tense, big-eyed folks slavering at the keyboard screaming, “YOU MUST BE JACKED INTO THE MATRIX AT ALL TIMES OR RISK OBSCURITY.” But one of the things I’ve kept top of mind throughout my career is this: the writing comes first, and in order to write I need to be sane. The marketing brain and the writing brain are actually two wildly different modes of communication. One of those requires me to be loud and extroverted. The other requires me to be quiet and solitary. Inhabiting those two frames of mind at the same time is almost impossible for me.

This is why I always recommend that people read Booklife. It was the first advanced writing book I read that addressed a lot of the business aspects of this odd profession, including how to juggle the marketing vs. writing thing, and it recommended setting aside big blocks of time for writing, and then blocks of time for promotion, instead of trying to do both at once. I’ve put this system into place the last 18 months or so and achieved something like success with it. For six weeks every year, I’m “on” – I’m available for ALL THE INTERVIEWS and ALL THE BLOG POSTS right there during release month for my latest title. But come October 26th, I’m going mostly dark again until about mid-January when I’ll start to spin up again just in time for ConFusion.

I echo what Tobias Buckell says about only doing stuff you enjoy, and then only for as long as you enjoy it. When you start hitting burnout, you need to back off. The reality is that what we’re all really here to do is write… right?…not play at being internet famous. Because without the work, what are you, really, but another blathering blowhard on the internet? I haven’t worked the last twenty years to be just another senseless internet wonder without sticking power. And that means I need to spend my time where it counts most: writing the books that matter to me.

To achieve that I need study time, I need quiet time, I need big epic blocks of writing time, and that’s not going to happen if I’m constantly checking in on Twitter and comparing my life to everyone else’s highlight reel. I ditched Facebook last year because it had become a noxious distraction of bigotry and infighting, and never looked back. Twitter still has far more pros than cons, but I recognize that the time I spend updating and reading my feed and interacting with friends and colleagues is time that I would be spending reading or researching if I wasn’t hooked in. As an author, I need the break sometimes to swing back to reading and thinking instead of constantly reacting. And that’s really the downside to a lot of social platforms – if you’re not careful, you may find that you spend all of your time constantly reacting to rage after rage after rage and mention after mention after mention, like a rat with a sugar delivery button.

This is the real, insidious problem with staying hooked in too long: you start to think your little bubble of outrage and book squee is all there is in the world, and it sucks out all your writing inspiration. It becomes all-consuming, and it can color your perception of the world in strange ways. I do my best writing and research in concentrated chucks of time free of distractions. This is one reason I got into writing in the first place. I lived in the middle of nowhere and didn’t get out much, so I spent a lot of time making up pretend friends and having imaginary adventures. It was pretty easy to transfer that to the written word once I could actually make marks on paper.

So I’m a big believer in the necessity of internet breaks, and in selectively choosing when and to what purpose you choose to react to what’s happening online. You can go away for a month or two or three and come roaring back with your batteries recharged and you know what? The world may be obsessed with another Hot New Thing, sure, but they would have been obsessed with that anyway. If you bring them good work forged in the heat of your dedicated break and promote it like a bad ass, you’ll survive just fine.  It sure beats driving yourself into the ground and burning out in a flaming spectacle and never writing again, eh?

It’s the same with who and what you choose to engage with. You’re not a sorry piece of shit for sitting out some bullshit rumble. You’re putting your time toward creating amazing new things that make the rumble irrelevant.

Go forth and make cool shit.


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