I guess I should preface this post by explaining that I didn’t actually quit the whole internet. Obviously, I still do the blogs and the emails and the occasional Googling of how to spell things like “EpiPen” and how handguns function underwater. But I did quit the social media part of the internet, which at this point in our technological evolution is what the majority of us seem to use it for.
Why, eden? Why would you quit twitter, facebook, or some other third social media site?
I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with social media–and every other kind of social setting, for that matter. I like people. I like to listen to them talk. I like to make them laugh. But being around people makes me uncomfortable. It makes me hyper-aware of all my flaws, inadequacies, and ineptitudes, of every visible blemish and scar I have, of my bad posture and loud breathing and the weird ways my lips and eyes and limbs move, and worst of all, the monotonous sound of my own voice. I can’t be around other humans without these things constantly running through the back of my mind.
But Twitter and facebook aren’t real life.
No, they’re not. Which is why when I realized that my self-consciousness couldn’t tell the difference between IRL and not-IRL, that my brain still reacted in the same painfully awkward ways, constantly overloading its self-awareness circuits, I quit.
But now you know they’re not real. You could come back to social media and train yourself not to react as if they were real.
Honestly, I don’t want to. That sounds like a lot of effort. Also, while I do miss joking around with my twitter friends, I’ve gained something unexpected from not having a twitter or facebook account to check on those rare occasions that I get a second to myself: free time. If I’m waiting in the car with the boys while Josh runs into the hardware store to grab something, I don’t whip out my phone and scroll through a news feed. I just sit. I daydream. I gather wool like it’s going out of style. I ponder life, the universe, and everything. I work on scenes and build new worlds in my head. Without social media, I have nothing to do while I’m waiting for something, and that’s okay. It’s better than okay; it’s just how I like it.
But eden, as an author in this modern world, don’t you need to have a social media presence?
The truth is, I don’t actually know. When I interned at a lit agency in college, the in-house publicist was desperately trying to convince their authors to build their social media platforms. “You should be on twitter, you should have a facebook, and you should be using them!” was her motto. On the one hand, she made a good point. Fans always want more of their favorite writers, celebrity chefs, actors, or sportball players. Whatever business you’re in, if you have fans, they probably always hope to hear something new and exciting from you.
On the other hand, this kind of thinking leads to a weirdly inflated sense of relevance for the person in question. Like you need to have opinions about things and tell people what they are. Or that all of your jokes need to be hilarious. Or that people need to know about your day or work or progress on a certain book or show. Kind of like the feelings of significance people with mental disorders have. I’ve been away from twitter now for a few months, facebook about the same. A couple people might’ve missed me, but no one has needed me. I wasn’t saving the world 140 characters at a time. I wasn’t curing cancer by thumbs-upping a status or a picture. Based on the still-steady nature of my book sales, I wasn’t even attracting new readers. I was just wasting time that I could’ve been spending with my kids, writing another book, or staring intently at a tree, half pondering the poetry of nature, half wondering if this is a elaborately fake tree filled with surveillance equipment, and if so, who or what are they surveiling, and why go to all that trouble to build an elaborate fake tree in the first place?
If I had to guess, I would say monsters. Or maybe supernatural phenomena that only goes on when humans aren’t around. But that’s neither here nor there.
Growing up I didn’t have the internet. We didn’t even get a computer until I was in high school, yet I somehow managed to write a ton of short stories, build entire parallel dimensions with thousands of years’ worth of history, and write my first novel in a pair of college-ruled notebooks. I was more productive back then than I’ve managed to be since leaving home because the only means I had of entertaining myself were writing and reading.
The biggest-name authors out there will tell you that there is one formula to lasting success in the writing world:
1. Write a good book.
2. Sell or publish that book.
3. Write another good book.
4. Sell or publish that book.
5. Write another good book.
6. Sell or publish that book….
Sure, there are plenty of other factors that go into whether you’ll get rich or famous, but if you want to make a career of this writing thing, you have to write. It’s the most important part of being a writer. That’s why they put it in the job title.
So, I guess the answer to whether or not the modern author needs a social media presence is no. Maybe getting the word out about your new book is easier if you have ten thousand followers on twitter and a hundred thousand fans on facebook, but facebook and twitter won’t write the book for you. (Sometimes they even serve as clever distractions from having to write.) The modern author, like the authors of the Roaring ’20s, and the authors in Shakespearean England, and even the authors forming cuneas into wet clay tablets, just need something to write on and someone to read it.
Well, I’m not going to quit twitter. Or facebook.
That’s cool. I don’t think all writers should quit twitter or facebook any more than I think all people should give up drinking just because I can’t control mine. For me, social media is unhealthy. So, I quit.