Until eight months ago, I was a Facebook addict. As a business owner and a person in the world, I felt like it was mandatory to show up and be real . . . which was exhausting, and caused problems, and felt bad. For seven years from 2012 to 2018, I showed up every day, over and over, reading and writing and being real. And I made a lot of friends — people that I truly cared about, even though I’d never met them in real life, or had only met once in the real world. It’s hard to pull back from something so engaging.
But still, it often felt bad. For one thing, it felt compulsive; I didn’t want to be clicking over to that window a dozen times a day, two dozen, who knows how many dozen. For another, it poked the squishy insecure part of me that wants to fix everything. And it definitely messed with my head, making me look at everything I posted twice, three times, four times, from every angle over and over. When I came across Jaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, it was a matter of days before I followed suit.
Quitting social media felt like quitting a second job. After the first two nights when it felt really weird not to know how everyone’s — and I do mean everyone I’ve ever met and connected with — day went, it felt like opting out of a prolonged anxiety attack.
Over the next few months, it felt like befriending a new, old version of myself. I’d forgotten how much I love doing counted cross-stitch and making sock monkeys. I used to be very crafty, and I picked that habit back up pretty quickly.
I also used to write. That’s been harder to pick back up.
Social media is great for prompting short, pithy, entertaining posts that are very audience-centered. It’s very “sticky,” in that it keeps people’s eyeballs stuck on it, so it’s potentially a powerful way to engage an audience. But it’s also custom-made for making writers anxious, because it’s essentially a bottomless pit of micropublishing, and publishing is writers’ greatest source of anxiety.
One of my biggest regrets of the last few years is telling writers that they need to be on social media to promote their work. They don’t. You don’t. We don’t. What we need to do is write the work that makes us feel alive.
Toward the end of my time on Facebook, I came across a couple of quotes that left a mark and made it easier to leave:
“Everything is not for everyone.” (The internet doesn’t know who said this first)
“Never be afraid to sit a while and think.” (by Lorraine Hansberry in A Raisin in the Sun )
Those quotes reminded me of an interminable trek from the beach to the parking lot at Leo Carrillo in Malibu with my then-husband’s friend. I’d offered to help haul the last load of beach gear from the car, and I was trying to make conversation as we trudged across the sand. Our kids were thick as thieves, but he and I had never had a conversation alone, and I met his silence with chatter. About halfway across the long stretch of sand, he finally said something:
“Do you ever entertain an unspoken thought?”
You better believe I shut up.
One unexpected consequence of leaving social media is relearning how to write to people I can’t see. It’s one thing to post a message to a bunch of people I’ve hand-picked and monitored daily, then carry on a conversation with them in the comments. But with a newsletter or a blog post, you can’t see your readers. It’s like sending a form letter in a Christmas card — back in the ’90s when most people still thought they were tacky and impersonal, rather than an efficient, even charming way to update everyone on what made waves that year. Who knows what people are saying when they open that envelope?
To make it even more perplexing, half of my work centers on preserving and enhancing the voice of the writer. It’s unnerving to have trouble finding my own.
I told this to a client last month and she laughed. She brought up the last newsletter I’d sent out, with a photo of a field of violets, then a photo of even more violets. She said my voice was very clear to her, and that she thinks of it as traviesa, a Spanish word meaning mischievous and playful. “Guaranteed fun with no jail time,” she said.
Well. Traviesa is right up my alley. I was simultaneously put at ease and encouraged to explore the possibilities.
It’s hard to see yourself as others see you. It’s hard enough to see yourself in a way that lets you produce good work at a reasonable rate. Creative people often feel awkward promoting themselves, and it helps if someone with experience holds up the mirror for you.
A couple weeks ago I was listening to a podcast that prompted me to identify my ONE THING — what single thing is the guiding principle of my life. (You can find it here: Amy Porterfield’s Online Marketing Made Easy podcast, episode 246 with Jay Papasan.)
I knew the answer instantly: I don’t want to waste your time.
And I don’t want you to waste your time.
That’s why I want to know my clients’ goals for their writing. It’s the “fearless consulting” part of my business’s motto. It drives me to help you find the heart of your story and get it pumping blood, even if it requires major surgery and a period of bed rest.
This blog post has gone through three major revisions over as many days now, and it’s time to let it go. As W.H. Auden, Aaron Copland, and Paul Valéry very nearly said, “A blog post is never finished; it is only abandoned.”
I’ll leave you with a song I may have left you with before: Over the Rhine’s “I Don’t Want to Waste Your Time.” The lyrics are here if you want them.
Thanks for your eyes and ears, friends. I hope it’s been worth your time.