The Post-Social Media Novelist
It’s only been a week since I “deactivated” my personal Facebook account and already I feel like a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders.
This “deactivation” was a long time coming. Since 2015, I’d been using Facebook less and less—from spending hours on there per day to about 10 minutes per month. Regarding other social media services—most notably Twitter—I stopped using those back in late 2017. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to quit social media entirely.
A while back, I read a great book titled Deep Work: Rules for Success in a Distracted World, written by Cal Newport, a computer scientist who has always eschewed social media.
In the book, he gives readers a plan for detoxing from social media. Part of the plan is for the person who is on the fence about quitting social media to stay away from it for 30 days, and then, at the end of that period, to ask himself a question: “Would my life have been significantly better or more enjoyable with social media?” Put another way, “Has my life been significantly worse or less enjoyable without social media?”
Last Saturday, I answered those questions for myself and made my decision. After discussing the idea with my business manager (my wife), we decided to keep my Facebook author page with its 9,000+ followers, and I simply transferred ownership of it to her before deactivating my personal account. Eventually we plan to hire a social media whiz kid to manage the author page.
The bottom line for this novelist is…I’m OUT, bitches!
I’m not going to turn this entry into a polemic about the evils of social media and why I finally had to get the hell away from it. I’m not going to wax maudlin about all of the time and emotional energy I wasted on social media. And while I feel some regret about not making this decision years ago, I’m also not going to wallow in regrets. From now on, it’s all about forward motion—how this novelist plans to live and work post-social media.
As I see it, without social media in my life, I can get back to the essence of what it means to be a novelist—thinking deeply about story and focusing on the words. Words of substance, mind you—not disposable “posts” on social media, remarks about some new digital distraction, or diatribes about the public outrage du jour.
Without the tinnitus of social media—the “look at me, look at me” nonsense, and the constant sense of unease attached to whether or not your “friends” are going to “like” your post—I can regularly achieve true, deep quiet, stillness and expansiveness again. Quiet, stillness and expansiveness are to a novelist what soil, sun and rain are to a farmer.
For over 12 years, I worked within the “internet age” writer–reader paradigm, a paradigm based on the idea that writers (novelists in particular) need to interact with their readers, build relationships with them, and thereby grow their readership.
After more than a decade of working this way, I can say, with authority, that unless a novelist is willing to put more than half of her time into social media, it is never going to grow her readership the way the social media “experts” claim.
This “internet age” paradigm is highly undignified for the novelist, requiring him to be a merry andrew for a minimum of several hours per week. And meanwhile, the spouting forth of social media blather—half-baked ideas, photos, witty observations and bons mots—debases the hard and serious work that he does in writing a novel. (It also, according to Time magazine, is making people stupid.) The whole endeavor expends writing energy, becoming a superficial substitute for the real work: writing the novel.
Without social media in my life, I can return to the old paradigm of the writer–reader relationship: letting readers find my books and contact me (by email or at events) of their own accord. When I was in college and wanted to contact contemporary authors whose books meant something to me, I had to send them letters through their agents. I wrote letters to John Irving, Garrison Keillor, Stephen King, and T.C. Boyle.
Without social media in my life, I no longer will feel that I need to include readers in my process and my life away from the writing desk. Frankly, as much as I love my readers and enjoy writing to them when they contact me, readers aren’t entitled to any of this. Readers—specifically readers who buy novels—are entitled to one thing: well-written, meticulously crafted, entertaining, illuminating, inspiring novels. That’s it. That, as I see it, is the novelist’s sacred duty, the one obligation she has to her readers. This is the writer–reader paradigm I’m living under from now on—the way it used to be, before social media.
Finally, without social media in my life, I can focus on the part of this enterprise that consistently gives me joy: making my novels the very best they can be. For the first time in more than a decade I can wake up, brew my cup of coffee in the Keurig machine, sit down in front of one of my four typewriters, and simply write—without a moment’s concern about what might be going on (and what I might be missing) down the rabbit hole of social media, a world where “down is up, and up is down,” where superficiality trumps substance.