[This is the first of a new series of posts. As a full-time writer, I find Facebook to be more of a writer’s medium than other social platforms and use it to augment my daily writing practice. That said, given the 24/7 nature of news and entertainment media, and the over-sharing that goes on, it is easy to lose hours reading, commenting, sharing, liking stuff on FB rather than focusing on the real work of writing. Not to mention what it does to one’s creativity — think of the image of a whole, smooth egg with the caption “This is your brain” and then the image of messily-scrambled eggs with the caption “This is your brain on social media.” Yeah. It can be like that.
Additionally, I firmly believe that we are what we consume, both physically and intellectually. So, while I am being pro-Facebook here, we all know that there is a lot of awful, meaningless, even dangerous stuff there. We have to be discerning what we let into our minds and how much of a filter-bubble we build around ourselves while online. More on these aspects in future series posts.
In this first post of the series, I focus on why, as a writer, I prefer FB and how I try to organize and ration my usage time to avoid that brain-as-scrambled-eggs scenario. Future posts will be about how to use it more effectively to collaborate with other writers, engage meaningfully with other readers, and promote oneself as a writer.]
We live in a world where being social in real life and being social online are merging so entirely that, very soon, if we are not being social within online communities, we may well be considered anti-social overall. Online does not replace offline, of course, but the two are, increasingly, more and more intertwined.
Beyond giving us ways to collaborate, communicate, and connect, social networking platforms also allow a voice to those who would, otherwise, remain marginalized, in the minority, and mostly invisible.
Besides allowing independent creative artists and entrepreneurs to build their own brands and connect directly with their audiences and customers, these platforms level the playing fields for us all. Social media is no longer, as someone said, a subset of the internet — it is the internet.
Several of my favorite writers (e.g. Zadie Smith, Jhumpa Lahiri, George Saunders) are not active on social media. On the other hand, there are many favorite writers (like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Marlon James, Junot Diaz) who are not only active but post/share thought-provoking information/ideas for their readers and students.
Throughout my corporate years (till 2012), I did not have any personal social media accounts except for Linkedin. When I edited a literary magazine from 2012-2014, I leveraged several social media platforms to share the works of writers and artists we were publishing and not much else. It wasn’t till late-2015 that I started being more active on FB myself. Primarily, this was due to a lack of time.
As a full-time writer now, I spend a lot of solitary hours writing. So the ability to connect briefly and regularly with others — friends, writers, the outside world — without having to leave my couch is often both a necessity and a godsend.
Why I Prefer Facebook Over Other Text-based Social Communication to Augment My Daily Writing Practice
Like most others, I use FB to stay in touch with friends from around the world. That said, I don’t share personal stuff on FB because I’m generally a private person in real life also. For personal news and photos, I use email and WhatsApp with close friends and family members.
Beyond the above, I prefer FB over other social platforms to augment my daily writing practice for the following reasons:
1/ It enables connecting and conversing with other like-minded writers and readers from around the world.
2/ As text-based communication, FB is a writer’s medium more so than Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc., because it is longform versus character-limited writing. I find FB a good place, also, to test out or explore with friends certain themes/ideas that I am mulling over for a longer blog post, story, or essay.
3/ It is also interesting for me as a reader — plenty of cool stories if you know how and where to look.
4/ While I enjoy “following” certain favorite writers, journalists, comedians, musicians, technologists, literary magazines, etc., FB is NOT my primary news source. I use Feedly to subscribe to RSS feeds of various literary, financial, and political news sites and I check that once a day for 30 minutes.
5/ Most important of all, though, is this: for “emerging” writers (versus “established” ones) like myself, social media platforms like FB allow us to both develop a readership as well as be “discoverable.” And, though there is plenty of ambivalence about writers using social media platforms for self-promotion, if done with care, courtesy, and thoughtfulness, it can be worthwhile for both writers and their readers. Alexander Chee wrote a terrific Twitter thread in 2016 about this. His key points were about how social media is invaluable for writers from minority groups who have low to no visibility through regular publishing channels.
[Side-note: There is a lot of advice out there for how writers should use social media to promote their work without annoying or losing friends/connections/readers. This is a larger topic and I will write a detailed separate post another time.]
How I Organize and Ration My Time on Facebook:
As many of my writer friends have also found, social media can easily become a huge time drain. With 24/7 news and entertainment media, the sheer volume of content getting shared/posted on FB is overwhelming and it is tempting to get drawn into hours of reading, watching, sharing, commenting, etc.
The answer, for me, is not to shut it off entirely but to be more organized and disciplined about using it.
So, here are my top 10 social media efficiency tips, which I continue to add to and refine. Please feel free to share/recommend yours. And, yes, most of these should work for other creatives and non-writers too.
1/ I do not have any social media apps on my phone, except for WhatsApp for family and close friends — and we use it sparingly. This way, I’m not tempted to check frequently. [I had the FB apps till Nov 2016, but got rid of them after the US elections.]
2/ I ration my time on social media (via laptop) to 10 minute intervals and — this is very important — ONLY after I’ve done a bit of my day’s writing that I’m happy with. Otherwise, I don’t log in.
One other thing to consider is not to log in too frequently while you’re in the middle of other reading and writing. The kind of fragmentary and skim-style reading on social media can become a habit so that it gets harder to do deeper, sustained reading and writing offline. There have been many scientific studies now that prove that our offline reading approaches have suffered due to our online reading approaches. And, writing is, really, a deeper kind of reading. Think on that.
I find, also, that regular social media detox breaks are beneficial. Take entire days off. Really, you will soon find that you haven’t missed much at all.
3/ I rarely post more than once a day, if that. This is because:
3a) I prefer quality vs quantity: fewer posts with meaningful conversations vs several posts with shallow/no conversations.
Look, we live in an age of over-sharing. There are all kinds of sharers online. There’s the type of person who is trying to create a self-idealized version or identity of himself or herself through sharing certain personal details, thoughts, quotes, and articles. There’s the pontificator or social media warrior who hammers through 10-12 articles at a time because he/she believes it is a responsibility to educate others. There’s the self-appointed curator who might have somewhat altruistic aims at heart in bringing choice ideas/images to their friends. There’s the self-promoter, who mostly only shares his/her work and not much else. I find all of these and many others interesting to observe and don’t criticize or judge anyone.
For myself, though, I want, more than anything, access to new ways of thinking and different perspectives — similar to what I look for when I pick up a good book. This approach also helps me to stay consistent with the themes/topics I share or post about — which is better for my writer’s brain than being fragmented or scattered all over the place.
[Related to this depth-vs-breadth aspect, I have been asked by some writer friends how I find time to do my creative writing as well as have in-depth conversations on social media. Actually, I have 5 different writing modes: a daily personal journal; an Evernotes filing system; this blog; my current writing project; and FB. Each serves a different purpose and, over the years, I have become more disciplined about not blurring the lines too much because I want to protect, more than anything, my current writing project and not dissipate my own energy for it by talking or writing too much about it in other places. I will write a longer post sometime on how I use this 5-way system to drive my overall daily writing practice and why.]
3b) I consider it good manners and good social media etiquette to respond/acknowledge those who respond to my posts and that would get too much if I posted/shared several things a day.
[Additional thoughts re. social media etiquette: For me, It is the same as real-life etiquette. We don’t go up to someone, dump some information on them, and walk away. In real-life, when we share some information with a friend, we typically preface it with some context of why we’re sharing it. Then, we allow them to respond and we acknowledge their response. I don’t get the hit-and-run kind of posting, where people share a bunch of links without any context and then ignore those who respond. If it’s for a particular set of friends who will understand the context, then just send the stuff to them privately. If you have too many friends and get too many responses, just post a comment that you will make your way through all the responses over a few days or something.]
4/ I use the Save feature for articles/videos I want to read/watch but know will take me beyond my 10-minute time slot. And, the next time I log back in, I try to clear or remove 1-2 items from my Save queue to avoid it getting too long.
5/ With FB (and Twitter), I use custom Lists rather than their algorithmic feeds. That way, with certain friends, I can check in quickly and easily and come back to the rest when I have time. On FB, you can also group pages you have liked into custom Lists. So, for example, I have a Politics List, which I will only check once a day. Of course, I don’t follow too many pages either because then I’ll be scrolling through my lists forever.
6/ I’m a member of a handful of writing and reading related FB groups. All their notifications are turned OFF. I’ve saved some under Favorites so I can see new post counts and check those every couple of days as time allows. Also, I review the usefulness of all my FB groups periodically and exit the ones that do not seem to be of much use or are way too active for me to keep up. Not more than 5 groups at any point in time — that’s my current limit.
7/ Occasionally, people send friend requests even though we do not know each other in real life. Usually, these are friends of friends or members of groups that I am a member of. This is fine. I might connect with them and put them into a Custom List. That way, I do not have to see their posts daily and can check in when I want.
There is also a “Mute” function to turn off seeing a particular person’s posts/comments. I have not yet felt the need to use this.
Over time, I do prune lists and drop such friends if they post too frequently or too irrelevantly for my specific interests.
8/ If I need to write something longer than 300 words, I post it to my blog and share the link (with 1-2 short excerpts) instead of writing a FB post. People just do not have the attention span on social media. And, as I mentioned in 3/, I will always respond to comments.
9/ One thing I do is “like” my own posts (though not all the time). This is not being big-headed. It has to do with one of those FB algorithmic quirks where your connections are more likely to see your “Likes” before your “Shares.” Don’t ask me why.
10/ Finally, a bit more about social media etiquette. I tend to like or comment on at least 1-2 friends’ posts daily. I do this with the ones I know are not the hit-and-run kind of posters and will take the time to read and respond back. Sometimes my response will simply be: “Thanks for sharing. I’m saving this to read later.” Other times, I will go away and think about the issue and post a longer response — it depends on how much the issue means to me and, again, whether the individual is the kind who will take the time to read and reply.
One Final and Critical Caveat Re. “Fake News/Information”:
This applies to everything above and to everyone, but particularly to writers: please always check sources before you share or comment on posts. With the proliferation of “fake news”, I see so many of my smart friends sharing things that are clearly, based on a couple of simple checks I’ve personally made, fake.
The danger here is that you are affecting your personal credibility as a communicator and a writer.
There are many guides out there on how to do quick source checks. Check them out. See what works best for you.
Go to Part 2.