Wait. This is not a post about how you can get a million readers via social media and become a bestselling rock star writer overnight.
In Part 1, at the end of February, I shared why, as a writer, I prefer Facebook as a social media platform and the ten ways I organize and ration my usage time to avoid that brain-as-scrambled-eggs scenario that makes it impossible to write.
In this post, I am sharing ten ways of how I use Facebook as part of my overall writing practice.
We’ve all heard versions of these aphorisms almost all our lives, right?
You are what you consume (physically and intellectually).
You are the company your keep.
You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.
Your mental/emotional/creative state is the average of the 5 things you think about the most.
For writers and most creatives, these take on greater meaning. Consume the “right” kind of stuff and keep company with the “right” kind of people and your creativity thrives, cross-pollinates, and is meaningful. The “wrong” kind, and you are stymied, blocked, or creating works you don’t enjoy or believe in.
Simply put, output = combination of inputs.
I’m not going to discuss what’s “right” or “wrong” for a writer to consume or keep the company of. That will, of course, vary from individual to individual.
Instead, I would like to share what has worked for me in terms of staying focused and disciplined about stuff I allow into my life to keep my creative practice going. This is not something I managed overnight and it is also not something I am able to do on a consistent basis.
In Part 1 I mentioned how social media is not where I go to get my news (see point 4 there). Whatever your preferred news source may be, please do not confuse the need to stay informed with the ability to think broadly and deeply about a subject matter. For the former, scrolling through newsfeeds and reading headlines and scanning excerpts may be enough. For the latter, we have to sit back and read longer works and take the time to test the insights against our own. Timothy Snyder wrote, in ‘On Tyranny’:
Staring at screens is unavoidable, but the two-dimensional world makes little sense unless we can draw upon a mental armory that we have developed somewhere else. When we repeat the same words and phrases that appear in the daily media, we accept the absence of a larger framework. To have such a framework requires more concepts, and having more concepts requires reading… The characters in Orwell’s and Bradbury’s books could not do this — but we still can.
To avoid just that, here are some ways I interact (share, comment, etc.) on Facebook. See, as writers, if we really want our writing to express our way of being in the world, we need to be careful about the words, ideas, opinions we put out there. That is all I am trying to do.
1/ The most important thing here is that, with current news, please always check for primary sources and then decide whether you really need to say something about a particular issue. Remember: whatever we put out into the world as words affects our relevance and credibility as writers and may even come back to haunt us.
[Aside: This is also why I think writers, more so than anyone else, should proofread their posts and comments on social media and try to avoid typos, bad grammar/punctuation, etc.]
2/ Most of us know this intuitively but I still come across writers who use FB to have public meltdowns by posting so frequently and saying so much — none of which adds productively to the larger dialogue.
I believe it is better to channel our outrage and anxiety more productively by understanding what’s truly bothering us and how we can use our art and talents to express it best. FB venting might feel good in the short term but we are not helping develop a good image of us as thoughtful and insightful writers if our first urge on a breaking/trending news item is to vomit all over FB about it. Let’s restrain ourselves.
A personal journal might be a better place to get rid of such toxicity. The world does not need our raw emotions. There’s plenty of that out there. The world does need more thoughtful, considered, insightful commentary. Better to work on that.
3/ I try not to share stuff others are already sharing unless I have a truly different take on it than most of my connections. Sometimes, even when I think I have a unique take on an issue, I choose not to dissipate my cognitive, creative, and emotional energies over it on FB because it might be more worthwhile to store them up for an actual piece of creative writing.
[Aside: And, I certainly do not reduce everything to either a response to or an escape from Trump’s America. See my FB post here about this.]
4/ It is helpful to follow some favorite writers who do this well and learn from how they are using Facebook to stay in touch with and get live feedback from their readers. Marlon James, Junot Diaz, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie are my current favorites.
I find that most writers who use FB well use the rule of thirds: post one-third original posts; one-third reposts/shares/links; and one-third self-promotion.
Also, they alternate between short and long posts and keep a healthy balance between personal and non-personal stuff.
5/ My rule of thumb for length of a facebook post: <300-500 words for a Facebook post and anything longer becomes a blog post, which I then share as a link.
6/ In addition to staying in touch with my personal friends from all over the world, I am also trying to build a network of writer friends because, hey, it’s always nice to find your tribe.
Given that, I do try to post more stuff related to my particular genre or the writing life. Occasionally, I’ll mix it up by posting other stuff. But, sharing a whole lot of random stuff in a schizoid manner is like having ADHD. Best to avoid that.
Also, social media is called “social” for a reason. I mentioned in Part 1 that it does help to engage personally with those who comment — it’s only courteous and will support network-building.
7/ To improve that personal engagement, it might also be good to know how to argue better because — and this bears repeating — what we put out into the world as words affects our relevance and credibility as writers and may even come back to haunt us.
8/ At a more tactical level, we should know certain hashtags and use them properly. That agent/publisher/reader might just become aware of our existence due to a well-placed hashtag.
9/ I try to be generous about promoting other writers and creatives. If they’re gracious and well-mannered, I hope that someday, they (and others — because I believe in karma) will give me a signal-boost back.
10/ These days, writers have no choice but to self-promote on social media. Many publishers almost require this of their writers. But why not do it in fresh, interesting ways?
— I don’t post a blow-by-blow account of my work-in-progress like: how many words I wrote today, how my writing process is going, etc. That’s for amateur writers. Better to build drama and conflict just like we do in our creative writing and leave out the boring bits. That way, friends and readers will actually want to read that WIP when it is complete and ready for the world.
— I do post about high-level milestones like: this work got accepted here, published there, etc. I have to confess that I have not quite figured out how best to invite more comments or sharing from my <200 connections (most of whom are from my corporate world and not the writing world.)
— In general, with my current WIP, I prefer not discussing it online at all. I find it dissipates my energy if I do that and I can’t bring the same drive and passion to the work itself. I might consider sharing bits from it AFTER it is all done, edited, etc.
— Sharing what inspires me — a writing quote from a favorite writer, a how-to piece by someone, nerdy writing or reading humor — may not seem like “self-promotion” but they can certainly be about self-branding if done appropriately.