(NaNoWriMo cheerleading post for November 14 – comment on this post if you would like me to address a specific topic)
I have been addicted to social media since the 1980s when I was in graduate school, my daughter was a toddler, my husband had lost his job and was trying to find his way, and I was working full time while living in a tumbledown house back in the town where I grew up. Obsessed with Star Trek: The Next Generation, I had a computer and a modem. I made the Star Trek (HOM-9) forum on CompuServe my home. Those people were my friends. I cared about them, and they cared about me. We were all terribly lonely together. I wrote many posts, and participated in online writing activities, writing my first novel under those conditions, too. It’s funny how everything comes out sideways when you’re under stress.
But back then, in order to log on, I had to make a decision and commit some time. The whine and whistle of the modem, the geologic creep of the “logging on” ellipsis, the scroll to find topics, meant that there was a transition between the urge to check in and the satisfaction of that urge. *
Now I can check my phone at any time of the day or night, at home or abroad, in a meeting or by myself. So I do. And the impulse to respond immediately, right now, is imperious . So I do.†
And even though it’s all writing and reading, it gets in the way of the writing and reading that actually nourishes me. Even though it’s all news and interaction, all too often it is news that diminishes me and interaction with people I don’t know all that well. ‡
If I want to write, I have to be ready to do deep work. (I recommend Cal Newport’s book of that name). And being ready to do it means being less ready to check my messages.
Limit, schedule, or abandon social media
A well-developed habit is incredibly hard to undo (I also recommend Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit). We think it’s a matter of willpower. It isn’t. It’s a matter of retraining your brain. And you’re going to find it really hard to re-wire your circuits while using those circuits. That’s why I recommend putting your phone where you can’t reach it while you’re writing, or installing Freedom or some other app that will block your impulse to log on.
Turn off notifications. All of them. I promise you won’t miss anything. §
This might sound paradoxical, but you should also learn to notice your impulses. Keep a log. When you start to check Twitter, Facebook, email, messages, or any similar species, notice the urge, make a check mark on your log, note how you’re feeling at the time, and then postpone the log-on.
When it is time to visit with friends or read the news, make the decision consciously, and allocate some time.
But only if you have already done your writing for the day and you don’t have something more important to do.‖¶
* Once on, of course, I was up until 2:00 am feverishly reading and typing.
† And did several times while writing this. Mea culpa.
‡ Though I do sometimes know them, to be fair. And some of my best friends have been people I met online. But not most of them.
§ I’ll promise you if you promise me. All right?
‖ Like work for justice, peace, and equality in the world, or reach a hand out to help a fellow human being. Online chit-chat with people you know agree with you is not the same.
¶ After writing this, I cut my Facebook friends list in half (anyone who wouldn’t want to chat with me in person, or who is not my family, is off the list) and downloaded an extension that is allowing me to delete most of my past activity. I saw immediate results. I’m much happier now.