Eight years ago I went to a conference in New York City—my very first writer’s conference—and I was soooo nervous. While there, I and all the other amateurs were informed that we needed to start a Facebook page so that people could begin to become familiar with our names. I only knew Facebook because my twelve-year-old (at the time) had a page. I had no idea how it could possibly be relevant to me because what the heck was I going to talk about, but I went back to my hotel room and created a page anyway (it took forever; I’m a technological idiot). I posted things like, “I’m in line at the movies,” and “I just sneezed,” until I figured out that those kinds of statuses were causing people to yawn. So then I revamped and started over.
The following year I went to another conference in Cincinnati. While there, I learned all about Twitter. “Start your Twitter page now,” they said. “It’s imperative,” they said. “What the heck is a Twitter?” I thought. It made no sense to me AT ALL, so I ignored that particular call for two more years.
Big mistake. Big. Huge. I can also be an idiot at following directions.
Next came a website because all the authors I knew had one, and I was told that I needed to blog. I’d never blogged a thing in my life, but I started. Now I was a writer with a blog and a Facebook and a Twitter—cool. Fast forward to three years ago when I signed my first publishing contract. “You need to be on Instagram,” I was told. “Start putting your material and image out there and grow your following,” I was told. So I did. Next came a whole new Facebook page and newsletters and Snapchat…all for the same reason.
My involvement in the social media thing has been going and growing for so many years now. And I’ve never taken a day off. Not one. A week ago I was tired, emotionally spent, under deadline, worrying for no good reason, and the list goes on and on. So I decided to change that for a bit.
I spent the past eight days off social media—not record-breaking or even anything to be particularly proud of—but eight days was a long time for me. It’s a long time for anyone in this business. Now, if I’m being honest, it was more like six days. Because I spent the first two days (in order of the way things happened) checking my phone every half hour, then burying my phone in my bedroom to keep myself from checking it, then wandering in to check it anyway, then deleting apps off my phone so that I couldn’t check anything at all, then putting the apps back on at night when curiosity got the better of me, and then finally after all that ridiculousness, I spent the final six days completely off everything but Snapchat (because I’m brand new to it, still don’t like it, and haven’t reached the point where it seems to be controlling my life) and Facebook (I got on four times—once because I host a weekly author chat that I promised not to miss, twice because my agent asked me to post two things that required a quick response, and once because my nephew graduated high school and couldn’t not post something about it. I’m a super-proud aunt). Oh, and once on Twitter to say that the no-social-media thing sucked. That was a partial lie—it didn’t exactly suck. It just opened my eyes a bit.
I learned some things about myself during those eight days.
Some of which I like, some of which I don’t.
Here they are in no particular order. If you’re still with me, try to read the rest of this without falling asleep.
- I’m a workaholic. Aside from writing, I did not know this about myself. In my job, social media accounts for roughly one third of my required daily responsibility. Once upon a time, publishers signed an author, published their work, and did all the book marketing while the author sat back, watched sales take off, and started writing a new book. Those days ended a long time ago. It is now primarily up to the author to market a new release, keep selling his/her old releases, and connect with readers. I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve heard from well-meaning friends and family alike, “Why do you post so much? Why don’t you take a month off? Why don’t you just delete your page?” Here’s why: because it’s part of the contract. Because to do those things would put me out of a job in the same way an executive who didn’t show up for board meetings or a waitress who just didn’t feel like taking orders would be out of a job. And so for the first couple of days I worried that I had made a mistake. That I was slacking. That I would lose a bunch of followers. That authors with their own book launches would get upset with me for not sharing their good news. Then there’s the fact that I’ve gotten so used to updating statuses and photos that I felt twitchy and nervous about not doing it. And so I’m a workaholic. Not real sure how to change that.
- I hate change (nice segue, right?). I despise it. There were times during the first couple of days that I felt like a toddler in the throes of a nightmare—kicking, screaming, thrashing around, crying out for a very silly reason—and then after an acceptable amount of time had passed…sighing in resignation and settling into sleep. I am the same way with moving, new jobs, and relationships. If something is going along one way and then takes a turn into unfamiliar territory, I push against the change and try to get things back to the way they were before. But sometimes it’s better to release your grip, let things be, and keep things in perspective. It was social media. Social media. If the world ends tomorrow, something tells me the number of Instagram followers I leave behind will not be the thing I wind up crying about.
- That said, I like taking pictures and I like making people smile. I did miss those things, and that surprised me. Especially the picture part.
- I LOVE silence. After the first couple of days were over, I loved not reaching for my phone every few minutes. I loved not feeling like I had to be “on” every five hours and post something marginally interesting to read about. I loved sitting on my front porch and reading a book. I loved going for long walks and not looking for something photo-worthy…but instead being able to look around simply for the sake of being present in the moment. I loved hanging out with my kids, going to breakfast with friends, planting a garden, watching movies, and taking the time to focus on others.
- I like helping people. This is one of the best things about my job, and it was probably the biggest downside of unplugging. It was hard to know that people were leaving me messages, asking me questions, needing advice, and that I wasn’t able to give it to them. I like to help others get started on this career. I like to listen to other people talk about their fears and insecurities and then trying the best I can to help alleviate them. I’ve made some invaluable connections with people online—people I’ve never even met in person who send me messages nearly every day. So cutting off social media was also in effect cutting off those relationships, at least temporarily. Now I’m back, and now I’m catching up.
- I’m not back in the same capacity as before. I am GRATEFUL to do what I do, but posting three times a day on anything is just too much, especially when you consider that three times on two Facebook pages, three times on Twitter, three times on Instagram, and three times on Snapchat adds up to fifteen times a day. It takes too much time away from what I really love—writing. So regular social media breaks are now a thing.
- An FYI for any author out there considering taking a break: going social-media dark slows down book sales. Sllllowwwwwsss thhhheeeemmmm dooowwwnnn. I kept looking at my numbers, they kept getting worse, and I continuously cursed them. But once my mind is made up it’s usually made up, and I was determined to stay offline, so whatever. But all in all, it’s probably a dumb decision to go dark on every venue at the same time. Actually let’s just call it what it was—it was stupid.
- I’m not sure if it’s okay to say this, but I’ll say it anyway: overall and even though it might not appear that way, I’m not a big fan of social media. I don’t like the way it sometimes makes me feel—insecure, unsure, questioning myself, worried about superficial things. Take that aspect of my job away, and that isn’t something I normally struggle with. Can I write? Yep. Am I confident of my story? For the most part. Is it easier to write the male character than the female character? For me, almost always. Am I helping people instead of stepping on them on my way up? Absolutely. But did that picture get enough likes? OMG NO WHAT DID I DO WRONG??? That, my friends, is ridiculous. Completely stupid and shallow in the grand scheme of living an otherwise enjoyable life.
Of course, if it’s done in the right way, social media can be a positive thing—it can renew old friendships, keep long distance relationships thriving, allow people to stay connected in a world where once-upon-a-time they might have grown apart. I’m just not sure I’m always doing it right.
That said, everything in moderation. Social media is a big part of my job, I love my job, it’s the best way to stay relevant, and there are definitely aspects to it that I like. But this break forced me to reevaluate what’s important in my life. It helped me remember that people always come first—real, live, face-to-face people—and that social media should always fall way down after that on the list. It helped me remember that I’m a strong girl. A determined girl. A quiet girl. A deeply feeling girl. A girl who wants to uplift and understand. A girl who believes in friendship. A girl who likes to encourage. A girl comfortable in her own skin. And a girl who knows what she wants and figures out how to get there without bending her personal rules too much. It’s worked well in the past.
Here’s to hoping it sticks for the long term.
PS and BTW: Check out my latest Instagram picture! My mom took a really cute picture of me this weekend! And…I’m back to annoy you.