I wanted to post about something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: writers, and the need or desire to quit social media. More broadly, this can apply to any creative, really, from authors to illustrators. But I’m tackling this topic as someone who makes their living mainly online as a freelance editor, and someone who also writes and publishes fiction.
Why am I adding another one of these posts to the hundreds that already exist out there on the Internet?
Because recently, I’ve realised how anxious and downright horrible social media has been making me feel. Because I make my living online, I’ve always felt like I had to be there. I had to have a “presence” in every possible place. That’s what everyone says, isn’t it? If you’re a writer, a novelist, or any kind of freelancer, you need a “platform” and you need to be finding your audience.
When a “platform” becomes a full-time job
This “platform” type of thinking is what led to me feeling like I had to do ten million things alongside running a full-time business. Not only editing books for others full-time, and writing my own books (both of which are concentration-heavy jobs!), but also trying to post content on lots of different platforms to maintain my “presence” and find an audience.
After I decided to self-publish some of my fantasy books back in October 2022, I was running my editing business, writing a book for my agent to submit traditionally (still a work in progress), and self-publishing and marketing fantasy books. I convinced myself I needed to be everywhere. People said to join TikTok because it sold books, so I did. I cross-posted the videos on Instagram. I tried putting them on YouTube Shorts and Pinterest, too. I was also trying to have a presence as an editor on LinkedIn and Twitter, and attempting to maintain my Facebook business page. And I wanted to keep up with posting 1–2x per month on this blog (which I love doing). So, I was marketing myself both as an editor and an author, in tons of different ways. People even said they admired me for this – I was invited onto a podcast to talk about book marketing on social media. How did I do it all?!
The truth is, though, I was doing way too much. I did this for months and I started to feel awful. I was on a computer or a phone almost all day. I couldn’t seem to stop looking at my phone or social media, even when I was meant to be winding down or relaxing. The first signs of burnout were showing. Because if you add on everything else in life (exercise, family/a husband, chores, errands, caring for pets and generally being a human being), plus being that absorbed in social media, it’s a recipe for stress and anxiety. I also have an anxiety disorder, and although it’s very manageable these days and doesn’t impact my life in the way it used to, I could feel myself slipping.
Choosing to quit social media
One day, it just hit me that this was unsustainable and that I was breaking my brain, and if I didn’t do something, all my progress with my anxiety disorder (years and years of progress!) could be undone. There were some signs of that happening already, certain symptoms coming back that I hadn’t dealt with in a long time. I stopped going on Instagram and TikTok. Deleted a few accounts. Signed out of others. I deleted all social media apps from my phone – I even deleted the web browser. I wanted my phone to be a phone, camera and alarm clock only.
And then I went to the Peak District, and stayed at a B&B on a sheep farm, in the middle of nowhere. And I walked in the hills and over the Pennine Way, and did a lot of reading with the sheep baa-ing outside.
I know it sounds like a cliché – so many of these types of articles talk about disconnecting and feeling immediate peace. But it’s true. I felt like my brain hadn’t been that quiet and still in a long time.
I started reading a few books about social media, and about creative/deep work and distraction. I read Outraged by Ashley ‘Dotty’ Charles (which perfectly explained why Twitter had become a toxic, anxiety-inducing place for me, because I’d always be worried I’d say something wrong and someone would ‘cancel’ me), and then Deep Work by Cal Newport, which completely changed my way of thinking.
Deep Work by Cal Newport
Not all of the concepts in this book were new to me – I already knew social media was designed to be addictive, built like a slot machine, and that it exploited weaknesses in our psychology to keep us hooked (I read Jaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now a few years ago, but it didn’t have the same impact on me as Newport’s book).
Deep Work was like gold-dust. A breath of fresh air. A huge reality check. If you’re a writer (or an artist/creative/online business owner) and you’re even thinking about quitting social media (or you’re just feeling burnt out and stressed by it all), please read it.
It discusses this idea that we feel like we have to be on these platforms or we’re missing out. That if we get any kind of small benefit from social media, we feel inclined to stay glued to it, ignoring all of the negatives and the costs.
The part of this book that has changed my mindset the most isn’t only the approach to “deep work” (the ability to focus without being distracted on a difficult, brain-intensive task), but the solutions when it comes to social media. These are:
- Accepting that you might need some of these online tools – but that you should choose where you place your attention carefully, and weigh the pros and cons of the tools you use
- Refusing to be hyperconnected at all times
- Deciding whether or not the social media tools you use align with your high-level goals
- Using the rule of the “vital few”
Cal Newport goes into a lot of detail on all of these rules, and how you can use them. He talks about various types of “deep work” methods, and how they can factor into your life, depending on your circumstances (the most extreme being a complete cut-off from social media/email/etc to a more balanced approach). Everything is backed up by thorough research and case studies. I loved it – and it just solidified that I’d got sucked into a very unhealthy way of using social media.
Writers and quitting social media
I think writers are too often told we need to be on social media – or that we need to be everywhere. I don’t think this is true. For self-publishing authors, it’s probably harder to avoid having some kind of presence, because you have to do your own marketing (and we’ve all heard of the indie authors who have gained a massive audience online and sold lots of books in the process – but the fact is, this isn’t the case for everyone).
Regardless of the path to publication, we don’t need to buy into this. We can be more selective about where we place our attention (and our marketing efforts). There are plenty of ways to sell books without social media, or by using it minimally. Despite everything I was doing to market my books on social media (including posting short videos every day), my most successful sales months were the ones where I used different types of marketing that weren’t reliant on social media sites. They were the months where I released a new book, sent out ARCs, ran sales, and used promo sites like The Fussy Librarian, or did newsletter swaps. None of these things required all the time and energy I was pouring into social media.
You have to factor in your own mental health, too. Do you have an anxiety disorder? Or maybe you have depression, PTSD, or something else that makes you extra sensitive to the pitfalls of social media. Do you know that social media affects you badly? Then don’t be there – or at least scale back on your platforms. Find a better way, something that works for you. Don’t get me wrong, I think indie authors in particular need to have a way of connecting with potential readers, but that can be as simple as a website and a newsletter.
How I’ll be using social media as a writer and editor
I’ve decided to cut out almost all social media. I like Cal Newport’s idea of the “vital few” tools, and I want to spend more time doing the things that matter to me and benefit me and my business the most.
You won’t find me on Pinterest or YouTube Shorts now – they’re gone. I won’t be using Twitter anymore. I have signed out of LinkedIn (which will be hibernated at some point, too) and Instagram. At some point, I’ll decide what to do with the latter, but I’m part of an Instagram promo later in the month, so I need to log in for that. Afterwards, I need to rethink how I use it – and whether I want to continue using it at all. I do think it’s great for connecting with readers but it’s so easy to get sucked into spending a lot of time on there, especially since short videos were added and prioritised in the feed.
My focus will mainly be on:
- My blog. I love writing this blog to help other writers – and I love that people email me, telling me how much it helps them. As a freelance editor, most of my clients also come through this blog, as well as Google searches, word-of-mouth, and editing directories. So my “presence” as an editor on social media sites isn’t that useful anyway.
- My newsletter. I share round-ups of all the advice on this blog there, writing/publishing advice that’s exclusive to the newsletter, as well news about my books.
- My Facebook business page. I’ll update this occasionally (I have a blank home feed thanks to the amazing News Feed Eradicator plugin). I want to try out Facebook ads for my books eventually, and there are groups that can be handy for authors over there (such as for finding ARC readers or beta readers).
Should writers quit social media?
I don’t think writers have to quit all social media (although that’s definitely an option – plenty of authors don’t have it at all). It really depends on your circumstances. Maybe as an author, one casual platform is enough, provided you don’t get sucked in to the point that it harms your mental health. Maybe you need to quit everything for your own mental health. I think we’d all benefit from placing our attention where it really matters, thinking about what we really need, and putting a stop to this “hyperconnectedness” that seems to be expected of us all the time. Especially if the cost is out mental health.
- Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
- 10 Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier
- Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
- Outraged : Why Everyone is Shouting and No One is Talking by Ashley ‘Dotty’ Charles