“When we focus on what matters, we can build the lives we want, with the time we’ve got.”
– Lauren Vanderkam
I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with social media. I love that Twitter, more than Facebook, allows me to connect with readers and other writers. I love that I can ask a question and so many people are willing to share their knowledge and experiences. I love that, as an introvert, I feel like I’m a part of a community.
I’m less enthralled with social media when the trolls come out. The people who nitpick everything you do because everything they do is perfect. As soon as you make a mistake they come gunning for you. And it’s not that we’re not open to feedback, but they just lack the class and savoir-faire to communicate it well.
The Power of Social Media
Despite Facebook’s recent data scandal (and Mark Zuckerberg’s upcoming testify before the U.S. Congress), or Kylie Jenner and Rihanna distancing themselves from Snapchat, people don’t appear to be abandoning these networks in droves. Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Medium — they’ve become, for better or for worse, an integral part of how we communicate with each other.
As a writer, social media is a huge part of my author platform. Working to build my brand, I’m told over and over again that my success will depend on my engagement, or lack thereof, with social media — especially if I want to make a living from writing alone. (I’d love, LOVE, to quit my day job and write full-time.) That’s why I subscribe to so many blogs and mailing lists: The Creative Penn, Tom Morkes, Smart Author Labs, Book Marketing Tools, Books Go Social, and others. I’m interested in staying current with industry news, knowing the trends and honing my skills. And when it comes to success, the recurrent theme I keep hearing is this:
It’s Not Enough to Write a Good Book Anymore
To be a ‘successful’ author, one of the things we’re told we must do is write a blog, posting content regularly. I’ve had a couple of different blogs on and off since 2013, but it wasn’t until early last year that I started enjoying blogging. What changed? I no longer felt pressured to do it. I didn’t feel like it was a writer’s obligation anymore. I could do it, on my own terms, to stay connected to a wider writing community. Any other things writers should do? Plenty! Build your mailing list (valid point, and I’m building mine slowly). Perhaps start a podcast. Post frequently on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Offer a course or webinar. Send out a newsletter.
Are you exhausted yet? I am!
The introvert in me balked at most of those things. All my life, I’ve never been great at selling anything. So, when it comes to self-promotion there’s even greater resistance. Maybe that means that my road to becoming a successful author — however you define it — is going to take a little longer. As I grow older (and wiser?), I’m becoming okay with that. I get it. People like Joanna Penn (the Creative Penn), Mark Dawson (Self-Publishing Formula) and Chandler Bolt (Self-Publishing School) are living the dream because they’re doing all the ‘right’ things.
I’m an author who’s published two books — one that was traditionally published and a big flop, another that I self-published in February 2017 and that people are still buying. I work full-time, travelling the world (although lately, London, UK, feels like my second home). On my days off, I’m juggling writing, running and my responsibilities at home. You can relate, right? So, every time I read from an ‘expert’ that if I want to succeed as I writer, I should consider launching a podcast or offering a webinar, I’m frustrated. I can’t imagine fitting that in when it already doesn’t feel like there are enough hours in a day to get everything done. But the bigger question I keep asking myself this: When the [insert expletive] am I supposed to write?
Here’s the thing…
Over the past few months, I’ve struggled to get in my creative time. Not because of writer’s block (that’s never been an issue for me) or jet lag, but because I’ve been chasing someone else’s dreams or idea of what the successful author life looks like. There’s something frightfully addictive about social media — Twitter and Facebook (the two I use) — that has me constantly reaching for my phone. Have you noticed how some people get offended if you don’t instantly respond to them retweeting your tweet or liking your Facebook post? And you feel like you’re missing something if you don’t have your social media apps open and aren’t paying attention to them. No more!
Challenging Myself to Do and Be Better
Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been trying to live with intention. And I really like how Oprah Winfrey phrases it: “The number one principle that rules my life is intention. Thought by thought, choice by choice, we are cocreating our lives based on the energy of our intention.”[note]Oprah Winfrey, The Wisdom of Sundays, Flatiron Books, 2017, p. 44[/note] That has meant a number of different things for me. I stopped drinking (80 days strong and counting). I’m running more, improving my pace and putting in longer distances; and exercising regularly with the Nike Training app. I love food and prefer to prepare as much as possible from scratch. Over the past few months, I’ve really been paying attention to what I eat and now I scrutinize every label. Do you know how many grams of sugar there are in a 341 ml can of Minute Maid cranberry juice? 43 grams! I gave up caffeine in October 2016, but sometimes I treat myself to a regular latte — usually when I’m touring around London and have been up all night. Yes, this is me trying to live with intention.
But the most recent and dramatic change has been my introduction to the Freedom app.
A couple of years ago I discovered StayFocusd — a Google Chrome extension that limits the amount of time spent on time-wasting websites. When I was trying to finish a rewrite or complete a first draft, I’d limit how much time I could spend on sites like Twitter, Facebook or CNN before they’d be blocked. And StayFocusd has a nuclear option that blocks the entire internet on my laptop for as long as I like.
For my iPhone, I use Freedom (after five free sessions, you must buy a subscription). For the period set, all the apps on my phone are unusable. I can’t check e-mail, do banking, post on Facebook or Twitter. Nada. (Now, I’m learning to plan my day strategically so that if I need to go to Loblaws, my PC Optimum app will be functional.) But together, StayFocusd and Freedom are a powerful duo that allows me to sustain my focus and increase my productivity. More than that, I feel like I’m no longer spending time on things that distract me from my true passion.
After receiving my manuscript from my editor back in February, it felt like the corrections were taking forever. Until I found Freedom. Now, I’m sailing through them. Before Freedom, it felt like I was rushing to get out my weekly Twitter Fiction and Fiction Friday series, and scrambling to write a blog post. Not anymore. Freedom and StayFocusd are helping me to reclaim my life and my time so that I can live the life I’ve imagined.
Live the Life You Want with the Time You’ve Got
All this to say … we all have our own idea of success. Now, I’m learning not to do the things that aren’t true to who I am. I use Twitter. I love scheduling some tweets in advance, and I truly appreciate the support and encouragement I receive from that community. But I’ve decided, going forward, to scale back my presence to two days a week. Perhaps that seems a bit extreme, but I know how addictive Twitter is for me. So, Wednesday and Friday will be the days when I’ll respond to mentions, retweets and likes. Steven Pressfield, in his book Turning Pro, writes: “The amateur tweets. The pro works.”[note]Steven Pressfield, Turning Pro, Black Irish Entertainment LLC, 2012[/note] That hit me like a ton of bricks and really got me thinking about how I spend my time. And I’m no longer checking Direct Messages. I already have two e-mail accounts — one personal, one for my writing — that I struggle to manage daily. I know Direct Messages are convenient, but they feel highly impersonal and are annoying.
Admittedly, Facebook is trickier. Or there’s an illusion of it being trickier to manage. I’m talking about the Facebook Page app (I don’t use the regular Facebook app) because when I open it, this is what I’m immediately drawn to:
85% response rate. Respond faster to turn on the badge
Reach people nearby for $___
Number of likes
Facebook is constantly in your face to up your engagement. And whenever I see that I’ve lost a like or my reach is down, I wonder if it’s because I’m not engaging enough or that I’m not posting the right content. Then I end up asking myself: What more can I do? And that’s the moment I feel like Facebook has won. But, still, I’m trying to pull back because, at the end of the day, I don’t feel like I’m being true to who I am.
Some of you may remember the TV show Laverne & Shirley, starring Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams. There’s a great line from the opening theme song: “We’re gonna make our dreams come true / Doin’ it our way.”
Yes, I’ve got a dream and, with the time I’ve got, I’m doing it my way.
What’s your idea of success? Do you have a strategy for your use of social media? Are you where you want to be on your creative/life journey? Let me know in the comments section below.