A Writer’s Guide to Avoiding the Social Media Timesuck

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Social media is the antagonist of the modern creative’s life story, and writers are no exception.

Have you ever logged onto your laptop, computer or even mobile/cell phone with the definite intention of putting your fingers to the keyboard and writing out that epic saga you’ve had planned in your mind for so, so long it feels like the characters have become a part of you? You’re inspired. Your idea about thirty-something Gillian Rachelson accidentally uncovering a murder plot where the killer turns out to be the only somewhat likeable man needs to be put down into words on your writing program of choice. Your YA fantasy about the teenage assassin struggling to choose whether she should romance the man she’s fated to kill or her fellow rogue assassin, feels like it’s ready for teenagers to devour and is definitely an original idea.

You log onto your device of choice. You open up Microsoft Word. Or Scrivener. The notes app on your iPhone? Maybe you’re one of those adventurous devils who writes out your story in notes on your TI-Inspire calculator (Note: Definitely not something I did back in high school). Then you realise you forgot to name Gillian Rachelson’s antagonist. Michael? Marcus? Maybe you should head onto that baby name generator site. Click on the link “Most popular baby girl names of the 1980s”. Then what about Mary Sue Assassin? She needs a name too. Randomise. Randomise. There we go. A name. Nah. That’s a bit boring. Then it occurs to you: “What about Facebook?” You probably have some friends—or even mutuals—with names to randomly pick and mix for your latest masterpiece.

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Ah. Facebook. I wonder what Aunt Susan’s been doing. Oh, look, that girl Katie I saw at a party back in 2013 is advertising her latest multi-level-marketing scam. Aunt Susan is sharing outdated memes and current affair clickbait articles. I should probably check my messages to see if anyone has…Nope. Well, there’s a notification from a joke page I made back in 2011 about “If this page gets 10,000 likes, I’ll…” has received two new views. That’s it. Well…what about Twitter? I need to know what’s happening politically, and I need to make 6,000 tweets and retweets about creative inspiration. What about Instagram? Oh, shit, I haven’t gone on YouTube in a while. What have I missed? Oh, look, a video from WatchMojo. Better click.

Once again, social media has hooked its claws into you, claiming you victim of its monstrous, addictive behaviour. And, thus, your masterpiece remains a blank document. After being sucked in the endless cycle of social media, you end your day bitter and disappointed, not even one word closer to your end goal, your dream, your vision. All that time…for nothing.

Of course, there are many people who can log into the various social media sites, check for a bit, do some marketing for their creative or business endeavour, then log out. If you are reading this blog post, there is a high chance you are not one of these people. If you want any chance of breaking the social media monsters devouring away any more of your time, you need to nip it in the bud. Right now. Before it takes over and you’ve spent decades in front of your laptop, unaware of the person you’ve become, a shadow of your former self, the forgotten character in the unintentional novel you never set to write out.

First things first, don’t blame yourself for the hours that have been whiled away and wasted on social media and other time wasters on the internet. You’ve got to realise  these sites are designed to be addictive. Popular sites like Facebook, Twitter, and even Google have teams of ethicists and engineers who are specifically hired by these companies to find ways to keep you clicking and scrolling. Former Google ethicist Tristan Harris has claimed these sites are designed to work that same way a slot machine does:

If you’re an app, how do you keep people hooked? Turn yourself into a slot machine.

The average person checks their phone 150 times a day. Why do we do this? Are we making 150 conscious choices?

—Tristan Harris

These sites want you to stay online, thus earning them more profits. They don’t care you want to write the next Gone Girl or have to start sending out queries to publishers or emailing cover designers or messaging beta readers. They want your time. And you’re letting them win. Don’t let them.

If you want to stop wasting time on social media, you have to find ways to make them less appealing. Unfollow all the time wasting stuff on Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. Unfollow or unfriend people and pages on Facebook. Uninstall the apps for these time-wasters off your phone. If all else fails, either deactivate or delete your accounts, but that approach won’t work for a lot of us who need these sites for marketing purposes.

More radical or attention-seeking people install apps like Cold Turkey, which can disable certain websites for specific amounts of time. They chuck out their smartphones and buy “dumb” phones instead. They only write with typewriters or by hand.

But if you really want to stop procrastinating and not end up stuck in a ten-hour continuous scrolling Twitter feed? Don’t go on Twitter in the first place. Log into your computer or iPad and open up the writing app immediately. If there’s anything you need the internet for, either write down the “important thing” (character name, poison  the assassin uses on her first victim) or open a second Word document, and look it up after you’re done writing. Write the scene with a temporary name, keep writing.

Put simply: Start writing. Keep writing. That’s it. Stick to it. And maybe—just maybe—log into Facebook or Twitter and scroll for hours to your heart’s content afterwards. Relief. Sweet relief.

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