Do Twitter & Facebook help or hinder your writing?

April 14, 2010 · 0 comments

The Los Angeles Times book blog ran a post last week about a writer who went off Facebook and Twitter for the first three months of this year to focus on her project. Edan Lepucki blogged about the detox, concluding that she didn’t miss the sites as much as she thought she would.

Which begs the question: Do social-networking sites help or hinder writers?

I think the answer lies largely in how you use Facebook and Twitter. Sure, they can be fun. But they can also be incredibly useful. And I can’t help but think that people who only see them as a distraction aren’t using them in a useful way.

For me, Facebook is not a time suck. (If it is for you, maybe you should seriously consider a detox.) I use it to keep in touch with people, so much that the messages feature serves as a second e-mail. It helps me keep up with old colleagues and classmates, as well as new friends. And right now it’s helping me network for jobs.

Twitter is a different story. It offers so much information that I could easily spend my entire day refreshing my stream. But while it has the potential to be more distracting than Facebook, it also has the potential to be more useful. My stream serves as a sort of classroom, offering links to stories and blog posts, tutorials, you name it.

Then there are the people I’ve met: writers who’ve helped me with my manuscript, journalists who’ve been instrumental in my job search, and more. Twitter is not just about tweeting at these people online; it’s about bringing those connections off-line. (Credit Penelope Trunk for that insight.)

I could go on and on about how great Twitter can be when it’s used properly. But the truth is, sometimes Twitter is a distraction. Particularly for those of us who write at home all day. It takes a lot of self-discipline to focus on writing.

Unless, of course, you don’t have a connection. I was forced to experiment with this for five weeks this fall, when I was a resident at an artist’s colony in Georgia. My studio was not wired with Internet. It also didn’t have a television, cell phone service or even a phone we could use to call home. (There was a land-line for emergencies — and thank God for that, since I was in the middle of the woods by myself.) Every distraction I might’ve had at home was removed for me in this setting. In the evenings, the artists met for dinner in a common building that was about half a mile from my studio, and there we had access to Internet, so I could check my e-mail, Facebook page and whatever else was begging for my attention.

At the end of my time there, I was asked to fill out an evaluation form. (Hambidge got all high marks from me.) The board that oversaw the place was thinking of installing Internet in the studios. Did I think that was a good idea?

Before arriving at Hambidge, I was terrified of going without Internet and cell-phone service. So what I suggested on that evaluation form was unexpected: I wrote that they should leave the cabins without a connection. Not having those distractions created a silence, both around me and inside my head. It made room to think about things I didn’t have space for before, like, well, my manuscript. Without the Internet muddling my thoughts, my story arc became clearer. And perhaps more importantly, my life became clearer, too.

What I’m saying here is this: social networking has a place in my world. It’s not just fun; it’s essential to my growth personally and professionally. But I see the value in detoxing for a period of time, in stepping away not only from Twitter and Facebook but from other distractions in life that keep me from producing my best work.

What do you think? Would you consider a long-term social-media detox? Or a break from all Internet? Or is that online connection too vital to what you do every day?

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

King is a Fink April 14, 2010 at 7:29 am

Great topic! As someone who writes from home all day, I do find myself getting distracted by Twitter. However, it has also helped me make contacts, find project collaborators, and network with other people who do what I do. While a long-term social-media detox is not in my immediate future, I do think that it’s important (at least for me) to limit my daily Twitter time and then purposefully disconnect from the internet so that I can focus on on my writing.

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Karen Walker April 14, 2010 at 8:48 am

I know Twitter and Facebook can be used effectively for contacts, etc. I know one blogging friend who found her agent thru Twitter. I just haven’t figured out how to use it effectively. I am very easily distracted, so the less I have to draw my attention away from my writing, the better off I am.
Karen

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Kirsten Lesko April 14, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Overall, I think I could do without the pressure to network on the internet. I would like it a lot more if it felt optional. I really do enjoy the friendships I’ve made and would like to hold onto those. But there’s a lot I’d like to axe so I could focus more on the writing.

I wouldn’t consider giving it up at this stage, though, because I do believe all the claims that authors have to self-promote. I want to be successful and therefore trudge through it.

I have not yet braved Twitter, but am gearing up for it.

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Alyssa April 14, 2010 at 6:48 pm

For me, it’s kind of an easy answer. I think in the long run, twitter helps ENORMOUSLY in making contacts, promoting yourself, finding resources, and even finding *enjoyment* in the process of some of those nitty-gritty type things that writers deal with (learning the main ins and outs of blogging was even one that was made less tortuous for me via twitter!). But FB on the other hand. Oh FB. FB hands down is a distraction for me. It’s not something I’ve used as a “professional” resource. As a result, it’s strictly used for procrastination methods :) which are–let’s be honest– sometimes just as necessary as productivity!

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jessiecarty April 16, 2010 at 5:23 pm

I don’t know why but I’m much less helped by Twitter than Facebook. I have a harder time staying away from Facebook than Twitter where people shout out but there is little interaction. The hard part about being away from social networking email etc is the work you have to do when you come back to catch up. I guess unless you just hit the delete all button and start fresh :)

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papertrail23 April 16, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Alexis-

Great conversation; I like that there’s not necessarily a definitive answer. I feel that Twitter is an enormous resource where I can both share skills/contacts/news and provide support to others, and receive the same. I’ve taken many of the relationships forged their offline, all to way positive effect, both professionally and socially.

I use Facebook for totally different purposes and am so put off by its privacy policies and its stupid advertisements that I don’t use it all that much, and definitely not as much as Twitter.

I will have occasional Internet free days and, like you, I don’t miss Twitter much. But to think of going five weeks without the Internet is challenging–all of my professional work is transacted over the Internet and I feel as if I need to keep that going. It’s like a fire that can fizzle out if not tended.

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Leigh Shulman April 18, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Twitter and Facebook most definitely help my work and writing. For one, they bring readers to my work which then leads to discussion.

I’ve also found quite a bit of work through Twitter, and I use Facebook to keep in touch with what’s going on in the life and work of other writers. We also help each other out by sharing each other’s links, commenting on different projects and so on.

I do find it difficult to unplug, though, for long periods of time. Mainly because, like Julie, my work and much of my connection with family and friends goes through the internet.

I also make sure to get out and do something non-net related on a daily basis. Just recently, I canceled my blackberry service so I can only get e-mail when I’m actually at my computer. It’s been great to not be reachable all the time. Although, when I’m traveling, I will switch it back on.

Great conversation, and one that I think will only become more timely as more and more people use these social media tools and work from home or the road.

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Jennifer Fitzgerald April 20, 2010 at 3:24 am

Very good conversation and perspectives. Most of my peers do not understand my fascination with social networking and I think they are missing out on something very important. I have found potential new associates, some great suppliers for services I needed and recently landed my first piece of business via Twitter. I also find Twitter a constant source of information, news about what is happening in my industry, and of much-need inspiration when I need it. I suddenly understood a few weeks ago the huge potential commercial of Facebook although I am at the earliest stages of using a page for my business. Sure, it’s really hard to switch off, but for me resisting chatting to colleagues was just as hard when I was working in an office environment.

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Robert April 21, 2010 at 2:17 pm

I think the occasional detox from all interactive media (phones, internet, etc) is a very good thing. It becomes far too easy to use these as a distraction from what you really should be focusing on.

I find it can become an impediment to my writing so am trying to cultivate the habit of switching off from technology one or two days a week, to focus on my projects. I think all writers and artists in general would benefit from doing the same.

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