Social Media: Writer's Aid or Addiction? Guest Blog by Lia Keyes

We’re talking about blogging—and social media—on the YA Muses this week. It’s something that I’m personally always struggling to balance, amid deadline and marketing demands, family time, personal time, writing time…. Time. 

Those of you who are active in social media—do you find this a challenge as well? There are also rewards, of course. I love our regular blog followers—and our occasional ones, too. Social media brings us writers the feeling of camaraderie--but I sometimes wonder how it would feel to take a break.

Which brings me to today’s blog. I’ve asked my dear friend Lia Keyes permission to run one of her posts. Lia decided to take a month’s leave of social media, to see how it affected her writing—something I’m considering doing myself. I hope you’ll find this post as insightful as I do.

So without further ado, I give you Lia.


Those of you who connect with me on social networks know I’ve maintained a very active online presence for some years, but I recently had a moment of clarity about the impact it was having on my ability to focus on writing, or reading, or walking by the sea… even napping.

What? REST? What a concept!

In America today many people feel pressure to juggle a lot of balls, some of which are necessary, and some of which are not.

For a writer, the wisdom from publishing houses and agents alike is that an online presence is vital, but none of them are advocating the level of time that some of us (heh-hem) have been spending on social networks. Finding that balance is the Grail quest of many.

I first noticed that my own use was getting out of hand when I found myself going about my daily life with a view to what my next post on Facebook would be instead of what the next development for my work-in-progress would be. Then, when I sat down to write, my focus was constantly interrupted by the urge to check e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

It doesn’t take a Phd in Neurology to understand why. Writing a (good) book is one of the hardest things one can attempt in a lifetime of hard things—right up there with raising good children. And both take a long time. In fact, both feel like the longest marathon ever, with every bend in the road revealing how far you have yet to go before you reach the finish line. Not only that, but the location of the finish line itself is a matter of perspective, depending on who is reading the manuscript or judging your parenting skills.

Social networks offer instant feedback to the lonely writer and an interactive experience that you’ll have to wait years to get from readers of your novel, especially if you spend more time on social media than writing said novel—that is it’s seductive, hypnotic, addictive power—but the quick ‘hit’ of pleasure from the approbation you receive in response to a useful or amusing post on social media is just as fleeting. With minutes your post is old news and you must come up with new post that equals or surpasses it. Never mind the fact that most of the people who respond online are not people you’re ever likely to meet in person, that they can’t bring you soup when you’re ill, or lend you a tenner when you’re skint.

It is a virtual life, a virtual success. Don’t get me wrong – I love the way social media has transformed the loneliness of the necessarily solitary writer’s life. It’s just that little by little it can become a dependency rather than an aid. Now that my month’s abstinence is over I’m returning to the social scene, but with a more conscious awareness of its effect on my habits, mental focus, and productivity. Because it’s not the amount of time you spend on social media that matters so much as the way it retrains your brain to need constant approval, feedback, and stimulation so that even when you’re not ‘using’ it, you’re constantly fighting the urge to do so.

I’m enjoying the serenity I’ve regained this past month and the progress I’ve made with writing, which is, after all, the one thing I most passionately want to accomplish.

How it went: 

First week: Announced my retirement from social media for a period of one month on Facebook and Twitter. Dealt with the withdrawal symptoms by allowing myself one post on Google+ a day.

Second week: Stopped posting on Google+ and relapsed by posting a wail about how lonely the writing life is on Facebook. This was the hardest week. I was twitchy and restless, couldn’t sit and focus. The dog got walked. A lot. I called friends and revived my social life. Realized I’d lost five pounds.

Third week: Stopped automatically turning the computer on before making breakfast. Called the cable company and put my account on hold saying I was “going on vacation”. Now I could only receive e-mails on my iPhone. Responses became very brief, and I no longer lost an hour to interesting links. Desperately missed Google search and Wikipedia. Took up Tai Chi. Attended a writer’s conference so I could be sociable in person.

Fourth week: I no longer missed Wikipedia or Google search. Remembered I have books. Opened them. What a concept. Writing happened. A lot of writing.

Fifth week: Returned to social media with something akin to trepidation. Surprised and a little smug to find much of the content non-essential. Resolved to restrict self-generated posts to one a day, and keep responses to no more than a few minutes during my lunch break and half an hour at the end of the writing day. The space in my mind and the focus of my thoughts is now more precious to me.


See more great posts from Lia on her website. 

Thank you, Lia!


All social networks are blocked at work, which helps, and the fact I have no iphone! However, the past six months, I too have taken to turning the computer on before making the coffee!!

I love the relationships I have been making, especially living n a non-anglophone nation, this contact with other writers has been very helpful in this first year+ of writing. However, I am pretty sure I could reduce the time I spend on social networks by maybe 75% with no loss in encouragement and networking.

I am duly challenged by your month's social media fast and the benefits you have felt! I do think it can be not just a suck away from writing, but truly an unhealthy addiction. I believe I shall plan in a break too. (Aside my regular blogging, maybe!). Thanks for sharing your experience, Lia.

I think all of us who write and use social networks to stay connected struggle with this. I know I do. I just hate to admit it. Good for you for making a plan to put your writing first and then sticking to it!

I'm really bad about spending time on social networking sites, and at the same time I don't know if it's making any difference as far as getting my books noticed. From so many tips that I've read, it's vital to have an online presence, but what I didn't take into consideration was the sheer amount of *time* that goes into developing that presence. Not to mention, I'm pretty shy and private in real life, which doesn't help.

I technically just came out of a break from social media, as I didn't have internet access for 6 months. It was kind of intimidating to dive back in, but I think a break sometimes is a really good idea to keep your sanity.

Great article, by the way.

Great post. I've been thinking a lot about this myself recently. (I just posted about deleting my Facebook account actually) Writers get so much conflicting information. We must maintain an online presence. The best way to be successful is to just write a lot of books, so forget the online platforms. Social media takes so much time and effort, but does it actually benefit us?

There's a wonderful post on The Intern about an author who deleted all of her social media accounts and saw zero change in book sales.

It makes you think. My husband asked me today at lunch how much writing I could do if all I did was write. Rachelle Gardener has been talking all week about the "long tail" writers need to be able to quit work and write full time. Hard to write enough to bring in those reliable royalties if you're always online.

I've recently re-dedicated my mornings to just writing. No email, no blogs, no Twitter. Just me and my laptop. I've gotten SO MUCH done the last two weeks. I kick myself for not doing this sooner.

Now I just need to figure out what to do about the social media. Good luck to all of us!

Janice - thanks for sharing the Intern link - the comments were fascinating! It seems that many recommendations DO come via social media these days, but that a follower does not equal a book sale.

I would argue that you can fall a little more in love with an author if you like their blog posts or tweets (certainly this is true for me) but it is the book itself that decides matters, and if you're too busy piddling about on social media you can't write as many books!

I love your 'no internet until lunch-time rule'. It's the one I finally settled on myself, though I'll admit I still break it from time to time if necessity demands it.

What always springs to my mind is that JK Rowling's promotional efforts went into school visits more than anything else. Wise woman. She put her books in the hands of her target audience personally, and let the books speak for themselves.

So, if you don't think social media is the best way to sell books, what are the alternatives?

Wonderful post, Lia!

Congratulations for stepping up to the challenge and seeing it all the way through.

Say no to that which you like so you have time for that which you love. I'm not saying you love writing all the time but we all love the idea of being a writer and having written.

When I'm writing I awaken at 4am or earlier and write until I'm so interrupted by life that I'm forced to quit and join the world again. Naps become essential. Easy to sink into my writing when the rest of world is asleep and my imagination most awake.

I only blog and interact on social media when I have something to say which, when I'm writing and especially under a tight deadline, doesn't always amount to more than what's landing on the page.

Thanks Lia! Loved your post -- I can relate! The trick, as always, is to find a balance that works! And I appreciated the details about your month of abstinence -- gives me an idea of what I have to look forward to when I take the plunge!

Dear Lia,

What a great post! Social media sometimes feels like a wind, blowing me hither and tither without much control on my part. And, like you, I spend an inordinate amount of time pondering my next post, time that would be better spend pondering my next scene or chapter or book.

I wonder if I'm strong enough to contemplate a hiatus. My ego wonders if anyone would notice. I can't help but think I'd be proud of how I spent my time.

You've inspired something. I'll likely let you know on Twitter or Facebook what that was. *laughs* I appreciate your reminder that there are better ways to spend my moments.


Like coming to write with me for a week at Ellen's! :)

Social media is a tool. Real people, great posts, but still just a tool. Some people have tools called drugs, mouths, guns, fingers, bombs. How individuals use their tools is up to them. New tools have unforeseen negative effects, and will eventually plateau into a wonderful, useful modified version of the original vision.
Hey what are these atomic bombs?! BOOM BOOM BOOM!
50 years later, we've stayed out hands, reaping the benefits of early nuclear power.
Hey sweet, cars! I can go anywhere!"
100 years later, we realize it's not a good idea to pollute and are exploring alternate fuels.

Google+ is the only social site I actually use. After using it for a year, it's really just a better StumbleUpon for me. There are other uses, but again - for me. Recently I've started to feel the hollowness of the whole thing, just as I felt with prolonged MyTwitFace use. The fleeting and temporary nature of the site reveals the necessity for moderation, or quittance.

"If you're not paying for the product, you ARE the product."
If you put in too much effort, but aren't being paid, you're simply an unpaid volunteer for a paid Google. Consider starting your own blog instead, if you find yourself enjoying it, or have generated a following. You could generate some revenue, instead of spending 2 mostly-fruitless hours on Google+ every day.

My method of using Google+:
I see my G+ page as a website which some passer-by will maybe click "more" about 2 or 3 times, at most, until they Hoop me, or continue about on their various internet travels. I see my G+ as a glimpse into my personal self, and a sneak-preview of the real content which I would post in my own blog.

-Bookmark good content, even if you don't Share it. (Or Share it to a "Bookmarks" Circle!)
-Create rough draft of content (perhaps in a text file on desktop. Mine has endless links I've never Shared)
--Revise rough draft, allowing to cool. Only later should you post stuff which makes the cut.
-Post the the best content, and only a few of similar content. You can post 1 or 2 cat gifs, but 10 cat gifs on your page turns into redundancy.
-Your G+ persona is a personality - maintain your unique voice! Don't share every single thing you think is cool. Paint your own unique spin when creating a description for linked content.
-Delete old posts that aren't "keepers"
TLDR; quality not quantity

Thanks for this post, Lia. Your social media diet seems like the perfect prescription for those of us stuck in Internet Quicksand. I'm finding that using social media as a vehicle really only works when you actually have something to promote! A fact we often forget when putting ourselves "out there" in the blogosphere and twitterverse with no results or attention.
My resolution: to read and consume media for guidelines and support while in the throws of writing. There will be time enough for blogging when I have something worth shouting about! After all, first and foremost a writer writes... Thanks for your post.

So nice of you to stop by, Cara! And you raise a good question - when should I start to build an online presence? Some say it's never too soon. Maggie Stiefvater built a large following for her blog long before she had a book to sell - not by shouting "buy my book" but by sharing her personal passions with others who share them. In her case it was art, then the writing process. Only later did she talk about her books. The most important thing is that whatever she blogged about her appealing, puckish voice came through and people just wanted to spend a few minutes of their day with her, reading her posts.

I'm not sure I've got that gift, but I'd say building a blog following is probably the most real online relationship you can create. And if you self-host your blog, the only one you actually own.

I came to the same realization you did, Lia. Yes, the writer's world is lonely, but I just check in for any private messages on my iphone, and allow myself once a day at the desktop to check on Facebook. Some days I check more than others, but I limit my 'post' and 'like' time to once a day. I get more writing done, and I feel infinitely better.

What we all need to learn is working smarter, not harder. I become burned out so quick, even thinking about online marketing kills my braincells!

Thanks for this post--it's so true, a friend who's with a big publisher lost her muse for writing over this. So sad...


A to Z co-host

That's so sad, Elizabeth. Everyone responds to the pressure to self-promote on social media in different ways, but a good book will always sell if you get out there and promote it in person, putting it in the hands of the people who will enjoy it most and spread cumulative awareness of the book via word-of-mouth. JK Rowling didn't hop on social media to promote the Harry Potter books. Their popularity grew "out of the playground" according to her agent. She probably did a ton of school visits.

Promoting one's books isn't as new a phenomenon as many believe. Lord Byron was seen EVERYWHERE in the circles that would read his poetry, and created a very visible and 'branded' public profile. Likewise, Charles Dickens was a huge self-promoter.

Post a Comment

Grid_spot theme adapted by Lia Keyes. Powered by Blogger.


discover what the Muses get up to when they're not Musing

an ever-growing resource for writers

Popular Musings

Your Responses

Fellow Musers