Do creative writers rely on social media for self-validation?

One year ago I canceled my Twitter account, and all it took was a few taps on the keyboard.  Gone were the throngs of “Lit Chicks” from my life who somehow pounded out five novels each afternoon—and still had time to boast about it.

In the months following, I slowly removed myself from the majority of writing communities on Facebook and Google+.  Those abundant “Literary Agents” and “YA Authors” started to quietly fade into the background.  Words like “Thriller” and “Manuscript” etched in my mind’s eye were slowly erased.

It wasn’t long after that I then un-publicized my personal WordPress site—and stopped checking the response count hourly after each new post of a short story for the reply that would come from an agent to pluck me out of obscurity.  In fact, I even went so far as putting my site behind password-protection as to remove its content from the eyes of the general public.

I suspect in retrospect, I was subconsciously using social media to validate myself as a writer.  If I ran with that crowd, I was a writer.  If I was followed by writers, then I was a successful writer.  In reality, it was doing nothing more than hurting my writing by encouraging me to measure my writing achievements against a false yardstick.

Today I mostly keep my online explorations to the Today’s Author community—partly because I helped stand up the site, but mostly because I believe in the mission to foster a community of creative writers.

In childhood, we were forced to measure ourselves by comparison to our peers.  How many of us have thought, I’m a junior in Chemistry class, yet there are three sophomores in this class.  What did I do wrong?  They’re ahead of me!  It wasn’t until I was out of college that I had the epiphany that we’re all on our own journey, at different paces, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  And it applies to everything in life, whether education or our passion for creative writing.

For me, canceling Twitter, Facebook, and other social media accounts was the right decision for the path I wanted to travel.  And largely, it has afforded me the opportunity to write instead of thinking about writing.  Now when I’m stuck on dialogue or want to learn more how to balance exposition in my writing, I’ll search for content when I’m ready to consume it.

By no means am I trying to persuade you to take the same actions I have taken, but I would encourage you to self-evaluate whether, as a result of social media, you’re finding yourself in the middle of a marathon that you didn’t choose to run in.

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18 thoughts on “Do creative writers rely on social media for self-validation?

  1. I don’t know. I think writers use social media in many ways, but mostly for advertising their work. Of course, if this distracts from actually writing, that’s a problem, but if it helps to encourage a writer to engage with other writers, find more creative outlets and build confidence, social media can be a great thing. I look at the social writer’s groups I’ve been involved with as a virtual version of the writing clubs I was part of back in high school. It allows me to engage with other writers and also see what others are doing to improve their craft, in a way that can work to help me improve mine.

    As with anything, if it is more of a distraction than a help, it’s not always a good thing. But if it is actually a supportive, community environment, then it can be a very helpful thing.

    • I was going to respond with a longer post, but Rob took the words right out of my mouth. While I respect anyone’s decision to snip the strings of social media, especially if that’s distracting them from their own journeys, I use it to engage with others, cull good advice from others who are on a similar path as my own, and see what other folks are doing.

      I do have to make sure I’m not distracted from writing by letting myself get sucked in to writer’s communities or social media – I do tend to get a little ADHD and distracted…but overall, I think my engagement in other communities has been a positive one.

  2. Very perceptive post. I’ve been toying with getting a twitter account, although I don’t really want one. The dilemma for me is how much social media do I need to be active on to prove to prospective agents that I’m serious about building a platform. No matter the reason for using social media, it seems to always morph into the validation thing.

  3. I have the same question/thoughts as Dawne. As a writer, you hear how important your platform is, regardless of whether you want to trad- or self/indie-publish.

    One thing that saves me from comparing myself to other writers is that I have a full-time day job and have to work my writing around that. So when I see the writers who are writing full-time, banging out writing like you talk about here, I don’t even think to compare myself to them—apples to oranges.

    I will say that social media can be detrimental to writing. I have a close friend who’s in a self-imposed social media exile because it stood between her and her writing. I understand why she did so.

  4. I’ve done all those things, cancel my first Twitter account, delete a blog I had for 5 years (that focused on a particular writing genre that I got sick and tired of), cancelled an online journal I edited/published because no one would take the genre seriously, other than a minority. And you hit the nail on the head: too much online activity and presence (not so much reliance even, because it’s the constant presence that is considered a ‘must’) can wreck writing routines and writing itself.
    This time around, I have decided what to add to my blog, what to cut out and that’s it. I don’t have to update daily or once a week if I don’t want to. But what I have found is that some online literary magazines expect writers to have websites, so they can promote their journals in turn, with literary considering contingent on whether writers have sites and are known through their sites. This I find disappointing on many levels, but it’s a reality with a portion of online magazines, so now I focus on my writing off the computer, longer pieces of work (I don’t dare say the ‘n’ word) I’m working on and the occasional short story, because at the end of the day any decent literary agent will look to the quality of work rather than a fleeting online persona and website.

  5. I agree with you. There’s a point when some writers get to sharing more than they’re actually writing (finger pointed at self). I was under the assumption that some how being active online meant that I’d want to write more but instead it’s become a distraction and a time suck. It’s nothing more than another way to stall my journey to publication. Personally, I’m glad I never got on board with many of the social networks. I’m a mess as it is. Thanks for sharing, this is a great reminder and makes me feel like I made the right decision myself.

  6. I hate the fact that technology has come so far that it has basically forced us to have an online presence whether we want to or not. Some agents won’t look at writers who don’t work the social media angle, which is upsetting. Is it because they’ve become lazy and that by having our own audience, they have to do that much less work? Or is it that if we have an online presence without a steady following they’re going to base our ability to sell on that? I honestly know nothing about the professional side of the writing scene, so I don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, but I have to wonder why social media is such a strong selling point before the fact. I can understand having to do all of networking once you get picked up, we are a tech generation. But what did agents do the last 100 years when the written word was enough? What has changed so much that our writing can’t speak for itself?

  7. Yes, certain sites are time consuming to keep up with.
    I recently opted for some free yoga meditation programs and very quickly received a huge bunch of totally unrelated emails as well.
    Some of the offers were tempting, so I fell for the joke, but when I started to get a dozen or more emails per day from each of them and my server said I needed to cut down ,I tried to opt out and found that I couldn’t.
    Eventually I had to block the sender,but even then some of the emails continued to arrive and from time to time, months later, I have to again and again block the sender.
    These people are aggressive and and they should be reported, but is anyone out there actually bothering to do anything about this problem, -I don’t think so.

  8. I can only speak to my own experiences. I budget social media time like most other things and use it to converse with friends or meet people/find interesting blogs to read. I don’t use it to validate anything, and if a site is taking over other activities, I just limit my time there and move on.

  9. Enjoyed your critical thought, quantity of views does not always go hand in hand with quality of impact….I also cancelled my poetry page, facebook page just because the people giving attention were only wanting it back; and I fed into that circle. I feel more at ease knowing I’m writing because I love writing and writing in space where people love to read and share….

  10. I am extremely grateful for certain aspects of the digital revolution that has evolved over the past 20 years. The ability to share your thoughts and insights with potentially the entire world with a single click of the mouse is beyond powerful. But, as you say, it can be extremely dangerous. I know, because I have been there too. I still struggle with validation in the writing regime at times, but I have become better at just writing because it is who I am, not because of what I want it to do for me.

    I share my offerings on WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, not so much for validation anymore, but simply as a means to share my thoughts with those who would like to consume them.

    Thanks for sharing, this is certainly a topic that is near and dear to many writers’s hearts, whether they will admit it or not 😉

  11. This is definitely food for thought and i understand where you are coming from. I have only been writing on my blog for a few months and I only write for fun, i write for me. I do hope that one day I can write my short stories and get payed for them, but if that doesn’t happen i will continue to write for me and for the fun of putting my short stories out there x

  12. Personally I like using social media because I don’t just blog about writing, and I don’t just talk to other writers. I keep with all kinds of people, from other crafters, to designers, to artists and musicians. Social media for me isn’t just about connecting with other writers – it’s about connecting with people. Plus I have books available and people aren’t going to find them if I don’t give them directions, and social media is a good place for that. So maybe there’s a balance to be found within using social media to be sociable, which is something I think writers need since writing is such a solitary endeavour, and using it as a yardstick against which you measure your own progress.

  13. Matt, I find it interesting that this post hit today, when I unsubscribed from a writing-based Facebook Group because it was all promotion and validation without the sense of community and true support.
    You’ve clearly touched on a topic we all are thinking about or are out-right struggling with.

  14. This is very true. I don’t have Facebook anymore and only visit Twitter every couple of days, but I agree that there is this sense of pressure to be visible on social media. As I’ve been published in a couple of anthologies recently, I was thinking about starting a blog to promote the writing side of things, and really… it’s kind of crazy. How much traffic and publicity could I possibly drum up for current and potential publications with my few followers? And wouldn’t I be better off spending the time actually writing, instead of promoting it?!

  15. I’m glad I came across this piece. There’s been no dramatic improvement/increase in my writing since I became active on social networks promoting my writings and blogs. Rather, I spend more time on these sites than writing. I have decided to do exactly the same thing as you….
    Thank you for helping me make up my mind.

  16. Matt, this post really touched a tender chord. I’ve been writing for Today’s Author for 16 months, not quite a year on my personal site. Very cautious about other social media and don’t have Twitter or FB accounts. While I’m grateful for the attention I’ve gotten from other writers, keeping up with so many other sites has proven impossible. My decision was made by the urgency of real things that must get done – simply can’t do the extensive on line social presence.

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