Courtney M. McSwain, Writer

Anatomy of a Freelance Writer’s Life: Social Media Rabbit Holes

Twitter Image by rasamalai

Image by rasamalai, Creative Commons

The freedom of a freelance writer’s life is a blessing; it is also an opportunity for complete destruction—or should I say, distraction? Yesterday, I found myself lost in a web of Internet chaos, which began when I decided to start my day by checking Twitter under the guise of seeing what the “conversation” of the day was. What began as one quick scroll down my Twitter timeline turned into the scouring of reality television stars’ timelines. Soon, my appetite for irrelevant information took me to YouTube where I watched videos from Paris fashion week. Then I, for some reason, decided it would be a good time to search for photos of famous quotes on Flickr.

Looking back, I have no idea how I ended up where I did; and that is entirely the point. When you fall down a social media rabbit hole, you can rarely remember how you got there or find a simple exit out.

When I decided to commit myself to writing full-time, one of my primary concerns was, if left to my own devices, would I be able to keep myself from wasting time online? Today, any subject can be explored in an instant. The trouble is, one instant is never enough. One question leads to another, which leads to another. What’s more, writing pains can be ameliorated through social media by indulging in others’ random thoughts instead of making sense of one’s own.

The risk of distraction is, perhaps, why many writers are still apprehensive about diving into social media. However, from my perspective, the benefits do outweigh the costs. Used with a little bit of savvy, social media can be an invaluable tool for research, promotion and even inspiration. But, it’s important to impart a few rules in order to keep one’s heads above ground. Here are a few I’ve come up with.

  1. Have a plan. Get in and Get out. Yesterday, when I started my day on Twitter, I told myself it was to see what folks were discussing that day. Monitoring the conversation on social media is a good way to learn what people are talking about in order to share relevant information. But that’s not what I was doing. I was just avoiding starting my day. I had no established idea of what I was looking for and no time limit on how long I was to spend. Armed with those things, I might have walked away with a new source of information for my work. Instead, I ended up lost in the Internet abyss. When there is a goal and a time limit established, it is much easier to get in, get what you came for, and get out.
  2. Don’t use social media when blocked. Writing is hard, and the words don’t always come when called upon. When this happens to me, I’m guilty of drowning my sorrows in Twitter. But I’ve come to notice that turning to social media when stumped weakens my writing muscles. I think of social media as a great place to initiate thought but not a great place to develop it. This is, of course, what the writer is supposed to do—develop a thought into a full narrative, which is a task that requires endurance and an eye towards completion. Social media, however, is never complete; there is always a new trending topic or a new debate. When a mental block rears its ugly head, rather than turn to social media, a better course of action would be to read something with pages, like a book, which enforces the idea of thought development and completion.
  3. Pick a day to have fun. I want to set boundaries for myself on social media, but I don’t want it to become another boring, arduous task. The fact that I shouldn’t troll celebrities’ Twitter profiles in the middle of a workday is obvious…but that’s not to say I shouldn’t do it at all. I just have to save those moments for my “fun” days when I can use social media as I want.

I’m not the only one who has to impart some social media rules in order to get any work done, am I? Share your rules…I might need to borrow them!


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