If I weren’t a writer I’d probably be about the most anonymous person in the modern Western world. I wouldn’t be on Twitter and Facebook. I wouldn’t have a blog. I’d probably never even have heard of Pinterest or Instagram. In fact – oh, the irony! – if I weren’t a writer I’d probably just be … well, writing. But this is 2015, and it’s no longer enough just to write. Oh no: you have to loudly proclaim to everyone you encounter that you’re writing.
This is where social media comes in. You’re not really considered a proper writer these days unless you’ve got a Facebook page and a blog and you spend almost every spare minute tweeting. I’m ancient enough to remember a time when writers tapped out their novels on typewriters, mobile phones were cutting edge, and the internet was still a twinkle in some techie’s eye. How times change, eh? Imagine if The Shining were set in 2015. Jack Torrance would never have gone mad, because the Overlook Hotel would, naturally, have had WiFi. He’d have spent all his time chatting to his writing chums on Facebook and tweeting about life in snowbound Colorado instead. He still wouldn’t have finished his novel, but at least it wouldn’t be because he’d gone violently insane and tried to kill his family.
Oh, well. Technology seems to have turned inwards rather than outwards. Somewhat to my disappointment, we don’t all dress in silver lamé jumpsuits and have our own personal spaceships. Instead, we have blogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, and more passwords than any human brain can possibly be expected to memorise.
Tweeting is a useful writing exercise if nothing else, since it forces one to be concise. Twitter is the perfect place to say absolutely nothing, and the cyberparadise of those who have absolutely nothing to say. However, once you’ve waded through all the guff – “Teenage Werevamp Fantasies Part 1 available on Amazon now for just 99p!” – it can also be surprisingly interesting and entertaining. I’ve written before of my newfound appreciation for “twitterature”, and some tweets show a surprising amount of creativity and wit, given the 140-character constraint. I’ve also discovered the art of the sarcastic hashtag, though personally I’ve yet to master it.
It’s all a matter of how it’s used, I suppose. I once bought an author’s book on the strength of his clever, funny tweets (he tended to steer clear of obvious self-promotion), and I wasn’t disappointed. (Note to authors: constantly telling me that your book is available on Amazon doesn’t make me want to buy it. Quite the opposite, in fact. Tweets that tell me that you can use your brain and string an intelligible sentence together might do the trick, though.)
Facebook is something I’ve gradually come to an appreciation of, though perhaps for all the wrong reasons. For me, time spent on Facebook is “down time”. Viewing a home video of a dog playing with a balloon, and then running away in panic when said balloon finally bursts, can’t be said to be useful in any real sense, but it made me laugh. Oh, and I’m addicted to the silly online quizzes that sometimes pop up there, one of which assured me that in my past life I committed the crime of regicide.
People have advised me to set up a dedicated “Author Page” on Facebook, but I can’t be bothered. Creating an author page – at least when you are the author in question – seems ridiculously self-important to me. (Perhaps I should just get over this, as – let’s face it – all social media is just a teeny bit self-important anyway, n’est-ce pas? Does anyone really want to know which brand of washing powder you prefer, or that you got stuck in traffic this morning?) Those of my author friends who’ve tried it tell me that an author page is a complete bleeding waste of time anyway, as just about the only people who ever view or “like” it are those whom you can effectively bully into doing so.
I’ve liked Facebook a lot more since I joined Authors Electric and was invited into the AE private group. There, I’m surrounded by like-minded people, and have access to the invaluable outlooks of those with a great deal more writing and publishing expertise than me. We chat, sound out ideas, and occasionally bicker and rant. Being surrounded by a group of dedicated writers really does offer solace. I like having friends with whom to share my solitude.
I’ve found that, of all forms of social media, I like blogging best. It just seems to suit me. Writing a blog post gives me time to develop my thoughts (for what they’re worth) on a given subject, and to present them in a clear, structured way, which the “instant” nature of other social media doesn’t. I’ve set myself a goal of posting once a week, though I often fall short of this. For one thing, I’m so neurotic that I have to check and redraft my posts about twenty times before I can bring myself to publish them. For another – well, I’m just kind of busy, actually.
And herein lies one of the big problems of social media. Time spent tweeting, posting Facebook updates, and blogging is, of course, not time spent writing. And writing is what I love best. I suppose that the influence of the social media age might represent just another stepping-stone in literature’s ongoing development. Will we all end up writing our books in real time on Facebook, or in 140-character increments on Twitter? Or will the reality be even less exalted? Before social media, writers were remembered (or not) for their books. I have a haunting feeling that we’ll be remembered for sharing the mundane details of our lives on Twitter…
And yet … if it hadn’t been for social media, I wouldn’t have met so many wonderful writing friends (as well as one or two harmless – I think – dingbats). It’s been worth getting on social media, and braving the latter, for the sake of the former. Gosh, I’m feeling a little sentimental. So sentimental, in fact, that I might write a post about this in the future. You have been warned…