Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Why Facebook is the writing devil

[ETA: Coming to you a wee tad early this not-quite-Thursday-in-Australia-let-alone-the-US. Busy day for me tomorrow, and also I mostly forgot I was too early, so forgive me (g)]

I was going to go with What I've Learned Part 3, but this is part of what I've learned, and it's big enough to justify its own space. I might come back with something more scholarly and helpful next week. But for now, I'll just say this: I've learned that social networking is the devil when it comes to writing.

There, I said it. And okay, yes. Now I'm checking nervously over my shoulder to see if Facebook heard me. Please don't hate me, Facebook- you know we'll always be friends. Really!

But seriously- I love my social networking. It keeps me connected to friends and family, and it provides all kinds of stimulation- and therein, I think, lies the problem. I believe I've identified a new reason why Facebook (etc) is a dreadful drain on writers, and I shall explain.

Today on Facebook, amidst my 299 friends, there was a variety of drama- happy, sad and everything in between- played out. I'll give you a little cross-section, shall I?

- A friend's sister had her much awaited baby
- A high school classmate got news that he'd passed his PhD
- One person injured herself belly-dancing. Yes she did.
- A couple more lamented the work it takes to raise a baby/ toddler. I may or may not have been one of them.
- Someone else announced a change in jobs and a move to the city
- Someone else had an essay due but was leaving it right to the last minute
- Another friend won a prize in a radio contest
- Someone else was stung by a wasp
- Another was preparing for her engagement party
- I got an invite to a slumber party. No, not for my kid- for me! A grown-up slumber party! Love it :)

As you can imagine, that's just a few of the 200+ status updates I read every day. This information in and of itself is not especially complicated stuff. Reading those sentences won't give you a great deal of information about those people and their lives, and it won't take up a lot of space in your head.

But for me, I know every one of my Facebook friends from a particular place and time. Some I know fleetingly, most I know moderately well, and a chunk I know very well indeed. Regardless, for every status update that appears in my feed, there's a hidden backstory.

For the select group represented above, I could tell you oh-so-many secrets and lies. It'd be like a matching game- which one of them has a baby born with a brain injury? Who follows Scientology? Which is an archaeologist? Who lives in America, who lives in Australia? And more and more and more than that. Every time I read a status update, that person's backstory flits through my mind, and I think about them.

Which means, of course, that I spend all day immersed in other people's dramas and delights. I'm people-watching from my virtual high point, getting my fill of human intrigue without even needing to leave the house.

(I do, by the way, leave the house.)

Anyway! I'm getting there, I'm getting there. I realised as part of my big trip last week that limited Internet access made a big difference to my writing productivity. Again, I thought at first that it was simply a matter of time- don't spend hours pfaffing on the Internet, and you'll have hours to write. This is obviously true anyway.

But since getting home a couple of days ago, I've discovered that I'm straight back into bad habits- perusing Facebook when I could be writing, for example- and that even when I do have the time to write, I don't feel like it.

Why? Because I'm all drama-ed out without needing to open up my story. I'm getting my human drama, my "character interaction", through real people instead of fictional ones.

What I need to do, I'm realising, is spend time (mentally) with my characters, and limit time spent with Facebook and the like. Fifteen minutes is all I need to check my email, the Writers Forum, Facebook and the various other places I waste time. After the first fifteen minutes, all I'm usually doing is just re-visiting all those places anyway, hoping someone will entertain me. But after the fifteen minutes is up, I need to back away from the Internet and just think. Think about my story and my characters, and what's going to happen next.

While I was away, I noticed that I had a perfect handle on that. I would open up the computer at night, and I would know exactly where I wanted to start, and what was going to happen next. I tried that today, and nope. Total blank. And I'm certain it's because the bit of my brain that thinks about wars and weddings and sibling rivalry is already full of all those things, and so stuffed with human backstory that it's hard to step back into the mindset of someone who was born in 1896, many decades before the first computer ever existed.

So! Another new resolution- I'm going to limit the time I spend using social networking sites, and aim to think about characters and plot instead. It'll be like my own little fictional Facebook in my head. They can poke each other and sign up their cats. But most of all, I'll be thinking about what comes next, and they can tell me how they feel about it, perhaps in 140 characters or less (g).


  1. So true! I could write so much more if I'd never discovered Facebook. Maybe I'll put that in the mid-month goals check in :)

  2. "Why? Because I'm all drama-ed out without needing to open up my story. I'm getting my human drama, my "character interaction", through real people instead of fictional ones."
    Oh, *that's* what it is! You're right! Because having just undergone a very unexpected forced withdrawal (five days on a beach with no wifi at the hotel or anywhere nearby except a Starbucks ten blocks away that I didn't feel like lugging the laptop too when there was sand and sun to be had) I realise I've had more time to *think*. I've been just as lazy on the writing front - mainly cos I'm not travelling alone and can't write in the car without getting nauseated, unfortunately - but I've been thinking about the characters and their motives night and day. So much learned!

  3. I think you're so right, Claire. I did a little experiment this past week and limited my online time to checking e-mail. I think I broke down and went on Facebook last night and then about three times today. I'm sorry too, Facebook, but you are a waste of time and brain space for the most part. I think I'll continue my experiment. What I wanted to see was how it would feel, time-wise to stay off-line. Since I filled up my time reading, I don't think I'll really know. But to be free from mulling over other people's details was nice. Really nice. Great post!

  4. The one who was stung by the wasp matches up with the one whose baby was born with brain damage. hee hee