At the last writing conference I attended, I heard one question asked more than 7 times:
Do writers need to have a social media following to get published?
The answer? It depends on what you write.
Non-fiction writers MUST have a strong social media marketing plan. You need an online following.
Why? Because non-fiction writers must sell themselves. Publishers will not consider you unless you can prove people are interested in YOU.
On the other hand... Fiction writers do NOT.
Fiction Publishers only care about one thing: "What's on the page? Is it good writing, or not?"
Why? Because you will build a following naturally. Readers want to follow authors who write consistently good stories.
Yet... I know too many writers who spend more time on social media “growing their following” than they spend on writing.
I want to show you one approach to social media that is much, MUCH healthier for you... and will give you a work-ethic advantage over every other writer out there.
...but first, let's talk about how to escape the soul-siphoning death trap of Social Media.
Why Social Media is a “Writing Death Trap”
How do you get a massive Twitter following? Dump an enormous amount of your precious time into it.
But time spent on Twitter does not translate into “better writing skills” - unless you're only writing 280 characters of poetry.
Instead, every time you succumb to that itch to hop on Facebook or Instagram, the internet rewards you with a tiny-but-noticeable hit of dopamine. Social Media is the enemy of critical thought and deep focus.
The more you give in, the more likely you are to keep giving in... It was designed to reinforce the Habit of Distraction.
(Chances are... you're feeling that itch right now. Stay with me.)
Meet Your Friendly "Addiction Engineers"
We live in a strange, frightening future.
Right now, there are legions of software engineers and user experience optimizers who are work, day-and-night, to answer this question:
“How do we steal more of your time?”
Social Media websites THRIVE on user interaction. They measure their success on how long they can keep our attention.
They want us to scroll more, click more, start more internet fights… because that’s how their algorithms get smarter at feeding us addicting content.
The more you interact, the more you teach them how to keep you glued to the screen.
For writers, this is a massive problem because we burn away our best moments of free time; instead of thinking, contemplating, and dreaming up wonderful, new ideas, we're scrolling mindlessly for hours every day.
However… It's not all bad.
You can turn Social Media to your advantage. You can use it to:
- farm out inspiration,
- maintain interesting conversations,
- and still build your online following without wasting hours on hunting down fragmented digital connections.
But first, we must escape the jaws of addiction...
How to Get “Unhooked” from Social Media
Over the last six months, I’ve dialed back my Social Media usage to 1 hour a week. Here’s what I accomplished:
- 200+ hours of writing
- 200,000+ words
- And finished 1.5 books (subscribe to the blog, and you’ll hear about those soon).
I feel lighter. I am more present in my personal life. I get more writing done and writing is incredibly satisfying... because I'm not constantly fighting the urge to do something easy - like scroll through Instagram.
These are the Top 5 Tools that helped me reclaim my lost time and move my writing dreams FORWARD every week.
5. Read this Book: Digital Minimalism
Written by a professor at Georgetown University, this book will give you an extraordinary excuse to forget about the term "social media marketing," and focus on your writing.
Immensely practical, and filled with actionable advice, at the very least this book will change the way you think about your time on:
- your phone
- Social Media
- and every other "grab for attention," including books.
4. Don’t Quit; Replace
I shut off Twitter, Facebook, and a few other sites for 30 days.
Some of you may say, That's easy. Not for me.
To make it through, I had to replace social media with other things that I love.
Instead of Facebook and email, my morning routine now consists of a ten-minute walk and reading a chapter of “easy fiction.”
Instead of checking reddit everytime I was bored, I would read through a good writing article (here's one of my favorite, free tools for reading blogs).
Instead of Facebook, I've been calling people. This one is the hardest to do, and a lot of people answer the phone with, "What's wrong?"
3. Use Automated Blockers
6 months ago, I nuked myself.
I used a free chrome extension, called StayFocusd, which blocked all of my worst Social Media addictions for 30 days. Here's what I got from it...
Benefit #1: this allowed me to cleanse myself of that automatic itch to open Reddit every time I sat at my computer.
Now, it’s easier to focus on reading, because I'm not training myself to read headlines and half-baked comments.
Benefit #2: after those 30 days, it felt strange to return to social media.
There was no impulse to check my feed every few minutes. It was no longer part of my team to scroll on my phone in bed.
And I love it that way.
So, now I block ALL social media EXCEPT on Sundays, for a 1-hour window. This allows me to respond to messages and stay in touch… without the risk of getting re-addicted.
2. Social Media Marketing for Writers... the “Healthy” Way
Some of you still need to use Social Media. Some of you can’t imagine life without it. And some of you are non-fiction writers - which means you must have an online following.
Instead of unfiltered, always-on access to Social Media, here’s a better way:
- Schedule your writing time and your social media time. Do NOT let one cross into the other.
- Write down your post ideas during the week
- Every week, throw your ideas into a bulk scheduler like Buffer or HootSuite
- Respond to social media only during your scheduled social media time. Don't let each ding-ing notification summon your attention.
Writing is creating out of thin air. It demands time, and suffering, and boredom, and thought.
This plan allows you to embrace the struggle of writing, while still getting the best return on your Social Media time.
1. Kill the Slot Machine in Your Pocket
When was the last time you heard someone say, “Kids these days are glued to their phones!”
It’s been a while, right?
Because everyone joined up. Now, we're all addicted.
Your phone is a personal roulette machine that goes everywhere with you. It’s brimming with addicting, EVERYTHING IS URGENT apps and notifications.
Don’t Let Your Phone Eat You Alive:
- Uninstall as many apps as possible. Will it kill you to remove that game?
- Turn off all notifications from your apps
- Enter “Do Not Disturb” mode. I allow only my emergency contacts to light up my phone.
- Log off all social media... and make your passwords so complex, it would be painful to log back in.
Make your phone as basic and uninteresting as possible. And when writing, keep your phone the heck away from you.
As I'm typing this, my phone has been in another room for the last 3 hours. There are only two people in my life who can make it ring, and everyone else is set to 24/7 DO NOT DISTURB. I’ll see their messages when I see them.
It’s a peaceful life. And a productive one.
Conclusion: Remind Yourself of What Matters Most
Did you start writing so you could get 100,000 followers on Instagram?
...or was it because you LOVE telling fantastically interesting stories?
Choose the path that matters most to you. And I hope these tips will help you reclaim your life from the gibbering, slobbering maw of Social Media. I want to recommend this book one more time - check out Digital Minimalism.
At the very least, it will wrinkle your brain and make you think hard about how you spend your time online.
At the very most - it will help you become a freer, more confident writer.
I'm sure you can tell by now, this book made a huge impact on me. So, thank you for reading this post. I hope I changed your mind about at least one small habit in your life.