P. S. Hoffman's Writing Blog

Why Social Media is a Death-Trap for Writers

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. 

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

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: 

  1. Schedule your writing time and your social media time. Do NOT let one cross into the other.
  2. Write down your post ideas during the week
  3. Every week, throw your ideas into a bulk scheduler like Buffer or HootSuite
  4. 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? 

Why?

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 Disturbmode. 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. 

How I feel now... writing without distractions.

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.

11 comments on “Why Social Media is a Death-Trap for Writers”

  1. Ironically, I got on Twitter because a literary agent (who was the only 1 out of 20 that was interested in my novel) asked how many followers I had on my Facebook author page. I had about 40. She told me not to contact her again until I had over a thousand. (She even emphasized by saying "you know? with 3 zeroes?") That hurt... But her point was publishers want to know that as an author, I already have a real audience out there who is actively reading me already. So now I'm on Twitter... but only as an author. And I've met hundreds of other Christian romance authors, 3 of which are first-time published authors. (And I'm reading their books too.) And little by little I'm introducing my website to these fabulous people and they're started to follow my blog, skipping over Facebook entirely.

    Another huge plus for me was SO MUCH support for editing from other like-minded Christian romance authors. Now I'm a 1/4 done editing my WIP. Without all these strangers on Twitter, I never would have started editing. (I seriously hate editing.)

    But to your point: Writing is king.

    If social media detracts from creativity and from the hard work of putting words together, it needs to be reduced or contained.

    Here's my question: Let's say readers comment throughout the week, but you won't see them or respond until Sunday. Personally, I would be turned off if my favorite author didn't even "like" my comment for more than 24 hours (or not at all because it's lost amidst all other posts and comments). Would you consider set times during the week to respond to readers?

  2. While I very much agree (and I do not even own a phone), I feel conflicted when so many other writing advisers tell that you certainly and definitely must have strong and constant online presence and platform and personality cult, or otherwise traditional publishers will not publish your book. So much about marketing, they say, is on the author's shoulders. I wish you are correct in this one, for I barely use social media.

  3. This was an excellent and timely post! Gotta tell you that I’ve been experiencing social media burnout after promoting my new blog. I feel awful, physically and emotionally. Your words and wisdom makes so much sense and I think I will follow your advice...and get back to writing and editing. Phew! Just giving myself permission to do so feels soooooo good.

    Thank you!

  4. This was really refreshing to hear! I've recently gotten myself off social media, because it really does suck the life out of you. It's hard, because there's that voice in the back of my head saying that if no one knows who you are, how will you ever be successful...and it's such nonsense. I write because I love writing. Thank you so much for this article, it was wonderful and very encouraging!

  5. In my opinion, there is no point having a social media presence if you have not written anything that has been published or is worth publishing (and is completed).

    What’s the point of having a social media presence if you’re a wannabe, a coulda been or a I’m trying to but… Get off social media until you have writing worth promoting. Then invest money in a social media uni student who loves nothing more than showing off how many followers she’s helped you get while you happily keep writing.

  6. Thank you for this wonderful perspective, and reminder! I've been thinking for a while now that it seems like I was far better at meeting my creative writing goals when I didn't spend time on social media, and you've reminded me of all the reasons this is the case. Thank you again!

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P. S. Hoffman
About P. S. Hoffman
P. S. Hoffman writes Science Fiction and Fantasy. He is obsessed with all things futuristic, primarily Artificial Intelligence and the transformation of societies. Here, he shows others how to sharpen their fiction-writing skills by dissecting the techniques used by the world's best authors.

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