Social media is killing me. It’s rotting my brain from the inside. Not just social media, actually, but the entire internet.
That may seem like hyperbole, but right now I’m feeling pretty damned overwhelmed by the vast rabbit-hole-ness of what’s flying around on invisible waves of data and crashing into my consciousness every time I turn on my computer. Right now I have the following tabs open on my toolbar: Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pandora, The Washington Post, ESPN, my publisher’s AuthorConnect page, the US Census, a search for hot air balloon shows, and an obituary for David Bowie. Down at the bottom, the Mail icon beckons.
It’s fabulous, terrifying, interesting, and depressing. Fabulous because I can look up the population of Lovelock, Nevada, where my next novel is set, without leaving my chair. Terrifying because I just spent an hour reading tweets about Steph Curry when I was supposed to be writing this blog. Interesting because I learned Donald Trump is skipping the Republican debate on Thursday (hmmm, why is that?). Depressing because nobody has added my book to their to-read lists on Goodreads in days.
Fabulous + terrifying + interesting + depressing = overwhelming.
Not just overwhelming. Addicting. A few weeks ago I read “Addicted to Distraction,” an article in the New York Times Sunday Review by Tony Schwartz. In it he confronts his own internet obsession, and quotes this from Nicholas Carr’s book, THE SHALLOWS: WHAT THE INTERNET IS DOING TO OUR BRAINS: “The net is designed to be an interruption system, a machine geared to dividing attention. We willingly accept the loss of concentration and focus, the division of our attention and the fragmentation of our thoughts, in return for the wealth of compelling or at least diverting information we receive.”
I recognized myself as if he’d held up a mirror. Like him, I’m unable to concentrate for long periods of time when the internet is around. Like him, I leap from tab to tab on my computer, feeding my brain all the useless information it craves. Lovelock has 1,519 people living in it. How many people live in the town where my father grew up? Let’s check. How many people lived there in 1963, the year he left? Let’s find out. How many people lived in the United States that year? What about in 1863? What about during the late Paleolithic period, when humans first reached North America? Click, click, click, click: rabbit hole. An interesting rabbit hole, to be sure, but 45 minutes later I still hadn’t written a word of this blog post.
I wasn’t like this until very recently. In fact, I attribute a big part of my current mental disarray to the stage of my career I’m in — i.e., the Pre-Book Launch Stage. When I was writing THE LOST GIRLS, I spent entire mornings or afternoons on my computer immersed in my story, and only paused briefly to check email or the news every couple of hours. I never tweeted, rarely used Facebook, and didn’t even have an account on Goodreads. Now I’m caught up in publicity and marketing, an exciting but frenzied process in which authors feel they have to do everything imaginable to build buzz around their books. It’s what’s expected of us. My publisher sent me lengthy guides to how to use Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. The rest of the Debs are getting the same message: get out there on the internet! Build buzz! Sell the book! It’s really, really fun, I’m not going to lie. Goodreads may be the best thing ever Twitter makes me laugh out loud at least twice a day. The Binders subgroups on Facebook are full of all sorts of interesting information for women authors.
Stlll, it’s immensely time consuming. For someone who didn’t have much of an internet footprint before, the learning curve for all these platforms is both steep and long. So now, instead of reading novels by other people, I read how-to books on marketing and articles by Jane Friedman, Writers Digest, Women Writers, and others on how to promote novels. Instead of writing my next book, I’m tweeting and posting on Facebook and setting up my author profiles on Amazon and Goodreads. This is necessary if I’m to make myself into a career author and not a one-and-done writer, and like I said, it’s pretty great. But I’ve reached the point where I, like Tony Schwartz, have shorted out my brain synapses, and there are still six months to go before THE LOST GIRLS sees the light of day.
The answer, I know, is to find a healthy balance. I need to step away from the internet for hours at a time, so I can become lost in another story of my own making without wandering over to see if anybody’s posted anything interesting in the Binders groups. I need to read novels, long and luxuriously, without my phone by my side distracting me with the buzzes of incoming texts and emails. Only if I do these things will I feel the choppy, shallow waves in my mind settle once more into the gentle pitch and roll of a deep sea, fecund with life and mystery, from which stories evolve.
I can do these things. I can.
Wish me luck. You can do it in the comments, right here on the internet.
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