Social Media – a no-go area for writers?

Twitter: always available for a chat

I recently read on Twitter that social media was too much of a distraction for writers and, as a result, writers should steer clear. Although I understand that tools such as Facebook and Twitter can be time consuming and, therefore, take away from the time spent on putting ink on paper – I also felt that this was a rather one-sided viewpoint. After all, it’s up to the writer to determine when and for how long they spend using these tools – and to determine how to benefit.

Let’s face it; these things can easily be kept to a minimum. Facebook only requires one or two snippets of something interesting a week at most, and Twitter can easily be scheduled outside of writing time. Blogs definitely take longer to write but so long as your readers know how frequently you intend to blog, you can blog every fortnight, or even once a month, if that’s what fits with your schedule. Be clear and write well and you’ll have a good blog. Simple.

But, even more importantly, I felt that this claim that social media should be avoided by writers missed a crucial point; social media can be used to aid your writing in many ways.

Firstly, you get to make contact with other writers, publishers and agents. This creates a valuable support network which I personally find to be of life-saving proportions. It’s not just a good way to get to speak to people who interest you, who can help you with your writing & point you in the right direction, but you get chance to build up friendships with people who understand the joy/frustration/elation of being a writer. And that’s valuable whether you’re published, almost published or just starting to think about the idea of getting published. As successful self-published author and blogger Catherine Ryan-Howard says “Building a social media presence is the single best thing a writer can do for his or herself outside of writing a great book. It enables you to build a readership, connect with other writers, agents and publishers and even sell your work. Better yet, it’s fun!”

When it comes to establishing an online presence and selling your work, this doesn’t mean bombarding people with hard sell; after all, people will just get annoyed and ignore you. But as you build relationships, people gain an interest in you and your work. You have an outlet to advertise the stuff you’ve done and the chance to gain more of a readership. In addition, you can get noticed and maybe even be approached by an agent, an editor (this happened to me) or a publisher and – fingers crossed – secure yourself a much-coveted book deal. Think Twenty Major, Maria Duffy and – all people who secured a book deal in one way or another through their social media presence.

Finally, you can find out information that you need or bandy an idea around with instant results. Twitter is particularly good for this because you can direct the question to people you think might know the answer. And with questions thrown out in general, the replies are usually fired back at you pretty quickly. This is great if you’ve come to a sticking point which is distracting you. If you’re worried about the time taken, don’t be; you don’t need to sit there waiting for a reply. Send out the question, get back to work and then check your @ messages when you have time.

So although social media could be a distraction, it doesn’t have to be. Just be mindful of how and when you use it and make it work for you. Like anything else, it’s only a distraction if you want it to be. And, as Sarah Webb pointed out recently; there’s always an ‘off’ button.

Socrates knows how to switch off!


10 thoughts on “Social Media – a no-go area for writers?

  1. Rick Gualtieri says:

    All excellent points. I’ve found social media to be an invaluable tool as well as an awesome way to spent a bit of my free time, just chatting away with people. It doesn’t take away from my writing either. I set strict quotas on my time and output. However, once I meet those then I’m on my own time. As with anything else one needs to just have a little discipline with oneself.

  2. ERMurray says:

    How true – and I think that in the modern age, sometimes we forget that free time is just as important as work time. Strict quotas and a good work/life balance are the way forward. Thanks for taking time to comment, Rick.

  3. Lucy Brown (@CharmedLassie) says:

    I was worried you were going to join the condemnation! I see things on Twitter that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen (some of which are copied into my weird and wonderful folder!) and it offers an outlet, sometimes just to scream! Writing’s so solitary, especially because I’m a PhD researcher by day and writer by night. It’s a good place to remember there are other human beings in the world and I’ve encountered some wonderful people through it. However, I just play games on Facebook. Those I could do with cutting out!

    • ERMurray says:

      I completely agree, Lucy. I work alone also (except for when I’m training or at festivals but those moments aren’t that frequent) and so knowing there are other humans beings in the world is often the tonic you need. Plus, I’ve met lots of amazing people too – and seen inspiring projects such as the Tweet Treats cookbook and the Twitmas Single. Don’t be too hard on yourself for the Facebook games; you have to have some down time.

    • ERMurray says:

      Thanks Sabine for the encouragement and support – it’s much appreciated.

      And yes, I agree; many people do like to read blogs more frequently. These posts are usually quick, snappy and informative – and very enjoyable (like those mentioned above). Other blog readers prefer a long, essay-style post every now and again. It’s just like watching people in a library choose their preferred reads.

      Maintaining a blog so frequently can be difficult; especially for writers who are already chained to their keyboards. More blogging means less writing. It’s worth noting that many blogs have more than one writer/admin involved, and that is usually why the blogs can be updated so frequently. That’s not to say that every daily blog does rely on multiple writers – and hats off to anyone who maintains such frequency and quality!

      But whether you’re blogging alone or with others, consistency is certainly key; readers do have expectations and those expectations need to be met if you’re to keep their support. You have to accept as a blogger that if people want a daily update and you’re not able to provide that; they’ll not follow your blog. But if you can maintain a high standard and consistent structure, you should be able to build up some loyal readers.

  4. Zoe (@ecothrifty) says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post. I think you are right that social networking sites can be very useful in helping writers to get to know other writers and for them to get known as a writer or blogger. I find though that it can be really addictive and if you aren’t careful quite a time waster, so it is important to set clear limits!

  5. MrsT says:

    Twitter can certainly be a distraction, as can the world wide web generally. But only if we let it! Engaging with Twitter has been an important step in my development as a writer, not least of all because it allows me to see other writers as REAL people. Real, inspiring, informative, intelligent, supportive people – I’m very careful about who I follow!!!
    This may be ‘wrong’, hell what do I know? But it is lots of fun and makes me feel just a little bit connected.

  6. ERMurray says:

    Lot’s of fun and being connected is great – and yes, I love the reality Twitter brings to the writing day. You know you’re not alone out there…and you have fun/get inspired in the process. Some people are better than others at keeping it to a minimum however. (And being choosy about who you follow is smart.)

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