Can you use social media wisely?

West Cork walks

Switch off & go for a walk – you’ll feel better and the answer might be waiting for you when you return.

My short answer is yes – if you choose – and this is an example of how…

I’m currently working on edits for the first book of my Nine Lives Trilogy – and I managed to get myself in a bit of a pickle. What seemed to be working perfectly was suddenly floored, and this wonderful fantasy world I created threatened to come toppling down (no panic – it’s only the structure for the whole book) unless I came up with some answers – and fast.

So I stared at the conundrum and made some alterations – and then I quickly unaltered them because I’d made things worse. I walked the dog. I scribbled notes. I cleaned out the cupboards. I scribbled more notes. Some stuff fell into place and could be crossed off the list. There are bigger fish still to fry – but small, bitty details wouldn’t stop niggling.

After a while, I sat in a bewildered mess, thinking – how am I going to separate all this stuff so I can figure things out?

Here’s how: I put a question out on twitter, made it clear it was research (so please RT) and turned twitter off. Then I posed a different question to a Facebook group, and turned Facebook off.

As I worked on other elements, my lovely facebook and twitter friends (huge thanks to you all) were sending a flurry of answers my way. Some of the answers helped, some cemented an idea – others ruled out possibilities. But the point is – every answer was helpful.

Social media doesn’t need to be a distraction, it can be a very useful tool. You just have to remember to ask the right questions – and to turn it off at the right times.

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!