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Should a new writer quit Twitter and Facebook?

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In the Millions today, Edan Lepucki writes about going off Twitter and Facebook for the first three months of 2010. She was very good at engaging on both sites -- too good. Thinking perhaps that they were taking up too much of her attention, distracting her from getting writing done, she had someone else change her passwords on Jan. 1. She didn't unplug from the Internet completely -- she used e-mail and other websites -- but becoming unsocial in the online world made a big difference. This is her verdict:

The truth is, I don’t miss the two sites much. These days, I feel no pull whatsoever toward Twitter, despite the number of fabulous people there. In my mind, it’s a crowded elevator where everyone’s talking over one another. They’re all saying interesting things, but who can keep track? Part of me is afraid to return to Facebook. Will it exert the power over me that it used to? I want to return, and I want to show restraint. And if I can’t, I will have to detach once again. That might be fine. Since January, I’ve enjoyed the injection of mystery and privacy into the world. 

Lepucki is a Los Angeles writer whose work has appeared in Narrative Magazine. She got an MFA from the University of Iowa, won an Intersection for the Arts/San Francisco Foundation James D. Phelan Award and has an upcoming project with an independent press that I'm not sure I can talk about (full disclosure: I know Edan). She is a talented writer who is making her way in the literary world, going to residencies and teaching at UCLA Extension, hoping to publish her first book soon.

She is, in short, exactly the kind of person who should be active in online communities. Isn't she?

Being on Facebook and Twitter means getting to reach out and touch friends of friends, to feel connected to writers you admire. A writer who is starting out can connect with more senior writers, agents, editors and even readers. Both sites, as the social networking gurus say, enable their users to build a brand. When talking about authors, people often call this a platform.

Is Lepucki crazy to go jumping off her platform? 

On the one hand, a writer should walk away from anything that keeps them from writing, be it alcohol, a lousy boyfriend or the insta-communication social networking maw of Twitter. On the other hand, I wonder whether it's particularly vital for new writers to stay connected online. 

Are Twitter and Facebook good or bad for writers? Are they good for you?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo by xelcise via Flickr

Comments () | Archives (17)

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As a professional writer and editor, I agree that Twitter and Facebook can be useful. LinkedIn is even better for professional connections and networking. But we must use the time judiciously, not obsessively.

Both, I would say. How much time can you spend in the library, doing research, chatting up the other writers, before it becomes counterproductive?

I deleted my Facebook in December. Too much time spent on it. Less of this social networking jibberjabber and go do something that is not in front of a screen.

I am sure staring at a wall, trying to think of something to write, is more productive than staring at a facebook wall, waiting for someone to write something.

Wow, seriously I don't care if people are on Twitter or not but some feel compelled to say these idiotic things about it. Like this "Edan". You can choose as many or as few people you want to follow. It's only a "crowded elevator" because you choose it to be. You can follow 5 people or 500.

These websites are a total life-sucking waste of time. I "unplugged" over a year ago and can't tell you how much more time my days suddenly have in them. I can give a rats about what 90 percent of my "friends" are doing, thinking, eating. Truly. Hence, they are not really friends. No one I know cares about more than approximately 10 people on their "friends" page, so why do we feel as though that person we never really liked in high school but who reached out to us on facebook ought to be a "friend?" The mind reals. Epiphany ensues. Unplugging is the result.

If you want to write, write. The act of writing is an everyday, focused process that when interrupted by triviality (which is basically what all this jazz is) becomes trivial. Or else becomes the most popular hit on some Manhattanite Tumblr account, which is, at least by my estimation, just as inherently trivial.

I'm an aspiring writer, and I find the beauty of Facebook is not necessarily in that it helps you build a brand, but that its built-in audience--your friends--can give you instant feedback.

The hardest part of starting a blog, for me, is finding out that nobody reads it. That is, building an audience takes time and effort. You have to proactively seek readers and get them to visit your site on a recurring basis, and you have to provide new material often enough that they will keep coming back. Facebook not only gives you a captive audience, but when your friends log in, anything new you post will pop up on their news feeds. It's taken much of the legwork out of building an audience.

The final hurdle is avoiding over-saturation. I have friends who post things--anything--way too frequently, and it's obvious they are doing so with the goal of getting me to read. They have an agenda: "Here is something I wrote/shot/filmed/found that I would like you to comment on." It's very formal and probably primes people to give a polite, supportive response. I try to disguise my creativity within the normal Facebook avenues so people will think they are merely commenting on every day things. If I have a new joke and I want to see how it plays without getting on stage or writing an entire scene to use it, I'll work it into a status update, and I'll watch to see what the reaction is. It's a more undercover way of doing things, but I feel the reaction is more spontaneous and honest. I can then take the joke I wrote and work it into a scene in a play, or a short story, or whatever I'm working on, and know that people responded positively to it. It's a free focus group that operates a few lines at a time.

This so-called social networking is also a frank abdication of privacy. Linkedin provides tools for other users (who pay) to check up on you with former coworkers, whether you know them or not. Google's email program reads your messages to insert related advertising. And Facebook defaults to share your private information in search engines. In a lot of ways, besides being a time sync, it's bad news.

As a collegiate writer who uses neither, I would say that Twitter and Facebook are unnecessary. Of course, in this day and age, many would disparage me for saying that, but that is where I stand. I prefer the Mother's Cookies route, because you can't go wrong old-fashioned.

"Staying connected" doesn't have any rules beyond the connections you personally find meaningful. Which may be none or many. Also, don't underestimate the marketing forces pushing us to "stay connected." They are ubiquitous, powerful and relentless as they seek to monetize our every move.

Obviously bad for a writer. Good writers need only motivation and imagination. Facebook, Twit, will always be pre selected content on a screen. Plus the users ever so unique status update. Yawn.

Wow. So much venom directed at social networking sites. Perhaps the sites themselves aren't the problem, but rather the individuals who obviously can't better budget their time. I manage a nice balance between social networking and productivity, because I simply limit my time intreacting online. For me the whole, "it consumes my time and the only solution is to disconnect completely" seems a bit extreme.

Perhaps instead of directing your anger at web sites, you should learn to better budget your time and set your priorities.

to quote Denis Leary from his hulu commercial- "no facey-spacey tweetie pages"

Get a life instead.

nice post CK - I to am trying to do less screen time and more outside time with people in real life - but too each his/her own I suppose. I exist happily without FB and twitter - bummer tho, my job just asked me to start two accounts for work related info.

As a writer with several books published, I'd like to suggest that the problem is not with Facebook and other social networking websites any more than reading The Times is a problem (it takes you away from writing). The problem is being in control of your own time and work.

Social networking is an excellent way to reach out to friends, fans, and those just interested in your work. It can be used as an exceptional form of publicity that transcends an occasional interview that people have to pay for by purchasing a magazine. The more people are familiar with you the more likely they are to seek out your works.

In today's publishing world, fewer and fewer authors are receiving much in the way of marketing, advertising and publicity. Social networking won't eliminate the need for this, but it can help. However, if you spend all your time posting and tweeting—if social networking controls you rather than you controlling it—the result will be a detriment.

Social networking, like Twitter and Facebook, is really closer to dogs leaving their mark on the fire hydrant. There is not content per se, just shouting "me, me, me" and creating a pecking order of who has power over another, like other pack animals.

Facebook reduces everyone to the lowest common denominator. In many ways social media, since all is mediated and nothing is real, is the complete opposite of face to face social interaction. There is no redeeming social value to either of these evil examples of corporate domination of human life.

Neither Twitter nor Facebook has anything to do with serious writing.


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