When I announced I was leaving all platforms of social media last fall, I truly didn’t know when—or if—I would return. At the time, it felt rather permanent, and I was OK with that. It might be dramatic to say I took a leap into the unknown, but as an author who is expected to be accessible to her readers, to maintain a “platform” (and oh, is that a loaded word), and who was social distancing with the rest of the world, it really was a big thing.
Fellow authors called me brave. Others speculated that I would be back in a week. Family and friends were sorry to see me go. I’m sure others felt the opposite.
I made it approximately 120 days.
120 days doesn’t seem like a long time, but here’s how I spent them:
Aside from missing keeping up with close friends and extended family, I was rather surprised by how much I didn’t miss the constant checking in, counting Likes, and scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. To say nothing of the fact that I was less outraged, less stressed, less riled up on a daily basis. I hadn't noticed how those feelings would linger throughout the day until they no longer did. And above all, I neither missed the time suck nor being glued to my phone.
And yet, I also struggled with pandemic fatigue and low-grade depression. Moreover, despite the fact that I was writing again, my confidence continued to flail, and doubts about whether I would resume writing as a career continued to pester me.
It’s no secret that the Bernie memes following the Inauguration brought me back. Twitter especially was a treasure trove for them. I couldn’t resist.
I wound up sticking around on Twitter, especially after I Muted and Unfollowed a lot of accounts that had contributed to my initial reasons for leaving. It made a difference.
When I "officially" returned to Twitter, I noticed some of my online behaviors had changed. For one thing, I observed a general lack of boundaries. I became hyper-aware of people over-sharing, being passive-aggressive, and acting in ways I suspected they wouldn’t in a face-to-face situation. And I saw myself more clearly, too; or, more specifically, my past social media self when I read things I previously would have commented on or Retweeted. I was now more conscious of what I was sending into the ether, so to speak. I withhold more now.
I was also more observant of the mundane. That's not to say that the mundane is a bad thing. Sometimes mundane and simplicity overlap, and there’s almost a peacefulness to it. Other times it's just… well, mundane.
Some negative behaviors returned, unfortunately. My productivity went down again. So did my pleasure reading.
Eventually I began wafting over to Instagram, mostly to catch up with my twin brother’s cats’ account (they have ten times the followers I do, dammit), but soon I found myself scrolling, stopping, lurking, reading, and dropping an occasional comment at others’. Yet I didn’t feel I had anything to say or add on my own account. I really didn’t want to get on that train again.
What’s the train, you ask? The one where I have to be ON. Where I have to crack the code of what a “successful social media presence” is for an author.
And of course, there’s always the elusive “create epic content.”
Oh, and did I mention they also all say to “be yourself”?
Here’s the thing: The more I try to put any one of these practices in place, the less successful I am. The other day I posted a 7-tweet thread about the next manuscript I’ve chosen to work on. I expected a moderate amount of Likes, even replies. I think I got one.
Likewise, hours before writing this blog post, I tweeted something that came to me during my morning walk that had amused me to no end—actually made me laugh out loud—and… crickets.
And yet, when I replied to a question about great songs with a harmonica in it (Chaka Khan’s “I Feel For You”), I got close to 50 likes, a couple of Retweets, and a few replies. (Granted, the questioner has over 750,000 followers, so that might have helped.)
Which tweet was the more authentic me? To be honest, it was the latter. I put too much thought into the former. Wrote what I thought I was supposed to write as an author on social media. Made a conscious attempt to elicit a response, and of course was let down when I had none.
So what’s an author to do—especially one who writes fiction, and not specific genre fiction like Romance or Horror or Fantasy?
And why, if it’s all so stressful and such a time suck, did I just return to Instagram?
Short answer: I don’t know.
Long answer: I may be trying to reinvent myself. And yet, when I say “reinvent,” I don’t mean shedding my authentic self. But the world has changed over the last fifteen months, and certainly I have changed over the last five years. I’m finally recovering from the whiplash all that change gave me. And I might be trying out what this new skin feels like, as well as being maskless again—in more ways than one.
And if there’s anything I wish to go back to—or, more suitably, to re-purpose—it’s the Ben & Jerry’s adage: “If it’s not fun, why do it?” I used to put that on the heading of my course syllabi at the beginning of each semester. I used to have a bumper sticker tacked on my vision board in the office space of the house I rented in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, when I took the leap of leaving teaching and becoming a full-time author. I lived it every chance I could; if not literally then in intention.
I’m curious to see if I can have fun on social media—not to sell books, attract followers and newsletter subscribers (although hey, if it floats your boat…), or win the attention of influencers, but simply for fun’s sake.
I’m daring to defy every best practice that cautions against making yourself your ideal reader and follower, and I’m totally making myself my ideal reader and follower. After all, I taught the kind of class I would want to take, and I’ve written the books I wanted to read.
Overall, I’m taking another leap by emerging from the bubble. And like the first leap in, I have no idea if it will last, or for how long. But here’s to what happens in the meantime.
(All that said...)
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I'm an author of commercial women's fiction and a writing instructor. My claim to fame: I can say the alphabet backwards.