Yesterday I caught myself on noticing how "I'll just check my phone real quick" turned into 30 minutes of lost time. I'm usually pretty diligent about sticking to the routine of DO NOT ENGAGE ONLINE UNTIL YOUR WORK IS DONE, but I'm only human so I slip. For some reason this particular slip really got under my skin. It was evening and I was so tired that I had no energy to exercise or to meditate. My day was packed and I hoped to combine the two into one biking session with my eyes closed. It didn't happen. I got upset. As a result, I didn't sleep well.
Meditating clears my mind. Without it it's like a bee drunk on vodka mixed with beer, buzzing around and around and around my skull until I want to drive my head through the wall and be no more (in other words, slide down the wall into a brainless bloody morass). I thought checking my phone would only take a few minutes. Ha ha ha. When I glanced at the clock, I nearly dropped it. It wasn't a few minutes like I thought it would be. It was 30 fucking minutes. I have robbed myself of exercise, of mediation, and of a good night's sleep. So today, as I'm typing this, I'm not even going to look at what's happening on the sparkling internets until this post is done.
Why is this post important? Why is writing it so important to me? Because we writers all struggle with this whole engage/disengage thing, especially those of us who self-publish.
If you're out there in the wild publishing world doing it all yourself like me, your work never stops. The Internet is like a 24/7 gore-churning bone-gnashing abyss that sucks you in and grinds you into pulp and spits you out dizzy and exhausted. You have no choice. You have to engage to let people know about your existence and about the existence of your books. You also have to disengage to retain your sanity to actually be able to write those bloody damn books. How do you do this? Where is the balance? Is there a balance?
Here is what I do. Tell me what you do. Maybe together we can come up with a formula that works (until we figure out a better formula, that is).
1. Bunch it up.
I have started slotting my social media time into 1 hour intervals. Once 1 hour is over, I cut it off. Like, it doesn't matter what's going on out there on the shining screen, I TURN IT OFF. In the morning when I wake up I first do my writing, which can last about 6 hours or so. In the middle of it I get thoughts. I burn to share them. So I share them with my eyes closed. Well, sort of. I open my Ello or my Twitter or my Instagram (the only 3 places I actively use) and quickly type in what it is I want to share then close them without looking at what other people are doing and without responding. Once my writing is done, then I go ahead and respond to everyone, or at least I try to respond to everyone, and I watch the clock. Once the hour is gone, I cut it off.
2. Limit bursts to 15 minutes.
For the rest of the day I read and do other things like scratch my scalp or chase squirrels or denude my neighbor's head to prep it for dinner or whatever. So I might want to share some bits of these news online. I try to quickly post it, quickly do a few answers, THEN PUT THE BLOODY PHONE AWAY. Sometimes it's very hard to do. Sometimes I get so engaged in conversations, my brain wouldn't stop thinking about it. Sometimes my reading time suffers because instead of thinking about the book, I start thinking about other stuff. It's a constant battle.
3. Share what's burning right away.
I have learned this lesson a while ago. If something is nagging at you to share and you're running around or are busy, share it right away, quickly, otherwise it's not going to happen. Things will pile up and you will keep holding it in your head, and it will make you anxious, and then more anxious, and then you will collapse in the sobbing heap from all this shit you have to do and can't do because WOULD SOMEBODY PLEASE CLONE ME I'M OVERWHELMED HERE. You don't have to engage if you don't have the time, but you have to share share share. That's how the word about your books gets out. You can't be quiet for a day unless you're at an awesome writing retreat where no phones are permitted. There should be one like that. (If I get into the Hawthornden writing retreat in Scotland, I won't have access to Internet for a month, sitting there in the castle writing a new book. Can you imagine that? I think it'll be glorious.)
4. Avoid the drama.
There will be opinions about stuff. About your stuff, about the stuff of others, about news, about whatever. I have learned the hard way that getting involved in that drains my energy and then I can't create. So I avoid it. Maybe that's why there are retreats in castles where we writers can escape the mundane grind of everyday life and sink into our heads where it's nice and quiet UNTIL THE CHARACTERS START TALKING AND IT'S FUCKING LOUD AGAIN. But it's your own loud, so it's a good thing. However, we all fight our battles. There are tons of battles out there that are important where your voice needs to be heard. I tried voicing my opinion on a few, and I got my head bitten off on a few, and I realized that for now my most important battle is to learn English so I write like a native. I must write and read every day until my nose bleeds so in the future, when I'm more visible, I can join important battles intelligently, like speaking out against racism, and gun violence, and homophobia, and misogyny, and standing for feminism, and for tolerance, and for peace, and for love. Above all, I want to spread love as much as I can. We have enough hate. We need love. I try to give a little love to everyone I talk to. In the future I'll do more, without making myself look like a fool (like I did when I tweeted about the events in Ferguson without the slightest idea of what white privilege means which is exactly what shielded me from knowing what it is in the first place). So I avoid drama that I can't help diffuse until I can and fight my own battle by writing and reading like mad.
5. There is only so much you can do.
There are only so many hours in a day, and in the end your most important task is to write. Don't beat yourself up when you can't come up with something engaging to say online, you know, something that will get people talking about you and your books. Step away. Step away from it all and look at the flowers or steal berries from your neighbor's garden or something. Make yourself happy. If you make yourself happy, you'll make those around you happy, and then you'll want to share something happy, and that will attract people to you, and that in turn will make people want to read your books and spread the word. Ask yourself: would you want to engage with a grumpy writer or with a happy writer? Precisely my point.
6. Keep at it.
Don't quit just because something bad happened. Don't kill your Twitter account because some ass said some asinine shit to you, or because some idiot has not understood what you meant to say, or whatever. Let it sit. Sleep on it. Wake up the next day and try again. And again. And again. You'll eventually find your groove of what works for you. Stick to it. Because you have no choice. If you're self-published...hell, even if you're traditionally published, you have to market your books. You can't just be quiet and hope bags of money will drop on your head.
7. Where to draw the line?
There it is again, the battle for time. Where do you draw the line? How much time to do you spend promoting your books versus writing them? I tweeted yesterday that instead of spending time on promoting your books, spend it on writing new ones, and I mean it. Once your book is out there and you're excited about it, share the news! But make it brief. Then turn everything off and write the next book, and the next one, and the next one. A good book will promote itself. People will read it and will want to share it with their friends. Until that happens, keep writing. Keep honing your craft, and don't forget to share that process at least once a day.