“A few weeks ago, I attempted to tidy up my Facebook ‘friends’ list, deleting folks I didn’t interact with in a positive way or simply didn’t know. I was trying streamline things; only linking with people whose updates I wanted to see and for whom I hoped the feeling would be mutual.
It’s a lot trickier than accepting a request and, with 4500 contacts to trawl through, a sizeable task. If there’s some embarrassingly easy way of doing this, I remain ignorant of it. Anyway, after each unfriending, the page tried to refresh 4499 icons, then 4498 and so on. It all got a bit Sisyphean.
I thought: Why am I even on Facebook? Apart from sap my energy and steal my time, what does it do? Where’s the benefit?
I couldn’t think of a good answer so I deleted my account.
But, honestly, that move had been at the back of my mind for ages and I still can’t think of a decent reason to use the site now. This is not a criticism of Facebook, it’s a personal thing. Me and the initially lovely Facebook just grew apart. Sad. But these things happen all the time.
Before my first novel came out, my publisher told me I had to have a Facebook profile, so I set it up. It was always intended as a marketing and publicity tool. As time went by, Facebook made it harder to reach the many contacts I’d initially developed and the experience became about linking to cool or amusing stuff and chatting to people.
Nothing wrong with chatting but I’m meant to be writing books over here. And I suddenly realised I’d been ‘on’ Facebook for six years. Seeing as I ‘used’ it every single day, it occurred to me then that Booking Face was a little like having a…you know…a habit.
Let me come clean here: I’m easily distracted. I don’t need help with not doing my work. For an author, signing up to Facebook is like poking your eyes out, cutting your hands off and then trying to compose a text on a BlackBerry Curve. IT ISN’T FUCKING HAPPENING, PEOPLE.
I know this much about myself:
Even with a deadline looming, I’m pathetically easy to push off course. I mean, I could watch a 20-second ‘cute cats’ clip on YouTube and still be staring at the screen going ‘Whoa, dude, awesome kittehs! Show me more!’ several hours later. It would require a team of eight Shire Horses to haul my focus back onto the matter in hand – which is, of course, the neglected work in progress – and a combination of welding and riveting to keep it there.
“Rewrite?” I say to myself. “It’ll keep. After all, why put off until tomorrow what you can do next week?”
I even joked on Twitter about how Twitter was next if it didn’t shape up.
Then I deleted my Twitter profile.
Things were very quiet that day. I managed several hours of redrafting and editing without interruption and was able to think, calmly and constructively, about crucial aspects of the rewrite – elements that had eluded me for many weeks.
I realised that on Twitter and Facebook, I was always waiting for something amazing to happen, always checking for the next hit of awesomeness. But the truth is, nothing ever does happen ‘out there’, except chatter. It’s only here, inside, where I am, that things can be made to happen. Increasingly, it strikes me as far more important to do the work than to talk about it.
At first, I was a bit concerned. No Facebook profile? No Twitter feed? Did I even exist any more? Would I still qualify as human? And didn’t all this point to me doing loads more actual work?
Ach, it all turned out fine, people. I’m equally as good at procrastinating as I was before; it’s just that now I have more time to squander and I’m more creative about how I do it.
If there’s one thing I can’t help but be suspicious about, it’s businesses buying businesses so they can do more business. Get a life, corporate entities, will you? Go and hug a tree. Walk barefoot on the grass. Dip your toe in a lake. Talk to a person less fortunate than yourself and get a small sense of the nobility you lack.
So, yes, Goodreads could be next on the chopping list. However, I need to give this careful consideration because, until now, it’s been a reader-led, book-oriented site. That’s a worthwhile online presence for an author to have. But if it becomes a way for Amazon to tighten their chokehold, I’m gone.
Authors are led to believe that web-presence is vital to their success. Publishers are far more interested in writers who work hard to build a network that brings them a bigger readership – why wouldn’t they be? And every new story of a self-pubber making a fortune online seems to reinforce the prerequisite of internet ubiquity.
I had a long discussion with one of my publishers about all of this. Their feeling was that an author should build a dedicated fanbase through blogging and social media. The idea is to be everywhere at once, on every reader’s radar until you’re a household name. I took the conversation very seriously – especially the core idea that if you have 10,000 loyal fans, you’ll always make a living, no matter what it is you do or sell.
I asked for an extension on the deadline I had with this publisher and got down to writing articles, doing interviews and generally popping up wherever and whenever I could. It was fun for a while; probably because it was a change from what I usually do.
But the reality is that this isn’t me.
I’m no Chuck Wendig, John Scalzi, Joe Konrath or Cory Doctorow. Being online, creating content and networking in that way feels forced – again, that’s just a personal thing, not a criticism of people who thrive on it and find making it work a joy.
I had this minuscule epiphany: instead of being a novelist who is a self-publicist, salesperson, networker and limelight-seeker, perhaps it’s okay to simply be a novelist who…writes novels.
Unless you’re already a celebrated name, most of the people you end up linking with on social media are authors trying to sell the same product as you – a book. It’s a bit tiring, both trying to find ways to make your latest news interesting in a non-pushy way, and having to read endless updates from other authors attempting the exact same trick.
Don’t get me wrong. I like online communities. I really do. It’s just that I prefer real ones. And I’m relishing the experience of having a little more time and a less polluted head.
With Facebook and Twitter gone, what does that leave?
It leaves this humble blog. For the moment, I’ll keep it going.
It’s a place where I can speak to people who visit because they want to, rather than me cluttering their ‘feed’ with subtly-disguised hey-look-at-mes! It’s a place where I can be ‘searched for’ and ‘found’. And, yes, if nowhere else on the internet, this will also be the place where I talk about and pitch my work.
It also leaves my family, the garden, exercise, reading, cooking, my fiction and all the time I spend wondering about the world, what it’s all about and why we’re here; what I consider to be the fun stuff.
For the moment, then, see you here or – even better – in the real world sometime.”
*spoken like a true addict*