Some time ago, I wrote a blog post for the Savvy Authors website about whether or not too much time on Facebook can make you depressed. I was a fairly new author at the time, and I was (and still am) easily overwhelmed by too much time spent on social media. Facebook in particular was tough for me. It seemed like I just had nothing to say. I hadn’t lost 50 pounds, won the lottery, just come back from a vacation in Bali, had my newest novel shoot to the top of the best-seller list within nanoseconds of its release, nor was anyone in Hollywood beating at my door clamoring to make my book into a movie.
It seemed, too, that social media was a minefield that only the experienced could navigate safely. There were all these unwritten rules, not the least of which was ‘be yourself, but don’t talk about anything that could alienate your fans.’ Well, that felt like a tricky proposition, along with the notion of ‘branding’. I confess, I’ve settled more for being myself than for branding or not risking fan alienation, for that matter. That means I’m going to get ranty about the way the GOP is pulling out every underhanded measure to hamstring the Obama administration, while at the same time trying to take civil rights for everyone back to the 1950s. I’m going to post sci-fi geeky stuff, and animal stuff, and on rare occasions, talk about my fandoms. I’m going to bore people with my photos because I like taking pictures. And I’m going to talk about my writing. 🙂
I spend more time on Facebook now than I ever thought I would. I share links and posts I find interesting. I comment on my friends’ updates. I use it as a quick break at work, a way of taking a mental breather as I look at photos of LOL Cats or check out George Takei’s page to make me laugh. Sometimes I vent (in extremely vague terms) about something going on at work that has me stressed and depressed, and the support and comments I’ve received have made it easier to get through the rest of the day. I’ve made connections there now, so it feels comfortable to signal boost for those connections, even as I worry terribly when an internet friend disappears and no one seems to know what has happened to them. Of all the social platforms, Facebook was the one I liked the least initially, and the one everyone assured me was crucial to building an audience for my stories.
But it turns out I’m not alone in my belief that Facebook can make us depressed–that it can cause us to be more dissatisfied with our lives than we otherwise might be. And I confess, I struggle with seeing what appears to be everyone around me soaring to the heights of success as they hint at astronomical royalty reports, or post screenshots of their newest release breaking records on Amazon, or they have *another* bloody release less than six weeks after the last one.
Most of the people I ask vehemently deny that Facebook gets them down from time to time. I think that’s all part of the game face that Facebook requires us to put on. Pretend you are successful whether you are or not. Success breeds success, right? So post the good stuff: the promotions, the raise, the new car, the move across country for the better job, and the five star reviews. Downplay anything that might make the other chickens in the flock start pecking your eyes out. Pretend to be a hawk, even if you’re only a chicken.
Oh sure, we’re allowed to share the tragedies. The tornadoes, the sudden diagnosis of a serious medical problem, the death of a loved one. But the everyday ordinary slog through a life that is not particularly cheerful or successful? No. Not only does no one want to hear it (and rightfully so, I think) but sharing it places you in jeopardy of being labeled a loser.
There’s merit to this thinking, to be sure. There’s a lot to be said for attitude. Lord knows, I’m my harshest critic most days. Just today, I read some wonderfully encouraging posts along these lines. There was this one, by Ky Grabowski, on shopping without success for a gown to wear to a wedding (and most of us can sympathize with that) titled Why am I Beautiful. I envy her self-confidence. I’ve spent a lifetime being told how ugly I was, that I was an absolute Troglodyte and that I would have to work doubly hard just to make friends, even when I wasn’t that bad. Now that I am battling wrinkles and an extra 20 pounds, I find it even harder to accept Ky’s words. It’s like understanding to death why you should eat better and exercise regularly, yet being constitutionally incapable of making good eating choices on a stressful day at work. And every day at work is stressful.
I also came across this highly encouraging post by Kristen Lamb: The Personal Apocalypse–When are we REAL writers? That really hit home with me today. You know, I never used to be as conscious of my ‘lack of success’ to the same extent before the advent of social media. While I understand that there is a tendency to post about the best things going on in your life, I was never one of those ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ kind of people. I could care less about clothing, or having a snazzy car. I wasn’t into a ‘Home and Garden’ house, or being a member of the country club set. And I don’t have any of those things as a result. 😉
But I never felt envious until now. It’s hard to remember, when everyone around you is happily blowing a kazoo over their latest triumph, that 3-4 weeks ago, it was *your* latest release that was collecting the five star reviews. I honestly think social media is an addiction. I think we crave that blissful feeling that comes from sharing a personal success–and that, like most addictions, it takes more and more to achieve that same level of satisfaction. Only three years ago, I published my first story ever. I never thought I would be a published author. In the span of three years, I’ve gone from being giddy with delight over simply being published to expecting more and more from both myself as a writer and my stories when they get published.
Well, as you become proficient at one level of competition, you have to move up. No one stays at the baby level of eventing unless they don’t have the talent or the work ethic to move up once they start winning blue ribbons at their current level. But moving up is scary. It means you’re at the bottom of the heap again. That you practically have to start all over mastering the skill set for *this* level of competition. It’s not for the faint of heart. Most people don’t want to be challenged to master their craft. They want to write what they want to write and have people push each other out of the way in order to buy it like an angry housewife at a Black Friday sale.
The truth is, most of us will never publish a story that will rocket to the top of the sales charts and stay there for weeks on end, paying off our mortgages and freeing us from crippling debt. And even if I really plugged at it, I doubt, with my current 60 hour + work week, that I could be prolific enough to have sales on my backlist work for me. Maybe I’m not being realistic in thinking that writing could even make me more than money to buy cat food once a quarter.
But I have things that cannot be quantified in the ‘success’ column. I have a kind and generous boyfriend who not only reads, but believes in me as a writer–and doesn’t have a problem with my writing M/M romances. Finances are tight, but they’re getting better. I live in a crappy little house–but I have a roof over my head that I can afford. I have a dog who loves me and thinks I’m the smartest, prettiest, kindest, most compassionate and fun person in the world. Oh, if only I were! 🙂
My mare is still alive after having nearly died so many times we jokingly refer to her as The Mare Who Lived (and I look for a lightning bolt on her forehead every time I bring her in from the pasture). Every day that I have with her is a gift. My heart still turns over when I walk out to the pasture with a halter to catch her, and she lifts her head at the sight of me, whinnies, and trots over to meet me. My first horse just turned 28 and is everyone’s favorite uncle at the retirement farm. I wake in the middle of the night to the purring of a cat that has joined me in the bed.
My clients seem to really like me. Maybe it’s because I refuse to gouge them in order to raise my own quality of living. Yes, I am one medical health crisis away from crippling financial disaster, but I’m still in pretty decent shape for my age. It could be worse. It could be much worse.
So maybe I need to spend a little less time on social media, despite all the advice to the contrary. Maybe I don’t need to be constantly reminded of the ways in which I have failed in the eyes of the world, and I need to spend more time reminding myself that money and success aren’t everything.
Because there are some things in this world that are more precious than rubies, that are worth their weight in gold. And they are mine. I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Not even a #1 Amazon best-seller. 🙂