How Social Media Kills Creativity
I deleted my instagram account this past week, along with the twitter I never use. I still have a personal account to keep up with friends, but my author-social-media-platforms are no longer live. (Aside from Facebook and Pinterest, because I still want to connect with you all, but I’ll get to that.)
Why in the world would I delete my social media!? How am I supposed to market my books without a following?!
The blogosphere is littered with posts, ecourses, and promises regarding the wonders of social media for self-made artists and writers. For those of us who don’t have a full publicity team, the work of marketing and promotion falls heavily on our own shoulders.
This is something that outsiders may not fully appreciate when they discover an author and come to their website. Sure, there are the big-name, best-selling, award-winning authors who have book deals and publishers and a large amount of other people making sure their book will see the light of day. These authors have the luxury, or the curse, of focusing solely on their art.
What about us self-published authors? Do we get any help with all of the work that goes into creating and selling our babies, er, I mean, books?
Self-published authors sometimes receive a negative connotation. We don’t have the big book deal, so our book can’t really be that good, right? In the past, maybe, but in today’s age of internet entrepreneurship, not at all!
When I wrote A Letter to Last Year, I knew from the beginning that I wanted to self-publish. I wanted full creative control. I also wanted a full and comprehensive understanding of how my writing was being received by readers. Self-publishing allowed me those freedoms. I have control over my writing career, which is hope-crushing and invigorating all at the same time.
The thing about going it alone is that I really do everything alone. From the brainstorming, drafting, writing, editing, and formatting, to the cover and media creation, website administration, blogging, social media planning and execution, and connecting personally with readers in person or through email.
Many people make a full career out of just one of these many tasks.
For most self-published writers though, and especially the ones just starting out, this full time job of writing is not going to pay the bills. That means all of the work of birthing books is piled under other jobs, school, and family obligations, which is why most people see writing as a hobby, or something that happens on the side. It takes real desire and motivation to pursue a writing career in the face of these challenges.
One thing I’ve noticed is that the blogging model, so prevalently displayed on Pinterest and in Facebook ads, is not the same as the author model. At least, not my author model. I’m not really interested in promoting brands or using affiliate links and google ads to make an extra buck on my blog, though I may do so someday, if it will help fund my work. I’m not interested in just creating popular, SEO-friendly, traffic-boosting posts, except for the fact that those are the ones that get read.
Do I want people to read here? Of course I do!
So I implement parts of different strategies, but at the end of the day, I really just want to write. I want to focus on stories that touch those personal, inside, not-talked-about corners of the human mind and soul. I want to pour poetry onto old pages, and immerse my hands in paint when words start to fail.
So, what stops me? Well, all the extra. The content planning for social media has been a big creativity killer. How? I’ll give you three ways:
1) My writing time needs to be dedicated to writing.
As I’ve already pointed out, this whole self-publishing gig has me wearing a lot of hats. Media-marketing is a full time job, and it’s something I know I can’t do effectively without first having created stellar content.
Social Media planning, from a business perspective, involves a slew of skills and foresight that very easily distract from product creation. When the goal is to do well on social media, for example, to create a huge following on instagram, the road to get there is very different than if the goal is to write a moving and thought provoking story.
This is because of the conflict between short-form and long-form content. It’s the difference between writing a pithy caption versus a ten-page short story. Both require good writing skills and creativity, but they are aimed at different audiences.
When a person scrolls through Instagram, they are looking for pretty pictures, maybe some inspiration, or humor. Maybe they want to see that cute dress their favorite brand is launching, or the latest doodle from a painter they follow. They want to scroll and tap and be fed bite-sized pieces of people’s lives.
This is very different than a person who consistently reads blogs, news articles, or who downloads ebooks to read over the weekend. A long-form content consumer prefers fully fledged thoughts and arguments. They want the whole story, and they want all the details.
(Facebook and Pinterest are better platforms for promoting long-form content, thus why I opted to continue using those over Instagram and Twitter.)
As a creator of long-form content, expending my energy over getting the right picture to go with the right caption to sort of portray what I use hundreds of words to explain on the blog, is a buzz-kill. It makes me doubt whether my content is any good at all, because it doesn’t come off the same way on a saturated and quick-moving platform. As an author, should I really add to my anxieties by obsessing over platforms I can’t genuinely connect with? My answer is no.
2) Comparison gets to everyone.
Let’s be honest, we all compare ourselves to what we see online. We might try to tell ourselves we don’t, but we really do.
All of us have a natural tendency toward pride, and that is what these social channels bank on.
When you post something and receive likes and follows in return, your brain gets a shot of dopamine. These apps and websites are designed to act as a drug and to change behavior. There are businesses whose entire strategy weighs on brain chemicals, rather than real thoughts and ideas.
As someone who knowingly deals with mental illness, and who has learned to be extremely self-aware, I know social media does me more harm than good. I recognize the addictive qualities, and the obsessive compulsions it can form. I have wasted so many hours scrolling, and scrolling, and scrolling. All those little five-minute breaks spent on my phone add up.
Not only does the habit eat my time, but it imprisons me in the role of consumer, rather than producer. As a creative by trade, the only way I’m going to make a career is by producing. I need to make my own work, rather than looking at everyone else’s and trying to figure out how I can emulate other’s success.
3) You throw up what you eat.
This brings me to my third point. When I focus on what others are doing, I can’t focus on what I’m doing. I love supporting fellow artists and writers. Rallying together as a creative community is fun and inspiring. However, soaking up the work of your peers can lead you to feel burnt-out before you get started.
A big lure of social media for most entrepreneurs is building and connecting with a fanbase. The problem with searching to connect, is that you end up swallowing all of the trash and publicity ploys, and can lose sight of what it is you wanted to create for the world. You feel the need to emulate what everyone else is doing, rather than remaining true to your own voice and brand.
How can I retain my creativity, while still building a platform?
In my opinion, the best way to build a legitimate and loyal following is to create great content, share it, then create some more great content, and keep sharing it, and then create some more great content, well, you get the idea. Word of mouth is still the best advertising tool. Earn the trust of a few people, and your circle will eventually grow by virtue of the product you are selling.
Why is this so hard? For one thing, all of the frustrations of writing (or whatever it is you do) are not nearly as fun as the dopamine high you can achieve scrolling through everyone else’s plans for success. Making stuff takes work, and it’s easier to be lazy.
Here’s the but–
You don’t have to give in to the laziness or the addiction, and neither do I. We just have to make deliberate and intentional choices about how we spend our time. We can choose to be better than we were yesterday, and give ourselves the best chance at allowing our creativity to flourish. Once we create wholesome and healthy habits, and do away with the other ones, it will get easier to accomplish all of our creative goals!
Disclaimer: Everyone’s marketing strategy is going to look different. What works for one person won’t work for another. Some people will totally rock Instagram, and enjoy doing so. It’s all about what is most genuine for you.
If this has inspired you to take a step away from social media, but you still want to get updates about my work, sign up for my newsletter! You can use the opt-in in the sidebar (which shows below on mobile devices) or click here. I usually send out a letter for my readers every month, to share my thoughts and keep everyone up to date. I’d love to have you join our readers-circle!