Facebook is a writer’s worst enemy, right? It robs us of time, the most precious of commodities for creative souls.
I used to believe that. I joined Facebook later than many of my friends. Twitter? The idea of spending even a minute compiling 140 characters about dreck at first repelled me. I am a professional writer, after all. I yearn to spend hours writing thousands of words for my nonfiction book and/or working on freelance projects that come with guaranteed pay.
Now, I am a writer who adores Facebook and tolerates Twitter. Both help me build a diverse writing community – something I lost when I left full-time newspaper journalism in 2009 after more than 20 years in the field. Both Facebook and Twitter also sharpen my skills as an editor; “keep it short” is an online communication mantra. And my virtual writing connections motivate me to stretch myself as much as I can as a writer.
Ah, you scoff, but how can I possibly avoid what makes Facebook such a time suck? Could I not spend hours browsing YouTube videos, cake recipes, reports on T-ball games and graduations, photos of snow, ice and springtime, and miscellaneous minutiae? No, I rarely spend hours on end doing anything, given that I juggle working with spending time with my 5-year-old. I do catch some of my non-writing friends’ news and applaud moments big and small in their lives. I typically use Twitter and Facebook when it’s not my peak writing time and focus a chunk of my limited social media time on one private Facebook group called Writing Friends.
At roughly 90 members, the Writing Friends group includes best-selling and aspiring authors, MFA graduates, writing professors, literary journal editors, journalists, novelists and memoirists. The group started a little more than two years ago when a new writing acquaintance wanted to post writing-related matter in one spot on Facebook. I joined her group, and then copied her idea for my own set of writing friends, mostly journalists. I asked to blend our groups when some of our friends began to overlap. Now, largely because of this group, I embrace Facebook as a writer. Here are my top 10 reasons why.
- Facebook gives me a fan club with critiquing skills. Yes, Facebook friends hand me a lot of attaboys, but many also say why they like a piece I wrote. Many, in fact, read the story before they hit the like button.
- My virtual writing community provides personalized recommendations for conferences, retreats and articles. A friend’s link led me to sign up for The Sun magazine’s writing retreat in Rowe, Mass., in the summer of 2011.
- Several members know my work well enough to urge me to query specific publications. Submit your work to Tiferet journal’s annual contest, a writing friend urged. Why? This journal likes writing with a spiritual bent. I submitted, but that’s not the end of the story. Go to Reason No. 4.
- Possible mentors and expert readers can grow out of nearly every writing connection, virtual or in person. A writer who reads fiction for a literary journal offered to critique my Tiferet essay before I submitted it. The essay placed in Tiferet’s 2011 nonfiction writing contest.
- Commiseration. My writing friends know what it is like to huddle behind a desk at home or at a table in Starbucks and find endless reasons to sulk. Yikes, another agent rejected me. How many times must I submit this essay before someone publishes it? Should I just hit the delete button? Whine, whine, whine. The great thing about our group: We don’t let each other whine forever. Someone inevitably responds with a way to write anew or just a humorous take on writers’ woes. The other day, a writer posted a link to a riveting, humorous piece “The Rejection Queen” by writer Suzanne Roberts. The article, published in Connotation Press, prompted author Paula LaRocque to compliment the writing on our Writing Friends page. Paula, whom I knew when she was the writing coach at The Dallas Morning News, reminded Suzanne – and hence all of us – what we needed to remember when a rejection note arrives: “You are a writer.” Paula, a longtime author of books on writing, had her first mystery novel published in 2011.
- On Facebook, you can make lasting friendships, particularly if you follow up a virtual connection with a face-to-face meet. Many in my group live near Boston and met through the Solstice MFA program at Pine Manor College in suburban Boston. A Solstice groupie of sorts, I sometimes audit classes in the program. Our group posted a note about an upcoming reading of Solstice graduates. I went and for the first time met several of my Facebook writing friends. When/if we get our dream books published, we may be able to count on at least a small audience at a reading.
- We give each other inspiration – not spurts of jealousy, I believe – when we post links to our own work. Our members vary widely in terms of genre and style. If it were not for this group, I never would have read Valerie Nieman’s novel Blood Clay or Jessica Keener’s novel Night Swim. Nor would I have known to read essays or pithy blog posts by Ned Stuckey-French, a professor and essayist. Rather than covet these talented writers’ success, I soak in the lessons they teach by example.
- In the newsrooms where I worked, reporters and editors chatted about writing and editing in the cafeteria, by the water coolers or from the neighboring desk. At the Dallas paper, Paula co-led a book club focused on writing. I found the water cooler again in a little corner of Facebook. In one of our many discussions, several of us exchanged thoughts on submitting to literary journals. In another online exchange, I rejoiced and lamented that I just found a new national venue for some of my blog posts. A veteran journalist, I cannot help but chafe at the idea of not being paid for a piece of writing. Fellow writers provided an ear, not a solution. That was OK. Sometimes, all a writer seeks from another is an audience.
- I have a self-serving reason for loving Facebook, too. It provides a built-in pool of sources for an annual workshop I teach at Grub Street in Boston about the dos and don’ts of networking at a big writing conference. My Facebook friends include editors, authors and agents. Jessica’s tip from a few years ago remains a mainstay of my presentation, and it could apply to how writers should approach Facebook as a networking tool. “Listen to what your gut is saying to you. Too nervous to speak up? Maybe you need to be the listener for now. Try not to push too hard. Let things unfold,” Jessica advises. I do not immediately push new Facebook writing friends to act as mentors or readers. Relationships online, like those in person, have to develop naturally.
- Maybe this is more a reason for my love of my private Facebook writing group than Facebook, but these friends understand when I do not post anything for days, even weeks. Why? I’m writing.
Our group, if we tried, could triple, even quadruple in size. We haven’t discussed what we want. My hope, though, is that we do not grow too large. Otherwise, we risk losing the semblance of intimacy we have created online. Right now, many of us are sufficiently at ease to vent about our struggles or trumpet about our victories. Most of us have never met in person. We are still getting to know each other as people and as writers.
I want to see the group survive because of what it accomplishes for us. Judith Borden Ovadia, a cantor from Clearwater, Fla., recently joined us at my invitation. She and I met a few years ago when both of us starting writing blog posts for a Jewish website in Boston. Both of us are writing memoirs. Shortly after joining the writing friends group, Judith posted about her delight in the group.
“May I just say how helpful this group has been inspiring me to get to work?” Judith wrote. “The fact that it exists on Facebook is significant since Facebook is the number one impediment to my progress.”
She could have been speaking for all of us. Some days, I do feel like picking petals off a daisy and chanting, “Love me, love me not,” in reference to this mammoth of a social network that threatens to take over our very existence. Some days, I have to force myself to not even log on for a second if I want to maintain continuity in a piece I’m writing. Other days, the best thing for me is to sign in, check on my non-writing friends’ lives for a moment and then bask in the virtual literary world that has become a second home.
Linda K. Wertheimer has been an education editor and staff writer at The Boston Globe, and has won several awards for her journalism and personal essays. She has taught journalism at Boston University and teaches at Grub Street in Boston.
Tips for making Facebook and Twitter work for you as a writer
- Use social media during non-peak writing times. For me, that’s after my 5-year-old goes to bed, when my brain often is too tired to create thousands of words. I can, though, eke out 140 characters.
- Let yourself enjoy a little bit of the social aspects of Facebook with non-writing friends and then carve out a writers-only space on the social network.
- Learn the basics of Twitter and then follow writers, agents, editors you admire. For a blog post on the basics of Twitter, check out this gem by writer Nina Badzin: ninabadzin.com/twitter-tips.
- Don’t use Twitter exclusively to promote yourself. Help others by tweeting quality links about writing or simply quality pieces of writing.
- Find hash tags for writing conferences you attend before the event starts. Follow the conference on Twitter and connect to participants and presenters. Many conferences now have tweet-ups (meet-ups) so new Twitter friends can meet.
- Search for #agents or #writers and you may find announcements about upcoming Twitter chats about writing and publishing issues and trends. I’ve attended a few on queries and book proposals.
- Don’t waste your time and others’ time by thanking people for following you on Twitter.
- Set goals for how you want to use social media. Networking? Professional development? Promotion?
- If you join a Facebook writing group, keep the quality high by “liking” only things you’ve really read – and admire. Be a listener and a contributor.
- If you become too addicted to social media, try this: Schedule your “social media” time each week and stick to it. Otherwise, don’t log in.