Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Writer’s Conundrum: How Much Online Time is Too Much?

Recent studies tell us most Americans are spending too much time with their computers, smartphones, and other devices. At the beginning, writers tended to follow the advice of agents and editors who felt that platform was all important, and platform had to include a website, blog, and a strong social media presence.

That was the trap no one anticipated. Do the sites help authors and their publishers sell books? I’m guessing not too many. At least, not enough to warrant spending more than a few minutes a day updating, reading, and/or tweeting/retweeting.

Image via Pixabay

Facebook, more than Twitter, is also a hotbed of bandwagons, started by goodness knows who and jumped on by everyone who can’t resist being part of the latest groupthink, hivemind, lemmings-jumping-off-the-cliff fad. I don't believe that sells books either.

The part of my online activities that keeps me in touch with family and friends is not all bad. Believing that being online more than a few minutes a day is necessary for writers, however, is something we need to get over. For some writers, smartphones and their apps, including all social media, are stealing time from writing, editing, and submitting. We need to take hours back for alone time (no phone, no earbuds, no interruptions) to think and create.

There are a lot of resources with good information about technology overload. The first book I read on the subject was Jedediah Bila’s #DoNotDisturb: How I Ghosted My Cell Phone to Take Back My Life. It was interesting, though I’ve never been addicted to my flip phone and had no desire to get a smartphone and be trapped into total availability via texts. Watching other people glued to their screens, even while jaywalking across a street in front of my car, made me wonder whether the internet and smartphone were messing with people’s brains.

The answer might be yes.

Diane Sawyer’s recent ABC two-hour special called Screentime about technology and humans was very revealing. Go to abc.com to learn more.

I’m currently reading Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport (author of another book I recommend called Deep Work). Our brains on smartphones and social media are probably not as bad as our brains on drugs (fried), but the activity is still not healthy when taken to excess. Newport offers suggestions on how to figure out what’s truly important and how to jettison the parts that don’t offer a real return on our time investment. De-cluttering our lives doesn’t just refer to the stack of paper in our offices and our clothes closet.

Newport also suggests an alternative site for reading news and analysis that offers more than one  point of view and saves us wandering through multiple biased news sites trying to find the truth. Check it out at AllSides.com

There are two more non-fiction books on my reading list that I’ll get to soon. One is Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe by Roger McNamee. The other is Solitude: In Pursuit of a Singular Life in a Crowded World by Michael Harris.


How many times a day do you check your email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other sites? Is social media helpful for the things you care about most in your life? Do you sacrifice writing time in favor of online activities?


Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017), a finalist for the 2018 Colorado Book Awards. This novel is also now available in a large print edition.

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was recently interviewed for the Colorado Sun’s SunLit feature that you can find at the Colorado Sun website.

15 comments :

  1. I watched Cal Newport's Ted talk a few months ago (and I'm now reading his book Deep Work), and it came right at the point when I was getting frustrated with how much time I seemed to be wasting lost in the Facebook rabbit warren (I have interesting friends who post interesting links). After hearing Newport's theories, which confirmed my suspicions that my attention and concentration levels were being affected by constant distractions, I followed through with my idea to log out of Facebook for a week. After initial angst, it was a fantastic week, and I have continued to pull back significantly from social media, mainly just checking our office once a day and then getting out of there. I set aside some time every now and then to catch up on what my friends have been doing, and post some stuff of my own. Whereas before that Notification number used to bug me until I checked each and every one, now I blithely ignore that number for sometimes weeks at a time, if I'm busy. I'm starting to reclaim my focus :-)

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    1. Yes! That's exactly what we need to do. I think the much younger generation is having a harder time disconnecting, but they need to try harder for their own productivity and to destress.

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  2. I first came across book blogs after surgery reduced my attention span to one able to read about a book when reading it was out of the question. And blogs have brought to my attention writers whom I might well have missed.

    That said, I could never have managed this while working, and stared at my phone in puzzlement the first time a (much younger) friend sent a text. My flip phone is fine, and I don't do FB etc.

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    1. I also have a flip phone (for emergencies or travel) that I like to call my stupid phone...and everyone is on notice that I do not keep the phone on 24/7 so texting is a huge waste of time. I still do Facebook, but I don't stay on there very long these days.

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    2. Lol.

      I told my nephew that I didn't want a phone smarter than I.

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    3. Good point, Liz. Those contraptions can be very intimidating! LOL

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  3. Terrific article Pat. I'd been trying to pull back more and more from social media after reading the book by Harris, as well as some posts at Writer Unboxed about the time-suck of social media. It really can be, and it's true that being active on social media does not necessarily sell more books.

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    1. Thanks, Marianne. The way the tech companies have lured people into an unhealthy preoccupation reminds me of the early days of television when we finally realized what advertisers were doing to capture our attention and our dollars. Do you remember all that todo about subliminal messages on TV?

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  4. It is possible to balance the benefits of connectivity and tribe building on social media but it requires being able to set limits and know how to pare your feed and limit your interactions to benefit your writing and marketing efforts. I love to stream shows. It actually speeds up the process because you don't have to wade through advertisements. About 20 minutes of every hour are commercials. You gain back that 20 minutes by streaming ad free. Series are limited to 10 episodes now too. I spend an equal amount of time reading, which I can thankfully do ad free!

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    1. I'm working hard on that, Diana. I don't use a smartphone, so at least I don't have that addiction to overcome. However, I leave my browser on and too many windows open while I'm writing. I need to make myself shut down that browser altogether.

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  5. Timely article, Pat. I spend way too much time on Facebook, in particular, but it's because my friends post such interesting articles and news posts. I've been trying to cut my social media time and spend more of it writing. I cut Twitter because I don't like it, but oh, FB is my nemesis.

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    1. I do plan to stay on FB because of friends and family, but I'm setting new rules for myself on how to use it. I just finished reading McNamee's book "Zucked" and can't say I'm impressed with the book or with the Facebook business model. Still, it's the devil we have at the moment.

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  6. Excellent post, Pat. Social media and a smartphone intrude more in my life than they should, but I'm in declutter mode. Soon, they're going to be relegated to far less prominent positions on my daily to-do lists. Thank you for sharing this article; it came at just the right time for me (think spring housecleaning).

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    1. I'm decluttering too, Linda, slowly but surely. The idea of being a minimalist appeals to me a lot.

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  7. What an excellent post! I'm still trying to figure out how to take back my time from Social Media. I think there's no way other than just go cold turkey! Thanks!!

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