In my years as a teacher and now as my time at home as a writer and blogger, I have come to view the Internet like many others: it is both a blessing and a curse. While the world wide web has opened doors to a universe once seemingly unfathomable, it can also serve as the blade that severs us from the life experiences we need and crave. Each week here on Story Dam, I would like to give you my perspective on a tool the Internet offers us as writers. I will describe what I think are the pros and cons of using this tool and how it might fit into your writing life. My opinions are my own and come from my own experience(s) with these tools. I’d love to hear your stories as well so we can all form a clearer of view of how to best use our time in our efforts to become better writers.
Facebook started as a way for college friends to check in with each other, share pictures, social status and just take the entire “friendship” experience virtual. Slowly it grew to include more and more networks, not just colleges, but businesses, schools of all levels and, ultimately, became a site anyone could join just to connect with their friends, regardless of network affiliation. It is now everywhere – on blogs, news articles, discussed on TV, and all your favorite stores have their own Facebook page. There are countless reasons for people to join Facebook, the question we have to ask is, “Does Facebook fit into my writing life?”
Facebook, The Writer’s Friend
Let’s start with the Pros for Facebook in a writer’s life.
- If you don’t have (or want) a blog, you can post your writing in a Note. While we can answer the “What’s on your mind?” question asked on our status bar on Facebook, giving everyone a brief snippet of our daily thoughts, snacks or to-dos in their News Feeds, those status updates are limited on space. Writers need a larger word count to appropriately express themselves. If you are not ready to jump into blogging, or don’t feel like adding a new virtual “to-do” to your list, then Facebook could provide a different avenue for you to share your writing. Using a feature on your Facebook page called “Notes” you can write a “Note” like a blogger writes a blog post. A Facebook “Note” has all of the basic formatting features of a word processing program, allows for a title and “saves” the writing on Facebook in a section devoted to your “Notes.” As an added benefit, it has all of the fun features we’ve come to love from Facebook: Like, Comment, and Share; to ensure your audience can interact with your writing in all of the ways they have learned to via Social Media.
- Facebook gives you direct access to your embedded fan base. Let’s face it, your friends and your family love you (well, most of them). When the chips are down these are the people in your corner, rooting for you and praying that you are successful in all of your endeavors. If you have a Facebook page, you can let them all in on your writing adventure. Let them be invested in the process from the beginning. Ask them for constructive criticism (concrit), to be beta readers or just to act as moral support.
- Facebook is the gateway to many readers. If you have a blog, or are writing on some other virtual platform, let Facebook be your gateway to it. Many more people are on Facebook and understand how to interact with it better than nearly any other Social Media tool out there. Share links to your latest and greatest with a small description of what it is, for the uninitiated, and you will see your readership grow.
- Use your News Feed as a creative jolt. I don’t know about you, but I have an extremely diverse group of Facebook friends. My News Feed (where I see everything everyone is sharing) varies from the emotional, heart-wrenching posts about love and loss to the completely inane and hilarious pictures and videos from students in college, to, of course, the politically-charged rants of someone who is convinced they are 100% right. Just like all that absorbing a good writer does in the real world when observing emotions, reactions and movements of the people around them, don’t forget these virtual gems. Just imagine how your character would react to reading a certain status, seeing a particular picture or being in a certain situation discussed in your News Feed and you’ll learn even more about who your story is about. In this same vein, I heard about an author who created Facebook pages for a couple of her characters in her self-published books. I thought this was a brilliant idea in helping to bring characters to life and in engaging fans. So, if you are at that point and you’re ready to do a bunch of extra back-end work (you’ll have to be creating your character’s Facebook presence, unless you have a lovely staff of volunteers who wish to help you with that!) I’d love to hear about how it turns out!
- Facebook Fan Pages can help you separate your “writer’s life” from your real one. Sometimes people aren’t ready for their worlds to collide. Maybe you are writing a memoir and the last people on the planet you want constructive criticism from are your friends and family. On the other hand, maybe you don’t want to burden your friends and family with the responses from your other readers in cyber space, (or you don’t want your coworker Facebook friends to see how desperately you are working on your writing to ditch your day job). If any of these are the case, Facebook may still offer a great option in the form of a Fan Page, which does not have to be shared with your friends and family. You can link it up to a blog, or, if you like the “Notes” idea from above, you can use “Docs” on the Fan pages that work in pretty much the same way.
Facebook, The Ugly Side
OK, I’m being a bit harsh here. It’s not Facebook’s fault, it is how we use it. Here are a couple of the Cons for using this platform, if you think you can avoid them, then perhaps you have nothing to worry about!
|Image Credit: evilfacebookdanger.com|
- Those Facebook friends and family that love you may not have the foggiest idea of how to offer you constructive criticism. There are two basic things one must do to become a better writer as far as I am concerned. First, you have to write consistently, and secondly you must learn from your mistakes. If you are only sharing your writing with your Facebook community, then it may become increasingly difficult for you to do the latter, depending on who your friends and family are. Can they offer you objective opinions about your writing that is equally useful and not abusive to you or your self-esteem? Even if they can, are you able to hear such criticisms from these people? These are questions that have varying answers depending on who you ask. It may end up that your Facebook community can serve only as moral support. This is a very important role, but then you should still try to find a place to better yourself.
- Your writing may get “lost” in enormous News Feeds. If your friends tend to have a lot of Facebook friends they may not even see all that you are sharing on Facebook. Depending on what time of day they check their Facebook, your masterpiece may have gotten buried under everything else their friends shared since. While this can be guarded against with the tagging feature (putting a friend’s name in the description), which will alert a Facebook user to “check something out,” I recommend that you only use this for those who request that level of involvement, or whose advice you are specifically seeking.
- Facebook, just like the rest of the beautiful virtual world, can become incredibly DISTRACTING! A writer truly needs to do only one thing: write, so, honestly, any time we spend on the Internet doing anything but writing could be seen as contrary to that goal. However,I do believe you can guard against a huge portion of Facebook distraction by doing two very important things:
- Facebook chat: SHUT IT OFF. Change your status to “Offline,” otherwise every single time you log in to Facebook your computer will chirp and you will find yourself in a chat with God knows who from who knows what part of your life, and, before you know it, the two hours you magically set aside for your writing has been whisked away. (Quick tip for shutting off the chat: Find your name on the bottom right hand corner of the Facebook screen and click it. Next to your name you should see a figure that looks like a wheel or a gear: click it. It will show a menu which has “Go offline” as the bottom option.)
- Set a Timer: I’m not kidding. The little clock in the corner of your computer screen is not going to jump out at you after an appropriate amount of time has passed. Entering into Facebook is oftentimes as bad as entering a Casino right after payday: there’s no way to tell time is elapsing and when you finally notice, you realize you’ve gained nothing from all the time invested. If you want to spend 15 minutes on Facebook, set a timer, then after the 15 minutes LOG OFF and get back to your writing.
So, there you have it. Facebook can be a great tool for a writer, especially if you don’t want to get too bogged down in lots of different types of social media. You can connect with your friends and family, create a fan base and post your writing there for constructive criticism. It seems like the perfect solution if your friends are up to the task, if your work can stand out in your friends’ News Feeds and if you can ensure you won’t spend too much writing time diving into the nitty-gritty of everyone else’s status updates, vacation photos and funny videos of the day!
What have been your experiences with Facebook as a writer?
Has it helped or hindered you on your journey toward becoming a better writer?
Do you think your friends and family are up to the task of concrit?
Would you be able to “hear” it from them?