I’m sitting at Starbucks, my brain fighting my typing fingers. My brain wants to stare out the window. It wants to get another coffee. Or maybe water. It wants to open another window on my computer. Pick up my phone and check Instagram. Post an advertisement. Think about my long list of things to do. It wants to do anything but focus.
In the past, I wondered how I got here. I know it started during the pandemic. But then I was finally able to isolate the problem: It began as soon as I used social media to market my book.
February 2018- spring 2020:
I barely used social media. My only source for a dopamine hit was in writing. I’d mull over ideas all day long, counting down the minutes when I could finally relieve my turgid mind and spill it all out on the page.
Summer 2020: I got serious about querying and marketing my story. I started a Twitter account. I began using Instagram. I decided to post more often on Facebook and opened an author account.
I created a website and began posting blogs.
I began querying agents.
I began using the internet like a crack addict. Twitter provided writer’s lifts and hundreds of followers. On Facebook, friends were excited about my endeavors.
Getting that “ding” of a new follower or like on a blog post sent dopamine spurting through my brain.
I had (and still have) two Facebook pages, an author Facebook page, Instagram account, Twitter, and my website. Keeping up with all the social platforms proved difficult. I purposefully organized my time and judiciously spent only thirty minutes at bedtime posting to pages and responding to comments.
Winter/Spring 2021: Twitter began to bleed. I began checking it throughout the day.
A friend introduced me to Marco Polo—a social platform in which you can leave video messages to a friend. I began using this for up to three hours a week to keep in contact with long-distance friends. It proved challenging since I didn’t have much time. I would listen to my messages and respond while on my jogs.
Jogging becomes more difficult. Sorting my thoughts becomes more difficult. And I know I switched the tense from past to present. That’s because it’s still a problem!
I heard about the advantages of TikTok, that it was an organic way to find followers and sales. While the former proved true, I’ve yet to see the latter.
TikTok took up an immense amount of my time but was REALLY fun.
In exchange for writing, I often posted a TikTok. Writing became harder. It was difficult to focus.
I now have about seven social platforms.
The epiphany happens.
I was on the treadmill when the realization hit me. Let me backtrack.
I was on the treadmill, feeling like I really wanted to stop. It had been happening every single time I jogged. This feeling had never happened before. Sure, there were bad days when I was low on energy, but the first ten minutes were never tough. Yet after three minutes of jogging, I wanted nothing more than to walk.
What was wrong with me? I looked at my phone, checking for Marco Polos. I checked Instagram. I checked Twitter. I checked— Oh my gosh.
I was focused on my phone. So focused on what I needed to do online, that I wasn’t focusing on what I needed to do on the treadmill. So I put my phone on airplane mode, switched on my music, and focused. And that’s when I remembered.
I remembered how much focus it takes to exercise. You know that old story of the frog slowly boiling himself to death? I was that frog, and for months, I’d been slowly boiling myself in social media and Marco Polo. Instead of focusing on sweating, breathing, moving, I was focusing on what I needed to do on my phone. And let me tell you, if you’re a person who sweats while you work out, then you will understand how much focus it takes.
My whole life I’ve been a focused person, but thanks to the constant interruptions from my children as well as social media, I’d been “cured” from tunnel vision.
It was why it was so hard to focus on writing. Social media was killing my creativity.
That day, I decided to make a change. I would go back to only checking social media at night. I would work on regaining my sense of focus.
I began on Monday. It was easy that day. My resolve was fresh. By Wednesday, though, I vividly remember picking up my phone, my finger hovering over the Instagram icon. It was amazing how I needed that dopamine hit between tasks. And it was then that I realized just how often I went on social media. It’s a strange thing. Just a tiny little hit. You are done with dishes, and you can’t remember what you’re supposed to do next. You pick up the phone, check messages, click on TikTok. See how many followers you’ve gotten in the past hour. Two new ones. Cool. You click out of it.
That was me. And the funny thing is that I had constantly been feeling overwhelmed by how much my brain had to contain, all the thoughts associated with being a mother to my three kids—what they needed for school, homework, lunch, clean-up. Then all the thoughts associated with being a teacher—lesson plans, emails, homework, timesheets. Then all the thoughts associated with being an author—new covers, editing, marketing, the vast hole of things to do.
And all the while, I cluttered it with even more thoughts. Social media thoughts. That transgender student who had just come out of the closet. The author who had just won an award. The witty TikToker who had just crested 300 gagillion followers. How could I get that many followers too? What should my next post be? Should I respond to the girl who was crying about someone discing adults who read YA?
That day on the treadmill was a wonderful shake-up. Time to wake up and focus on what’s in front of me, not the random girl having an existential crisis in Alabama. And while I care, it’s really impossible to care for all these different things. You can either choose to care about social media, or care about your community. At least I can’t do both.
It’s been a little over two weeks since my decision to step back from social media, and it took a week before I stopped manically checking my phone. It became easier to focus on editing my story. It became easier to jog. My brain collected less clutter. I found myself more focused. More organized. More importantly, more disciplined.
And how do you think I had time to write this post?
I skipped checking my social media accounts. 😉