I know that as a writer I’m supposed to be enamored with Twitter but the truth is I can’t spend a significant amount of time there without feeling terrible about myself. My feed is full of other authors, more well-know and more successful authors, and every day someone else is landing an agent or having an amazing sales day or launching a new book or sharing the amazing review they just got. Twitter is becoming less of a means of communication and more of a personal billboard and all it does is force me to indulge in that dreaded soul-sucking past-time called comparison. So I step away and I block it out. And while it’s the only way I can get any writing done I’m also not building any relationships and I’m not interacting with the people who matter most–readers. So how can we find the balance between engaging on social media and maintaining the right head space for writing, all while not becoming overwhelmed in the process? I’m not sure I know the answer to that question but I am learning more ways to cope with the stress that envy and disappointment bring and how to celebrate others’ success without discounting my own.
Step One: Know Your Limits.
When I’m in the middle of writing a first draft being raw both emotionally and creatively is a necessity. For two months I’m as open as a sore and sometimes getting the words out is just as painful which means that this is not the time to put myself in any kind of situation that could possibly lead to some kind of mental breakdown. Which means no checking my blog stats or monitoring my sales or constantly refreshing my twitter feed and dwelling on all of the people who have lives way cooler than mine. Comparison is the thief of creativity as well as the thief of joy and when your psyche is as delicate as an egg shell engaging in things that don’t fill you up or make you feel good about yourself just aren’t worth the risk.
Instead, learn to celebrate your own small victories, congratulating and encouraging yourself one word at a time. But not just for the words themselves but for the very act of creating, for being brave enough to make something no one ever has before. Even if you have to sit at your desk with your eyes closed, focusing only on the feeling of the keys beneath your fingers. Focus. Focus on you and no one else. Because there is a time and a use for social media but there is also a time for you. There is a time to step away from it all and in order to become successful finishers we must learn the difference. For our health, for our creativity, and for our sanity.
Step Two: Skip The Tough Love.
This step is all about respect. When it comes to writing I’m incredibly hard on myself, punishing myself with negative thoughts and comparisons and bad habits whenever I don’t reach my word count or didn’t accomplish as much as I’d planned. I used to categorize it as tough love but the truth is it’s just toxic. Because forcing myself to salivate over the success of others doesn’t motivate me. It terrifies me. And not just because it fills me with so much doubt and this crippling longing that I’m afraid will never go away, but because it’s so easy to get lost in it. It’s so easy to get on twitter or facebook or wordpress or kindle boards or amazon and spend an eternity over-analyzing every move and every piece of data and every author and trying to figure out where you’re going wrong.
It’s so easy to make yourself feel like a failure that sooner or later you start to become one. Because sooner or later you start to entertain the idea of giving up and if you keep indulging in these self-destructive comparisons, sooner or later you will. Failures aren’t the people who tried and lost it all. Failures are the people who never tried at all. And if you’re spending too much time on social media, letting yourself spiral into deep disappointment and self-loathing, and your excusing it as some kind of twisted form of motivation you’re not hurting anyone but yourself and you’re only prolonging the success that could be yours if you just had the self-discipline to get off the internet and get back to writing.
Step Three:Stay Away From The Things That Hurt You.
The concept is so simple it’s biological. I know we’ve all heard about or maybe even lived out the scenario of our mother telling us not to touch the stove top because the burner is on. Unfortunately though, throughout the history of mankind, the warning is usually never enough. So we touch it anyway and guess what? We get burned. We blister and it hurts like hell but it’s that pain that we carry with us long after the burn has healed as a reminder to stay away from things that might hurt us. It’s a survival mechanism, really, and we’re fairly good at it when it comes to physical adversaries. But for some reason we’re not so good at it when it comes to emotional ones.
As humans, and especially as creative ones, for some reason we like to dwell on things. We like to drown in our own sorrows and the urge to pick ourselves apart is like this awful twenty-first century tick that sends us out in a frenzy to buy every new product or endorse every new program that might somehow make us better. But if we really cared about bettering ourselves we would treat our time and our thoughts and our bodies like they’re sacred. Because they are. And we need to fill them with things that build us up rather than tear us down and we have to learn the kind of self-discipline and self-respect that allows us to say no. To close that article or that email. To put that magazine away or to stop listening to that judgmental family member who makes us feel worthless. To get out of that toxic relationship with men and with women and with food.
To protect ourselves like we’re worth protecting.
This need to constantly judge and degrade ourselves goes way beyond abusing social media and so do the traumas. But if we can start there, if we can learn to set boundaries with the small things first, then maybe we can use them as leverage when it’s time to build bigger ones.