Monday, September 12, 2011

Striking a Balance

Along with my recent leap back into actively writing fiction, I've also been exploring the social media world as it relates to writers and writing. I've been on Facebook for quite a while now and also had a Twitter account which I mostly used to keep track of news relating to my beloved Columbus Blue Jackets. I even had a blog briefly a couple of years ago where I rambled about whatever came into my mind; I don't think anyone visited it except for maybe some Russian spamming sites. Recently, I've been following, liking, and blogging about writing like a man possessed.

Not long ago, Twitter told me that I had hit a limit for the number of accounts I could follow. I'd already been giving some thought to how much time I was spending talking about writing as opposed to actually doing writing. This was another reminder that I needed to make sure I was maintaining an appropriate balance.

But how do I know where that balance is? What would be some signs that I'd missed the mark? Here are three that come to mind:
1)      Spending hours per day on the computer but not really getting any writing done. “Writing” here can be interpreted very broadly – not just new composition but editing and even reading a critiquing partner's work and providing them feedback can all be included under that broad heading. All of that work is productive work that helps move my writing forward. But if I'm spending lots of time on the computer and virtually all of it is tweeting, commenting on other blogs, reading writers' forums, etc. then I'm not making significant progress on my stories, and I need to re-evaluate.
2)      Staying on the computer a lot longer than I planned to, just so I can follow my Twitter timeline a little while longer or “wrap up” a conversation. Even if I've reached my writing goals for the day, it's still important that I get a good night of sleep. Scrolling through tweets on my iPod Touch when I could be getting settled in for the night might not be the best pre-sleep routine, at least not on a nightly basis.
3)      Getting down if my tweets aren't being responded to, or a fellow writer I'd like to chat with isn't online, or a blog post goes commentless. Unlike the first two, this isn't one that feels like it's been an issue for me. However, going back previous experience with online communities, it's something I have a bit of prior experience with. This tip isn't only about being productive as a writer, but also about feeling good about yourself. Investing too much of your sense of happiness in whether you're getting replies on any individual day can be an unhealthy choice.

Connecting with other writers has been a huge boost to me. I've gotten encouragement when I felt frustrated, “woo-hoo”s when I had good news, and lots of interesting feedback on my blog posts. I've also found several people that I can exchange critique/beta reading with. The trick is to find the right balance. At the moment, I'm fairly happy with my own balance in this regard, but it's something I plan to also keep an eye on. If I find my writing output declining or my sleep time being cut into, that may be a sign that I need to re-evaluate.

What do you think? What would be a warning sign to you that you were out-of-balance?


  1. What helps me is to keep a Time diary.
    I don't differentiate my time diary with Goal diary. You write down what you "will do" and you do it at that time.
    It is a neat little invention. because my schedule isn't so laid out and perfect. I'd like to run on a weekly sched, but the job thinks otherwise.
    So when I get off track, I reconvene the congressmen Me, Myself and I, we evaluate what should be done, what hasnt been done, what blockage is preventing us from doing A, B, or C, and then we setting with a series of actions that'll aid the life to be more productive.

    I see you tweeting a lot, if it interfers with your sleep... well, either take short naps in the afternoon (as the body tends to get more laid back in the Afternoon) or, pat yourself on the back in knowing that you're tweeting more then twitting less.

    Provoking blog entry.

  2. I think when we spend more time worrying about our blogs, Twitter, or facebook, than the actual writing, then it might be time to step back from the edge. A lot easier said than done, I know...

    I'm also part of Rachael's campaign, and while I agree it's a great place to meet other writers and connect, I'm also a little bit wary about spending too much time on it (I'm easily distracted enough as it is!). I seem to have come across a lots of people who seem to have read every blog going and commented on all the first challenge pieces - to be honest, I don't know how they've found the time! But then, perhaps they're just more organised and/or disciplined with their time than me.

  3. For me, I started paying close attention to how many hours a week were devoted to the blog (which includes all the time on Twitter and commenting on other blogs) versus how much I spent working on my own manuscript. As soon as the former outweighed the latter, I took a step back and readjusted my priorities.

    Admittedly, I should spend more time on twitter and the blogs for self-marketing purposes, but honestly, the manuscript has to come first. I can self-market to death, but if I don't have a manuscript to sell, what's the point?

    Good post here. :) It reminds us where our priorities should lie!

  4. Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Helen, I'm with you -- I have no idea how people have found time to read and comment on what would literally be a novel's worth of flash fictions. Holy cow...

    Kate makes a good point about the marketing aspects. It could be that there's a time in the "writing cycle" to spend more time composing and a time to spend more time blogging/tweeting/marketing. But if you're only popping around the blogs when you have something to sell then it can look like you're only blogging and tweeting because you want people to buy your stuff, and I know that's a turn-off for me and I suspect it is for many other people. This is where it helps to have a bit of magic that lets you have an extra four hours per day, right? ;-)

  5. I just started blogging this summer so I am still fresh to the blogosphere, still trying to find my balance. But I know I've gotten out of total wack when one of two things has happened. My chipmunk goes to bed without giving me a goodnight kiss (she gives the sweetest butterfly kisses on my cheek) or I notice I'm hearing the encore presentation of a late night infomercial.

  6. I go through phases with the social networks, sometimes I use Twitter a lot then I find that drops a bit when I use FB a bit more. I try to be consistent with my blog. It would be so easy to chat away the day every day, and I did laugh when I read your mention of an iPod Touch, I have one of those as well, it's so tempting to have "one more check."

    I think it's just a case of prioritising and trying to focus on the writing and allow yourself time to network once you have achieved your writing goals for each day.

  7. I saw a dude on twitter that follows 250,000 people. That doesn't seem like a limit to me. What gives?

    Oh and balance in all things. Easier said than done.

  8. @Angela, yeah infomercial encores are a REALLY good sign you're up late!

    @Michael, the limit is based (I'm paraphrasing here) on a proprietary algorithm which depends, at least in part, on the number of followers you have. As best as I can tell, you get capped at following 2000 accounts until you have a significant following of your own.

  9. Very interesting! I have just started writing fiction again myself as well as blogging and using Twitter. I don't interact with enough people yet for it to become a distraction but I can see how it could be. I do keep my ipod touch beside the bed and if it goes off I've got it in hand! I liked reading this.

  10. Thanks, Jase! I'm glad you found it useful. I noticed from your Twitter profile that we have very similar backgrounds in terms of our fiction writing. I had picked it up briefly a couple times over the past twenty years, but never as seriously as I have this year.

    Keep writing! :)

  11. I enjoyed your post. Already following you on Twitter, but I'm glad I've had a chance to read your blog too now. Personally, I find Twitter kind of like Facebook was when I first joined it...Addictive, until I remembered I had a real offline life too. Seriously, it's not always easy to find a balance. For me, the best way to stay on track with my writing is to stick to a schedule. I post on my blog 3 days a week and meet with my writers critique group every two weeks. If I slack off too much, I hear about it. The shame (I mean, accountability) works for me. :)

  12. I think you have a pretty good grasp on the balance. When I first started tweeting and blogging, it took up a lot of time. I was thinking more about what to tweet and less about what to write! So I pulled back a bit, and everything flows now. It's my own balance :)

  13. Chipper, I've found my Facebook time plummeting now that I'm spending lots of time on Twitter and blogs. And you're right, that accountability can work wonders; I've kept to a schedule on this blog as well, in part for that reason.

    JEFritz, glad to hear that you've found your own balance. I'm happy with where mine is for now, but want to keep an eye on it. I have been known to sometimes go for the "too much of a good thing" approach...

  14. What a wonderfully reflective post! Thanks for doing all that thinking for me, new writing friend!:) I think the important thing is, you are asking the questions. Once the questions get asked, the rest seems to always fall into place.

  15. Good post. I don't see blogging as work, at all, because I don't have anything to sell as such. I sell to the magazines. Although I do appreciate it when my blog readers visit a site where I'd been published.

    So I blog just for fun, friendship, support and don't count it as work.

    If you've set yourself a target of 500 words a day, Michael, I guess you should ask yourself how you would feel if you could crank out 1000 words a day by cutting down on your blogging/tweeting. Only you can answer that. Good luck on getting that balance. I know I'm not there yet.

  16. I'm definitely out of balance at the moment. The warning sign for me was when I realized I was spending significantly more time writing blog posts than know, fiction. So this week I've decided I'm not going to write ANY blog posts until Sunday. I'll try a schedule where I write my blog posts for the week on Sunday, then don't touch it again.

    Good luck finding your balance! Hopefully I'll find mine too.

  17. Brynne, glad you found the question useful!

    Deborah, good comments! Thanks!

    Annalise, that's an interesting idea about trying to have all of your posts for the week ready to go by Sunday. I've tried to keep a bit ahead, but I'm not that far along yet. Good luck with your own balancing act!

  18. Great post! Since I started blogging and thinking about the importance of social media when it comes to publishing my work, I feel that I've come unglued. I am trying hard to find that balance. Social media is seductive. There are so many wonderful writers out there, so many to connect with and so little time. It's a conundrum.

  19. Hi Michael,

    This is a great post, and a timely reminder of where our priorities should lie, as writers. However, I get so much from my blogging to which I'm still a newcomer. Twitter, which I found before blogging, and also do those last checks from the cell phone.

    You're right, though, the writing must always come first. Good luck with finding your balance. :)

  20. Michael,

    Honestly, we all think so alike! This is one of the reasons that I just started writing a blog-based story on mine -- I felt like I was spending so much time blogging (and enjoying every minute of it) that I wasn't applying enough of that time back to my actual writing. Having a larger story to work on in a blog format is more something to control myself than anything else. I would never discourage anyone from blogging to their heart's desire -- it's all writing! -- but instead to mix the two kinds of writing if they can't decide which to do!

    Fantastic post, Michael. A great sentiment!

  21. Hi Michael,
    Great Post! Striking a balance is a real struggle for most of us. It's good to know we aren't alone. Thanks.

    I also wanted to let you know that I've chosen you to receive The Versatile Bloggers Award!
    If you decide to participate please go to my blog for the details!

    Thanks for having a great blog!
    juliet :)

  22. Diana, I'm sorry to hear that you're feeling particularly stressed by it all! One thing that might help, depending on your personality, would be to have a chunk of time each day that was "social media time" and another chunk that was "writing time" where you didn't touch the blogs/Twitter/etc.

    Allie, thanks and good luck to you, too!

    Rance, thanks for your comments! And, yes, for me the blogging I'm doing is (mostly) indirectly contributing to my writing progress. Particularly the Dissecting the Short Story series, but being forced to organize my thoughts on the psychology-related topics has been very valuable to me as well.

    Juliet, thanks for the award! I actually JUST replied to the same award from another blogger yesterday. So, I hope you'll understand if I just refer back to that post for this award. I do very much appreciate the fact that you find my blog worth visiting and worth pointing out to other readers!

  23. Michael this is a great post!For me, the writing comes first. Post ideas for blog are done at least a week in advance. I stick to a timed schedule on twitter and FB and when time's up I am done for the day.

    You are going to laugh at this one...but I too have nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award, but I would more than understand if you want to pay it forward instead;)