Monday, 25 July 2011

The Impact of the Internet and Social Media on Creativity

For the past month or so, I've been trying to amp up my presence online. As a marketing tool or a means of gaining information on the publishing industry, the Internet (and social media) has been invaluable. But at the same time, I've noticed a marked downward curve in my creative output.

It's tricky, this business of being a writer. Things are moving very fast. Or at least, they seem to be moving fast when you want to get your name out there. For this reason, I think most writers feel the pressure to utilise all avenues and forums which might bring one visibility or knowledge about visibility. And what greater forum is there than the World Wide Web (with its related media)?

I can't say that the Web's negative effects outweigh its benefits for everyone. That won't happen to individuals who are careful and deliberate about the way they spend their time online. But this simply isn't as easy to do as it sounds. Especially if being online is an acitivity that can turn addictive to certain personalities (such as mine).

I was enjoying my time online until pretty recently. Despite the sometimes tendency of online communities to have their moments of tension (blogged about here), I've had good conversations, learned a lot, and gained useful knowledge on online tools for both communication and marketing. This blog is one of the best things that has come out of my time online. Coming across gorgeous blogs such as those featured in my blogroll (and many others) was another great experience.

The problem was, despite the benefits to all these experiences, I became aware of the adverse change to my attention span (it became frighteningly short), I developed the tendency to experience mood swings when I was away from the Internet/Social Media, and the need to establish a strong, unique voice in the online world became absurdly important to me - regretfully, even at the expense of establishing a voice in the 'real' world.

And I shouldn't forget about the fear I developed that not interacting online would make people who'd just come to know me forget all about me. Or that personal & professional connections built might just collapse if I wasn't there to maintain them every odd hour.

Given the above, it's no surprise that this online/social media business began to feel a lot like an addiction to me; an unhealthy addiction.

It was an addiction that was making me spend less time with friends and family, while keeping me up at night when I should have been investing in sleep so that I could wake up fresh the next day to edit my manuscript.

Hmmm, just look at the way I coined that sentence. 'Investing' in sleep. As though sleep shouldn't simply come naturally every night - it should.

Oh, and - this was the one thing I foolishly didn't expect - I began to lose that wonderful inner resource that is the writer's mojo: my creativity.

The imagination is a mysterious and remarkable thing. It stimulates creativity and allows writers to paint the most astonishing and marvellous scenes down in words. But the process isn't a clear-cut one by any margin. For the creative imagination to work, one requires time and effort and well... mojo.

And - for me at least - I know my creative imagination works best when it's given time to breathe and think and just be.

Preferably with some slow music in the background, or even that heavenly nectar that prompts the imagination into life - silence.

You might think that interacting online doesn't equate to noise, but you'd be mistaken. My head has been buzzing with conversations started that have yet to be finished in forum/comment threads, blogs to visit that I forgot to visit and have since been popping up in my mind's eye like unnatural little memory bank reminders, stats on visitors to this blog/readers sampling my books that I simply have to check every odd hour, and sheesh a thousand and one little online items that are totally irrelevant to creativity if I just paused to think about it.

But you see, there is no pause if you're addicted to worlds online. There is just the noisy buzz of continuous communication and interaction trying to capture your attention and your words. Hmmmm, I feel exhausted just typing that, thinking about it...

It's amazing how this can happen to a previously productive and happy writer who could sit down in one place for nigh on 6-8 hours each day for seven days a week (while working full-time) and simply, quietly, WRITE.

Now, most of my writing seems invested in blog/forum comments (which is fine if I was quick with them, but I really take a long time to compose comments. Mostly because I take a ridiculous amount of time to ensure I don't accidentally offend anyone out there who might be reading my work).

This is a sad state of affairs, and one which disturbs me deeply.

Simply put, my online presence is something I've been maintaining pretty often when what I should actually have been maintaining this whole time is my writing output.

After much thought, I've come to the conclusion that - this blog (and professional material) aside - I should take time off the Internet/social media. Reading others' blog posts and commenting on 'em is fine as long as it's done with thought and care for my writing schedule. But otherwise, I would be an idiot to throw away the gift that is writing for the high that addiction to online tools and material/social media gives me.

Reading the post 'Food For Thought' on Shrinking Violet Promotions was btw one of the deciding factors to make me limit my time online. The post (and its fantastic links) answered why and how addiction to the Internet/Social Media works, and why it can harm a writer's creativity/productivity. The dangers of intermittent reinforcement, not to mention the results of an experiment by a writer which pointed to the lack of any strong, tangible benefits that social media in particular can bring to writers, were brought home with a vengeance.

The Food For Thought post I mention above really made me cringe at the thought of all those hours wasted not writing. Focus and commitment on completing content (the actual stories) simply has to take priority to any other activity online from now on. It's definitely time to reassess my priorities and restructure my daily schedule with the goal of becoming a happy and productive writer again.

To all writers out there, if you're still thinking twice about the benefits of limiting your time online, I can only repeat a pertinent question that Joe Konrath asked his blog readers the other day (and which all writers should in fact be asking themselves frequently if they want to get anywhere in this industry): Are You Writing?

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