Social Media: The New Common Sitting Room

In 1928, Virginia Woolf wrote in her extended essay “A Room of One’s Own” of the conditions common to nineteenth-century novelists:

“If a woman wrote, she would have to write in the common sitting-room. And, as Miss Nightingale was so vehemently to complain,—’women never have an half hour . . . that they can call their own’— she was always interrupted. Still it would be easier to write prose and fiction there than to write poetry or a play. Less concentration is required. Jane Austen wrote like that to the end of her days. ‘How she was able to effect all this’, her nephew writes in his Memoir, ‘is surprising, for she had no separate study to repair to, and most of the work must have been done in the general sitting-room, subject to all kinds of casual interruptions.”

Jane Austen's Writing Table
Jane Austen’s Writing Table (Jane Austen’s House Museum, Chawton)

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to visit the last house in which Jane Austen wrote. Her writing table (which is featured on the DIY Summer Writing Retreat graphic) was in the middle of a dining parlor, and although Jane did have more time and space and family support to write than we might presume, it is easy to imagine how easily and often she was interrupted whenever anyone visited or simply moved through the house.

Writers still search for that half hour to call our own and for the private space—both physical and psychological—where we can both work on and leave our works in progress.

However, we face an additional source of “casual interruptions” unknown to Ms. Austen and Ms. Woolf, one over which we have complete control: online connectivity and social media. In this new virtual common sitting room, as soon as we step foot inside, there is a nearly endless supply of people to keep us company.

When I can remember to think of social media as a social space, similar to a physical gathering or sitting room, I can more easily compartmentalize and save it for non-writing blocks of time, allowing me to focus more effectively on the work of writing. When I mistakenly think I can keep one eye on tweets and status updates and other people’s photos—as enjoyable and interesting as they are—and write effectively, I nearly always feel disappointed in myself.

This summer, I’m experimenting with the best way to stay on social media while also upping my writing game. The past two summers I deactivated Facebook and, for 30 days last summer, Twitter (Twitter can be deactivated for only a month until it is permanently deleted)—something I highly recommend once in a while—but right now, for a variety of reasons, I don’t want to disengage for more than a few days at a time.

After giving it some thought, I plan tomorrow to set aside schedule social media time twice during the day, probably morning and late afternoon, about 10 minutes each, during which time I’m deliberately focusing on online socializing rather than stepping in and out of the virtual sitting room continually throughout the day. Will that be enough? Will I be able to stick to my plan? I’ll let you know.

Do you have any tips for balancing online social networks and writing? Does social media ever feel like a virtual sitting room?


DIY Summer Writing Retreat graphicThis post is part of the DIY Summer Writing Retreat blog series, with daily posts Monday through Friday. Subscribe to receive full-length new posts in your inbox or catch them on my Facebook page.

Declawing Social Media

I just returned from a delightful trip to my childhood home in South Dakota. The days were filled with sunshine and family…

farm sculpture…

animals…

and more than a little history:

While at the farm, I forced myself to disconnect as much as possible, even though my dad’s house has WiFi and I did bring my phone, iPad, and laptop. I resisted the urge to post photos or updates, to scroll and like and comment, to check for the latest political news (admittedly I was less successful at that).

Now that I’m back in Milwaukee, it’s hard to get back into the swing of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. Is that good or bad?

The answer is yes.

Beginning tomorrow, this blog series will focus for a few days on ways to declaw social media, especially in a life of writing. I’d love to hear your ideas, successes, and challenges along the way.


DIY Summer Writing Retreat graphicThis post is part of the DIY Summer Writing Retreat blog series, with daily posts Monday through Friday. Subscribe to receive full-length new posts in your inbox or catch them on my Facebook page.

Pause

Tomorrow I’m leaving for a few days of visiting family. I’d originally planned to continue blogging by scheduling posts while I’m gone but decided at the last minute to take a full hiatus until Monday. The blog series will resume June 19. Until then… 🙂

 

Manoush Zomorodi’s “Note to Self” and “Bored and Brilliant”

Photo credit: Ted Conference via CC BY-NC 2.0

My job as a back-of-the-book indexer has as a perk the chance to read books I otherwise may have never stumbled upon—and before they are published. One recent title that caught my attention is Manoush Zomorodi’s Bored and Brilliant (forthcoming by St. Martin’s Press). Zomorodi’s podcast, Note to Self, covers issues of technology from a human perspective, and Bored and Brilliant is based on a series of challenges she issued to her listeners in 2015.

While not specifically about writing, both Note to Self and Bored and Brilliant offer information and inspiration for anyone doing creative work, especially if you are seeking ideas for how to manage our 21st-century digital life. The video below offers an introduction to Zomorodi’s “Bored and Brilliant” challenge as well as her “Infomagical” series designed to help with information overload. I’d love to hear what you think and if any of the suggestions or challenges are useful in your writing life. (Watch for a TED Talk by Zomorodi coming soon, as well.)

Enjoy!


DIY Summer Writing Retreat graphicThis post is part of the DIY Summer Writing Retreat blog series, with daily posts Monday through Friday. Subscribe to receive full-length new posts in your inbox or catch them on my Facebook page.

On Overstimulation (and writing longhand)

“The worst thing for me is overstimulation. Checking e-mail manically can do it. Getting on the phone really can do it. I have learned that I must protect myself from that overstimulation and get to the page…” ~ Dani Shapiro

The words above are by author Dani Shapiro from “How I Write” in The Writer (Feb. 2011). Some distractions are just that: momentary detours from our main focus. But others are sources of overstimulation. They not only lead the mind astray, they also rev it up in unproductive ways.

My guess is that what is overstimulating for one person (a phone call, for example) may be just what is needed for someone else to get motivated, so it is useful to pay attention to our energy highs and lows throughout the day, to see what precedes them, what is overstimulating.

Writing that has “no business looking neat”

Here’s another quotation from the same piece:

“In recent years, I have started writing longhand when I’m embarking on something. There’s something about writing longhand in spiral-bound notebooks where you have to allow it to be messy. You have to cross something out as opposed to cut and paste it. There’s something about writing on the computer that can make something look neat when it has no business looking neat. I like the process of writing longhand. There’s a freedom to it…”

You can learn more about Dani Shapiro at her website (loaded with essays and interviews) and on her blog, Moments of Being.

Questions for Reflection

  • What is your experience with being under- or overstimulated in terms of writing and creativity?
  • Do you find the experience of writing longhand to be different from writing on a computer?
  • Do you ever suffer from wanting writing to be or look neat when it has no business being so?

DIY Summer Writing Retreat graphicThis post is part of the DIY Summer Writing Retreat blog series, with daily posts Monday through Friday. Subscribe to receive full-length new posts in your inbox or catch them on my Facebook page.