So it’s Sort of Social, Demented and Sad, But Social

by J.T. Ellison

Earlier in the week, I was seriously considering committing Facebook suicide. Can you believe that there’s such a morbid term applied to the decision to stop playing for hours on a social networking site?

I don’t know about you, but Facebook was losing it’s charm for me. MySpace never held any charm for me, it was a necessary evil that I sucked up to early on. I always feel vaguely dirty after having a series of communications there. But Facebook, the more "adult" version, is downright silly. It’s fun. Yes, I’ve found some old friends. Yes, I’ve added a 1,000 applications that have absolutely no bearing on my day-to-day work life. Yes, I’ve been guilty of throwing sheep, taking shots, drunk-dialing, and more various and sundry diversions from SuperPoke.

Sheep_2But is it furthering my goals to be the best writer that I can be? Is it helping me get my work done? Is it doing anything for me at all outside of wasting my time, and being able to openly spy on other people wasting their time, in turn wasting even MORE of my time? I’m exhausted even thinking about that, and I’ve only got a fraction of "friends" that some of my other "friends" have. I can’t imagine how they keep up with this social platform and still complete their work.

I read a great article a few weeks back about the Facebook suicide phenomenon. Granted, this woman’s experience is completely opposite of mine. I’ve only have fun on Facebook, and for the most part, on MySpace as well. Yes, I’ve had old beaus contact me. Thankfully, my husband is an exceptionally confident man and when I tell him (and I always tell him) he doesn’t have a freak out. And none of them are proposing that we get back together or asking me to meet them in dark alleyways, it’s all been nice and aboveboard — see you’ve written a book, good for you, I’m married/divorced/partnered now (yes, the last one gave me a moment of pause…Really? I always thought there was something — sorry, I’m getting off track.)

Crimespace I abandoned early on because I could see that it was going
to be a huge time suck — there’s just too much good information there,
but the spam was starting to get to me. Daniel Hatadi does a brilliant job of running that particular show, and I do stop in on
occasion to read what’s happening. I thought for a while there that the
blogs were going to bite the dust and Crimespace’s virtual bar was
going to supersede all of this, but that didn’t shake out the way I
expected — as is wont to happen, a few people were exceptionally strong-voiced and that took the communal joy out of it for me.

I can’t seem to abandon DorothyL; it’s fascination lies in the incessant flame wars that spring up. There’s always one or two people who have opinions about everything under the sun and feel it necessary to share said opinions. After five years there, I recognize the signs early. It’s pretty much guaranteed who is going to jump into a conversation, bite people’s heads off, get sent to review… sometimes it’s just fun to step back and watch the bloodbath. Mostly I learn, and glean, and take away fabulously important information that I use on a daily basis in my writing and my promotion, but sometimes it’s fun to watch the sharks circle the bloody bait. I mean come on already, are prologues so important/not important that it’s worth sacking London over? Apparently so. Jeez, I’m becoming a virtual sadist.

But here’s the point.

Every moment I spend in this online world is a moment that I’m not working on my material. I’m not writing when I’m glancing over friend requests on MySpace to make sure I don’t add some creep. I can’t seem to give up my blogs, but the ones I read religiously have declined in number. I bailed on my online lists months ago — outside of DorothyL, they were becoming much too time-consuming.

It’s all procrastination, really, in the guise of social networking to give it a purpose. We MUST market ourselves, stay on top of the industry, read every ounce of information each and every person has posited about life, liberty, and the pursuit of a 2,000 a day word count. And let’s be honest with ourselves. How many bestselling authors do you see trolling the lists? Not too terribly many. They’re busy writing their incredible books, are WORKING, not playing. They’ve learned the discipline of the Internet, have harnessed the creative juices to the page, rather than finding creative ways to interact or argue with their friends. This is the goal I’m shooting for.

Don’t get me wrong, I do like the communication. I’m starting to understand that I thrive on it. The Internet is our office. Instead of walking down the hall and sticking our head into someone’s cube, we throw sheep. Instead of having lunch or hitting the gym or having a drink after work, we point and click our way into each other’s worlds. It’s no longer a phenomenon, it is our lives. And I’m afraid it’s here to stay.

But I feel that tick, tick, ticking in the back of my head. I’m getting ready to start writing a new book. When I crawl under that rock, I don’t want the lure of outside temptations, the siren call of procrastination, to be there. I want to focus all my time and energy into the new manuscript. The story is a doozy, it’s going to take independent research as well as field research, including an overseas trip. I won’t have time to throw sheep, or watch my hatching egg grow into a kitten (whoever sent me that, it was adorable!), or compare movie tastes or take likeness quizzes, nor will I have time to read the results of everyone else’s activities.

Couple that with the disconcerting new situation that was bound to happen, the ultimate big brother-esque programming that shares buying habits and demographics with our "friends", and it becomes a slippery slope of privacy invasion. Where do we draw the line?

I don’t know why I’m struggling with this question. After writing this, the answer seems blatantly obvious. Yet I continue to ask, should I commit Facebook suicide? Would the "out of sight, out of mind" adage ring true for me? I certainly don’t want to give up my virtual friendships, I value the opportunity to communicate with each and every one of you. But I don’t seem to have the balance that I want. Writing, reading, Murderati, and promotion. Those are my priorities now. The priorities I should have.

Sheep_3Don’t stop poking me just yet. I’ll admit, every time I see those sheep, I laugh. I had a friend in college who used to read us a book, late at night, under the influence of adult beverages, called "Sheep on a Ship." If you can imagine the inserted lisp… Scheeep on a Schiip… "Scheep sail a schip… on a deeeep sea trip…" and the sheep are pirates… Dear God, I’m in tears thinking about it. So the sheep have a place in my heart.

I’m dying to hear your opinions. Is social networking out of control? Do things like Second Life truly have any bearing on our lives as writers? Are we destined to slog online in an online world, or can we go all hippie, throw out the Internet like giving up a television, trade gigabytes and fast-access DSL for Tess of the d’Urbervilles? And don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about the new delivery methods for getting books into the hands of readers, I’m simply wondering about our personal mindset.

Wine of the Week — 2003 Truchard Cabernet Sauvignon   A delightful Napa Cab, and no migraine…

P.S. Hubby wants to send me to Facebook rehab, I say, No, No, No!

32 thoughts on “So it’s Sort of Social, Demented and Sad, But Social

  1. billie

    JT, I haven’t even been to MySpace or Facebook but I know the draw of forums and blogs and emailing. If I start spending more of my computer time on reading those than writing, I put myself on hiatus and reset the calibrations.

    Right now I read maybe 6 blogs on a daily basis, and check in at a writing forum and a horse forum. I post to my blog maybe 2x/week and to my co-op blog once a week. That’s plenty for me.

    Beyond that it becomes the time-suck you describe, like channel-surfing TV.

    I tend to do the online reading first and then write. When I get to a stopping place writing I head to the barn. There’s a nice balance in this mix, the best I’ve had thus far in my writing life, but it’s taken since 1999 to get to this point.

    I know writing for deadlines would add an element of pressure I don’t have right now, but I figure if I keep things balanced I’ll be better able to ride that wave when it comes.

  2. J.D. Rhoades

    Is Sheep On a Ship the sequel to the classic Sheep in a Jeep? (“Jeep in a heap. Sheep weep.”) I had a hard time reading that to my kids when they were little becuase I kept breaking down laughing. Of course, then they would too, so it was all good.

    DorothyL–sigh. I’ve signed up at least a dozen times and then, after a few weeks, unsubscribed, shaking my head in amazement. I think the last time was during one of the Prologue Wars. That was just bizarre. Then there are the endless discussions over violence and bad language in crime fiction (both of which seem to be anathema to the folks at DorothyL). Whenever I’m there, I always feel like I’m at tea at someone else’s grandma’s house.

    I know what you mean about the time-suck. For me, though, it’s a way to mitigate the effects of living out in the sticks and to keep contact with the friends I’ve made in the community, as well as keeping up with the business and the issues therein.

    Or so I tell myself.

    Come back to the Vampire Army, JT. We miss you.

  3. Bryon Quertermous

    I think it’s important to use social networking sites as fun first and foremost. That way when you do have something to promote it seems less tacky and shameful. I’m more likely to appreciate a notice of BSP from someone I’ve shared sheep with than with a random stranger.

    But yeah, there needs to be balance. Or so I’ve heard.

  4. Alexandra Sokoloff

    JT, you are so busted. You just sent me a Facebook invitation LAST NIGHT. So much for suicidal intentions!

    The only way I can manage Facebook and MySpace on top of everything else is with absolutely passive participation. I have a site on each and let people friend me. I let everyone who sends me an invite on, and rarely have had to block a user – I just don’t seem to be on the porn loop. I respond to e mail on those sites once a week (when I remember to.) Still, people have come to events just from reading about them on MySpace, so it’s not a waste of time.

    I spend way too much time on the screenwriters’ site because I co-run it, but we have six administrators and seven moderators to share the work load and I consider my work there part of my volunteer time.

    And lately I don’t get around to a scary percentage of my personal e mail. I feel like I’m constantly doing triage. I’m way overextended, but I don’t know where to start cutting. I think it’s a major societal problem, not just for authors. I also think authors might be more forgiving than the rest of our commitments because when one of us disappears for an extended time, we ALL know why, and it isn’t hot illicit sex, more’s the pity.

  5. Tasha Alexander

    Ugh, Alex, I know all about email triage. And I just got sucked into Facebook myself.

    Time sink? Absolutely. But I do like throwing sheep…..

    There’s no way you’re offing yourself, JT! ; )

  6. pari

    J.T.,Good post.

    I’m the listserv queen — or at least a princess — and get digests out the wazoo. I usually skim them to get a pulse on certain communities of thought.

    I’m also on MySpace and CrimeSpace, but haven’t dedicated much time or energy to either lately.

    Like J.D., part of my reason for staying so virtually connected has to do with isolation; Albuquerque isn’t the reading Mecca or population center to propel my career where I want it to go.

    But, like you, I’m wondering about the impact of these electronic forays — whether they’re worth the time both personally and professionally.

    Haven’t come to any conclusions yet. But, I’m not signing on to any more social networks or lists until I do.

  7. toni mcgee causey

    Well, I haven’t joined Facebook yet, and am pretty much passive as Alex described for herself when it comes to Myspace. Just don’t have the time. I miss out on some interactions, and there are a couple of forums where I really thoroughly enjoy the people there–Backspace, Crimespace–but just don’t have the extra time to read, much less respond. Even the number of blogs I have time to read and respond to have dwindled.

    It’s fun to participate and I miss the connectiions. They’re just not helping me write a better book (and have, in fact, distracted me too much from writing well in the past). So for me, it’s now very limited.

  8. Lorraine.

    Mostly I don’t know what you’re talking about, never heard of sheep, etc. It’s okay, don’t bother to tell me. But I did belong to DorothyL for many years, and finally unsubscribed a few months ago and don’t miss it at all. Maybe you need it as writers, but as a reader, it was a dud. I’d comb through postings, search out the books of the contributors until it dawned on me that I didn’t like most of the books I did find and that the authors I love and whose next book I eagerly await, are not posting on DotL. May belong & lurk, but they are not joining the fray, but deligently turning out another book for me to read.

  9. J.B. Thompson

    (Speaking of titles, vis-a-vis last week’s post … great one for today’s, sister – one of my favorite movie quotes of all time. Anyone? Do I see a hand in the back? Yes, you – and you’re right, it’s from The Breakfast Club – we have a winner!)

    The time-suck issue is the whole reason I haven’t signed on to Crimespace, MySpace or Facebook myself. I get enough STUFF in my in-box every day to occupy more of my time than need be already, and I try to allow myself only a limited amount of time each morning and afternoon to go through all those messages. Thank God for spam filters … we’re trying to write a book here, people! 😉

    I agree with Billie and Bryon – there has to be a balance. After all, the all work, no play rule surely applies … and sometimes, as J.T., J.D. and Pari all said, you need that CONTACT that comes from socializing with like-minded individuals. Are we hermits? Of course not. But we also can’t get trapped into the TBTL (too busy to live) quicksand that today’s society has become. You have to allow yourself some play time or you’ll go bazonkers. Just one gal’s opinion. 😉

  10. JT Ellison

    Wow! Hoped this one was going to stir the pot.

    JB — thanks for recognizing the reference. You and Dusty and Pari are all right — I need the contact, because I crawl under a rock and start flaking away. My social skills decompose. And that’s not good.

    Lorraine — so sorry. I should have explained that one. Facebook has a program called SuperPoke, which is basically a way to say hi to people. You have choices — you can have a drink with a friend, cast a spell, all these silly things. One of my favorites it throwing sheep. I wonder what the deeper meaning is there?

  11. JT Ellison

    Dusty — YES! Sheep in a Jeep was the first, I have them all. The pirate sheep just got in my head yesterday and wouldn’t baaaa let go.

    Alex, I was showing Randy Facebook last night after he read this post so he’d know what I was talking about. So I did the friend finder and lo and behold… yes, I’m busted. I told you it’s an addiction.

    Bryon — there is a very fine line between the social interaction, the networking and the promotion. Learning to tread them can be dangerous for a new writer.

    I like the passive approach to MySpace — I just can’t get out there and look for people, I’ve let them come to me.

  12. JT Ellison

    The email issue is another interesting one — email has a much higher priority for me than the networks and lists and blogs. I guess I feel if someone has taken the time to come to me directly I owe it to them to answer, or handle things as requested. That one I never want to change.

  13. Naomi

    Okay, tell me what Facebook delivers that MySpace doesn’t. (I’m not on either one, but will be entering the MySpace world next year to connect with young readers. See my recent Crimespace post!)

    And I’m wondering about your comment, Alex. Is it good to be a passive participant on a lot of social networking sites, blogs, listservs, etc.? Or perhaps it may be better to select just a few Internet networking opportunities and be more active on them? The latter has been my strategy and I’ve been happy with that.

  14. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Naomi, I think Facebook has a reputation for being a whole lot less sleazy than MySpace. Reports are that MySoace is on the decline and Facebook is the place to be. But as I said, I don’t participate a lot. I DO actively participate on other community boards, though. Personally I so much prefer the message board format (as in WriterAction, Backspace, Shocklines, the HWA board) that the bulk of my posting and reading is on those, except for right here, of course!

  15. Louise Ure

    John Lescroart says that anything that doesn’t add pages to the manuscript is a waste of time. (I don’t think he includes eating, sleeping or raising children in that equation.)

    I agree with him, but I still can’t keep up with all the stuff going on. Yikes!

  16. JDRhoades

    Naomi: Facebook has more stuff to do, much of it silly but fun, like “SuperPoke”. There are also quiz type things where you can compare book and movie taste with people on your friends list. Facebook also has a more versatile interface, to my way of can say how you know someone, for example.

  17. Elaine Flinn

    Louise pretty much nailed it…I can’t keep up either. I left Murderati because of the time constraint and other projects, and then ended up back on the net with my own blog! Who’s running the asylum?

  18. patty smiley

    Excellent post, JT. The problem is that I’ve never talked to any avid reader who looks at MySpace or the like. They’re too busy reading books that are recommended to them by a trusted bookseller or a friend.

  19. J.D. Rhoades

    Patty: my experience has been somewhat different. I’ve had quite a few people tell me they first heard about me on MySpace, FaceBook, or one of the blogs I post to and bought the books becuase of that.

    Whether those sales justify the time I spend at it is another matter.

  20. simon

    Facebook is something I use to keep in touch with my sister. it’s more convenient that way. Myspace has been good to me. I have a supportive group there who come to signings and things. But Like you, you can’t keep up the “lists”. I give everybody 30 minutes in the evening and then go do something else instead. It keeps me sane–sort of.

  21. Mark Terry

    Oh God. Why am I responding to this instead of writing.

    As for DorothyL, I was on for 5 or 6 years and gave up for good when there was a thread (this one ought to sound familiar) about “Writing Rules” and I commented that: “The only writing rule is: Be entertaining.”

    Some DL member too offense to that and e-mailed me off-list to tell me, “Your comment wasn’t worth the bandwidth it took up.”

    I decided life was too short.

    I’ve lost my crimespace link when my computer died. I’d sort of forgotten about it.

    I have a MySpace page, which, like an appendix, I suppose it’s nice to know it’s there, but I’m not sure I’d miss it if it was gone (sort of like my gall bladder, come to think of it; okay, TMI). On the other hand, my MySpace page has provided my family with no end of opportunities to give me grief, always a useful thing in the parenting department (“Jimmy Buffett is Dad’s friend–him and 1.4 million others! Ha! Ha! Ha!”), so I don’t suppose it’s a total waste.

    And besides, I’m sure I’m one of Jimmy’s BEST friends.

  22. JT Ellison

    Mark, I’m honored that you took the time to get involved! Hate mail from DorothyL is insane.

    Patty raises an excellent point. Are we gaining readers through social networking? I know the answer differs for each of us — Simon, you especially, and folks like Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath who really know how to work the networks for all they’re worth have my undying respect. I’m much too early in the game to know if they are having any effect to my bottom line.

    What Lescroat says is exactly what I repeat to myself daily as I log in. And yet it still doesn’t work. I know that the online world is the future, and technology will force us all to eventually participate in some way. Even having a website is a necessity now. I’m curious to see where all this goes, especially as younger readers start making their own buying decisions and driving our sales.

    Naomi, Dusty and Alex hit it with the differences. MySpace was set up for musicians to share their work, and blossomed from there. I’m not sure of the genesis of Facebook — though I’m sure someone can tell me. Regardless, Facebook will have the same issues as MySpace eventually.

  23. spyscribbler

    I like MySpace. I do severely limit myself. it’s funny, somehow, I seem to get the same amount done at MySpace in twenty minutes that I do if I spend two hours. Go figure.

    It’s character inspiration for me, though. It’s hard to know who a person is, so when I encounter a new person, I try to look for that one little detail, that one little quote or interest or personal tidbit that makes the person come alive for me.

    And then I go back to playing what-if games with my own characters.

  24. Louise Ure

    And I’m delighted to see that Facebook backed down on their lousy policy of sharing your online purchases decisions with your friends. At least now you have to “opt in” if you want your friends to know you bought Debbie Does Dallas.

  25. JT Ellison

    Spy, great idea!!! I always go to the site of the person asking to friend me to make sure they aren’t a wack or a spammer — and you’re right, there’s a plethora of info to be gleaned for character development. Thanks for the idea!

    Louise, you know it. I actually signed that petition, I think it was a horrible idea. I didn’t see the announcement that they had backed down yet, can you point me toward it?

  26. Christa

    I’ve scaled back on Internet socializing so much that I’m afraid I’ve become irrelevant, if I ever was relevant to begin with!

    Does it seem to you that Internet groups require more energy than real-life friendships? Is it because we have to compensate for the lack of auditory and visual cues? Or is it like any other social situation – people needing to jockey to set themselves apart and be seen as individuals, thus friend-worthy?

    I tend to view it as the latter, which I find exhausting. So at the same time that I feel isolated and wish I had more time for Internet groups, I also am relieved that I have excuses to avoid them. I find blogs a happy medium, although from a book marketing standpoint, this probably wouldn’t do me much good!

  27. Allison Brennan

    Like Alex, I am a passive MySpace user. I recently (like, two weeks ago) created a page after about the tenth person emailed me (tenth non-writer person) about why I didn’t have a MySpace page. I post virtually the same blogs I do on my other pages, friend everyone, and link to my book trailer. I can’t get too involved. And, well, I sort of took a big shot at on-line communities in one of my books and have been pretty vocal about not letting kids have MySpace pages . . . and I tend to hang out at MyDeathSpace too much . . .

    Facebook? With what time?

    The internet is a huge timesuck, but it’s also a diffusing point for me. I need downtime. I can’t write 24/7. For fun I play video games (I was 11 when I discovered Ms. Pac Man–what can I say? I’ve been addicted ever since.) But my “rule” is that I don’t blog/email/whatever during my set writing time. And if I find myself spending too much time online when I SHOULD be writing, I turn off the internet.

  28. JT Ellison

    Allison, you’re an inspiration in more ways than one. I still don’t know how you do it all. Adding in another platform would seem nuts! But I’m going to friend you on MySpace ; )

    Christa, you will never be irrelevant. I still believe that spending your time making your work the best it can be will always trump interaction.

    Barbara, thanks for the link. Yay!

  29. M.J

    I’ve done some serious investigating into the marketing value of social networking sites and they only have value if you truly are interested in them as a participant first. I’d say from the research I did for 95% of authors its an utter waste of time. There’s a lot of info out there that I’ve been blogging about that the people on social networking sites are really aware of when they are being marketed to – even by so called friends – and really resistant to it.

  30. Daniel Hatadi

    I’m coming in days late because I don’t get around as much anymore, but I thought I’d pipe in.

    Facebook’s fun, and since I don’t spend a lot of time on it, and barely add any apps, it’s not a huge time suck. I’ve also taken to using the Visual Bookshelf and Movies apps to keep track of what I want to read and see. But I wouldn’t use Facebook for marketing, it’s more for people I either know in real life or have seen around the net.

    Crimespace was an intense experience for the first few months, sucking in almost all of the online crime fiction world. After Ning put in some much needed privacy controls, spam died right down and nowadays I might ban one errant blanket spammer a month, or less.

    But like any bar, it builds up a bunch of locals (including Bruen-esque sentries) that almost constitute a community, and the piano player stops playing when a newcomer enters, and heads turn and … you get my drift.

    Thanks for the kind words, JT, and know that you’re always welcome over there.


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