in defense of distraction…or…social media cures writer’s block

Much has been said lately about the destructive properties of sites like Facebook. It comes as no surprise to me that the information circulating now is that social media raises our insecurity factors and increases bouts of envy, that it might shorten our attention span, that it might help to erode our “in person” encounters. In a way, for social media addicts like me it is like telling someone who lives on Diet Coke about all the bad effects of diet drinks. They already know. Of course, they know but the draw of the thing they have come to love is stronger, in the long run, than the potential down sides.

This is where my diet drink comparison ends though because aspartame gives me a headache.

As I sat and stared at the blank page today for the balance of my writing time I found my anxiety level rising fast. I only have this small window of opportunity to write every day and that window will dwindle when two of my kids start going to “real school” in the Fall and homeschool ramps up for the other two kids at home. I’ll have to get up earlier, I’ll have to make sure there are clean clothes for people, I’ll have to pack lunches, I’ll have to herd everyone in and out of the car more often in a day, I’ll have to endure  long choruses of “I’m bored!” and “I don’t want to get up!”

The Fall is bearing down on me pretty hard these days and the blank page doesn’t help.

Writing will never be easy for me. I already knew that. Writing is something I have to do every day; like working out, like taking vitamins, like drinking water, like washing my face. If I don’t do it every day I lose little bits of myself all over the house. I think interesting things and then find they’ve dropped out of my pocket somewhere along the line. I get depressed, I get overwhelmed, I lose sight of myself. I have to write every day, in little “dribs and drabs” as Anne Lamott says.

But when even the dribs and drabs won’t come I begin to think in those moments that what I need to do is to shut myself off from the world. I need to leave Twitter, leave Facebook, stop reading things online, stop blogging, just develop a kind of tunnel vision and power through it all. I have this weird fantasy in those moments that I will finish a novel with all that extra focus, finish a series of books about the power of the mind, about the counter cultural wonder drug of “being present” and the publishing houses will be hot on my heels at last.

The big old evil online looms before me and I call it the enemy of all things creative, I crow about how stupid I’ve been, how many hours I’ve wasted commenting and “liking” and responding. I ponder whether I’ll go quietly or make a show of it, bringing together all the other online addicts and calling for a general boycott. When writers block strikes I get desperate, you see, and blaming just about anything else feels like movement. It’s the social media, it’s the lack of a good chair, it’s the phone ringing, it’s the aspartame.

And here then out of the blue it hits me as I travel one last time to my social media stash, mind a blank where words are concerned. I see a simple post from a friend. Her status update is one of gratitude, along the lines of “Thanks Facebook, for reminding me about the beautiful things in my life.” That stopped me short.

One criticism of Facebook is that it’s distracting and that much is true. I admit when I’m writing if I don’t close the Twitter or Facebook windows I find myself meandering there when I ought to be filling the blank page. And yet, there are moments, a great number of moments, when I wander off the blank page and find myself again. There are responses to a picture I’ve posted and I remember who I am again. Sometimes I troll my own page, my own Twitter feed to find things I’ve thought or photos I’ve taken or articles I’ve highlighted and I find that I actually have something to say there. I find small moments I documented, uploaded and shared, not out of bragging but out of gratitude. I find quotes that lead me to deeper thoughts. I find friends I have not seen in decades and would not have seen again if not for social media. I find theological and political insights I did not expect.

And sometimes too, I find inspiration that leads to words on a page…like these…

and an end to writers block.

So, you know…there’s that.

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