Dealing with social media is nerve-wracking. Written words don’t convey the wider mood or attitude of the speaker, especially to strangers. You read an email, post, or comment over a hundred times to see if a tweak here or there is needed. After you post, you read it a hundred times more. Half your online life is spent rereading something a hundred times. Sometimes, life happens to take you so far outside your carefully-crafted, social-media-engaging headspace that you rush in. Sometimes, you think you know someone well enough to set aside that carefully-crafted, social-media-engaging headspace– and rush in.
Then, you freak out.
I’d love to say this is where I give you answers on how to manage a vital element of writing- participating in the wider writer’s community- alongside mental health struggles like anxiety. I’d love to reassure you and give you hope of some secret method of success.
I’d love to, but I can’t.
Social media comes in a number of forms, each with varying degrees of privacy, security, and risk. You have open areas like Twitter, where posts are visible to everyone. The benefits? Everyone can see you, and engage with you, whether you know them or not. The cons? Everyone can see you, and engage with you, whether you know them or not.
Then there’s more private areas like Facebook (closed groups), or Discord or Slack. The benefits? A more intimate, carefully-selected group of people where engagement is very high. The cons? A more intimate, carefully-selected group of people where engagement is very high.
Why, yes, that IS a pattern forming.
Then, you have another option: nothing at all. Continue writing, don’t tell anyone, and hope for the best in Query Land.
When I completed draft 1 of SoMES, I took the latter option. I’d seen my fair share of toxic relationships (an understatement if I ever saw one), so I preferred to avoid engagement with others altogether. I wasn’t going to be anyone’s one-sided, long-term therapist, nor would I become a dear friend to someone only for them to later reveal they’d screwed with my life for their own entertainment.
No, I would work on my MS, query as many agents as it took to get one, and not have to deal with anyone else.
While I didn’t know it at the time, this was obviously foolish and self-destructive. I only saw the pros: not dealing with others and not leaving myself open to stressful situations. The cons I was unaware of (or willfully ignoring)?
Snail-paced progress on my craft.
If you’re reading from the sidelines, please listen: the writing community is invaluable. You will learn so much, and SO quickly, by receiving feedback, observing others, and reading their work. You will learn tips and advice. You will learn craft. You will be around people with the same goals and objectives, suffering the same struggles and setbacks. You will slowly, brick by brick, build the bridge between your little manuscript and the polished books on your shelf.
Therefore, participation is vital if you want to see progress. It is unavoidable.
Now, as I said above, I have no magic advice to put anyone at ease when they suffer from anxiety. I’m not going to be condescending when I know how it feels to have your brain battle itself over and over again.
What I will say is know your audience. Those cat photos and that recent bout of writer’s block? Chuck it on twitter. You’ll get a chorus of supportive people. Searching for betas or CPs? I’ve got a whole other post just for that (coming soon). Discussing advice, themes, specifics, characters?
That’s where the waters get murky. You may not want everything out in the open or everyone’s input. Bad advice can be more detrimental than no advice.
That awesome new line from a scene you just wrote? You’re proud, you want to share with SOMEONE, but maybe not everyone. Those more private outlets are better to test the waters and not have everyone reading (and judging). Build some confidence and places you feel safe sharing.
Eventually, you may make connections with people and feel you can discuss more. This is great, and you will find your tribe.
Just be aware: people may not know you as well as you think.
Just because you’ve interacted with someone for a while, don’t assume they will give you the benefit of the doubt or be understanding when you hit a bump in the road. Some will, but others won’t. And when they don’t, it feels awful and your mental health might spiral. It’s very, VERY hard to understand mental health struggles or recognize someone struggling with poor mental health. You do your best to manage it and others do their best to understand. It’s not anyone’s fault.
So if a group or community you’re in turns out not to be a good fit, you are allowed to leave. It may take a while, but you will find others. In the meantime, maybe keep reading those posts or comments a hundred times before posting. You know, just to be safe.