I see the word “quiet” and laying on the page, it kind of looks like “quit”.
If I stop, if I get quiet, what will happen?
Will the algorithm spit me out and scrap me back to zero?
Will I still be a writer, if I’m not producing 800 words a day?
It’s hard, in our performance-driven, consumer society not to place my worth in my words, in my work, in what I can produce. But once you start the “produce+perform” drug, it’s really, really hard to stop.
And when you’re up against an algorithm that’s built to keep you scrolling, keep you distracted, keep you feeling “busy”, keep you with the appearance of work, without actually doing the work of thinking, creating, digging deep…it’s even harder.
As someone whose brain ping-pongs all over the place any given day, excited for MORE information, and MORE ideas, and MORE thoughts, I realize that I need some strict boundaries when it comes to social media to help me be a good person, a good parent, and a better creative. My instinct for more information is a great strength, I think. It helps me make new connections. But sometimes our greatest weaknesses happen when we overplay our strengths.
I know I need to digest things, that my best work comes when I’ve thought, and revised, and re-imagined. But I have to force myself to slow down.
Creativity flourishes when you feel safe. Being creative means taking risks, exploring, imagining, trying new things. And social media is not exactly an incredibly safe space. It keeps you in a scarcity mindset, thinking you never have enough — enough likes, enough words, enough value.
Social media is a tool, a good tool, a tool that can connect us to others, build community, and share beautiful things. But the tools we use shape us.
Elisabeth Gaskell, Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott… they all wrote their novels by hand. Their brains were disciplined enough to think through a complete sentence. The “backspace” on a computer and the ease of editing means that I can’t think through a complete phrase let alone a whole sentence without pausing to edit myself. I’ve just started reading the 700 page biography ‘A Promised Land’ by Barak Obama. He also chose to write it out by hand on legal paper, as a way to discipline his mind and thoughts. (Of course, he has a massive team that can transcribe it all before editing. I will accept my word processor, thank you).
Consumerism and the pressure to produce can distort the image of God in us, the extravagant, generous God who created the world, and put this instinct in us as well.
In my sociology classes with first year students, we would talk about the process of alienation: losing a sense of meaning, becoming a stranger to yourself because what you’re doing every day becomes so disconnected from the end goal. In societies that are driven by production, output and money, it’s very easy to become alienated from your work. It’s easy to feel like a cog in a machine, whether you’re falling into the drudgery of changing a nappy, or cleaning the toilet, or tending to a child in the night yet again, or you are posting another image on social media, liking the relevant people, and networking.
We are not production machines. We’re writers, yes, but we’re also bakers, gardeners, homework helpers, readers, clothes-washers, thinkers, lovers, mothers, fathers — and ultimately, we’re just children.
The funny thing is, when we’re children, when we’re secure in our child-of-God-ness, we’re freer. We can use the tools around us, without letting them completely use us.
But I have to teach myself this.
So I’ve decided to attempt a seasonal approach to social media. I’ll post and comment and join in the conversation for three weeks, and then take a week break. Give myself a little Wintering Session, to borrow an idea from Katherine May. A pause. A chance to work more on my book proposal, yes, but maybe also a chance to do all those other things that make me myself.
Paint my toenails perhaps. Watch Little Women for the fortieth time. Catch up with friends. Read real books that don’t relate to my “topic”.
Make space for creativity to grow within some quiet.