Yes, you read that correctly. Facebook–that insidious thief of creative energy–has made me a better writer. I kid you not.
I was invited to join Facebook back in 2009 by a good friend who lives in another state. Cool, I thought, this will help us keep in touch. For a long time, that was the only useful purpose I saw for the site. It gave me a way to share photos with family and friends hundreds of miles a way and a means to update them all at once without having to make numerous phone calls or compose multiple emails.
Then neighbors wanted to friend me. And classmates, once I started grad school. When I began writing and editing, I attracted friend requests from people I only knew online.
I wanted to run and hide under my covers.
See, I’ve always been a very private person. Even when I began writing publicly about personal experiences, I wanted to protect myself from being too well seen via social media. I wanted to erect a barrier between the public me and the private me. And I still think it’s good to have boundaries, only now I recognize that my initial reticence had more to do with fear than privacy.
Deep down I was afraid of allowing so many people to peek inside my life, because what if they saw something they didn’t like? Would I offend or disappoint? How could I control the sides of myself I revealed to each of the people in my life if they all saw the same status updates from me? Of course, I couldn’t, and furthermore, the dilemma eventually opened my eyes to the fact that I was doing a major juggling act with the different facets of my persona.
But, what does this have to do with writing, you might ask? Everything, because in order to write well, one must be vulnerable. Good writers allow themselves to be seen naked on the page. They hold nothing back. They don’t try to construct a persona; they let it all hang out and allow the reader to come to his own understanding without being led there. My desperate desire to hide myself on Facebook was reflected not only in my real life but in my writing as well. I was holding back.
In The Courage to Write, Ralph Keyes say, “The farther writing strays from its deepest sources, the more sterile it becomes . . . Subliminally the reader senses that the writer isn’t saying what he most wants to say.” A reader will not respond to this writer who is playing it safe.
Think about the kind of status updates you’re most likely to respond to on Facebook. When I feel the urge to leave a comment, or just enough impetus to click “like,” it’s when someone’s made me laugh or cry, nod in agreement or shake my head in disbelief. Most of the time, I don’t comment or click “like,” because, let’s face it, the vast majority of Facebook updates are either hum drum or talk about things only the original poster can relate to. It’s the same with anything we write. We must invoke a reaction in our readers by moving them to think or feel something, and we can only do that by allowing our own thoughts and feelings onto the page in a way others can relate to. Readers relate to our writing when they experience something of themselves in it. We must trust that these parts of us we tend to hold closest will be recognized by our readers, that they will respond to our leaving ourselves on the page–just as our friends respond to us on Facebook when we move them in some way with our status updates.
I’ve loosened up quite a bit on Facebook. Now I don’t even panic when I get a friend request from someone whose name I don’t recognize, who only knows of me via another virtual friend. I’ve learned to accept that part of the deal with being a writer is putting myself out there, both in my work and in my life. I have to say, it feels good to live out in the open.