My social media reset

As a writer, how do you put creativity first in your life, and ensure your platform as a writer is infused with inspiring and meaningful connections to others? That is what I want to explore today. I want to share personal examples of how I have been trying to do this, and share how I have been going through my own social media reset.

My 10 year old son has been learning how to do animation on his computer. The other day he was showing me an animation he liked, and as I left his room, I called back, “Don’t forget to create.” It was my reminder to him that while it is great to get inspired by the animations of others, to see useful examples, and support his peers, that he shouldn’t spend the whole day doing that. He should work on his own creations as well.

So many adults have a challenge with this too. It is too easy to just keep reading the work of others, to just keep scrolling at amazing art on Instagram, or watch videos, or listen to music, or so much else. To consume consume consume because, my goodness, don’t we deserve a break from all of our daily responsibilities?

But if you are reading this, you are likely a writer. Or an artist. Or a creator of some sort. You have made the choice to make your creative vision a priority in your life. For some of you, it is a very part-time hobby. For others, it is a full-time career. And for all of you, you are doing it amidst a cacophony of responsibilities that have only gotten more complicated with the pandemic.

If you want to grow as a writer and reach more people, I want to encourage you to focus your intention on:

  1. Making creative work a priority, and being sure to reserve some time and energy to create each week.
  2. Connecting with like-minded people who appreciate the kind of writing that you do. To be intentional about reaching your ideal audience and building meaningful professional relationships with colleagues.

As my family approaches a year of being home together for school, work, and all of life, there has been one constant: creating.

While opportunities slipped away amidst lockdown, we tried to be mindful to replace them with creative energy. My 10 year old gave up taekwondo and in-person piano lessons. He instead put that creative energy into learning how to code, how to using digital illustration tools, and more recently, how to animate. He’s created dozens of games and illustrations and shared them online.

My wife has never been more driven to create than this past year. She has always been an artist with a rigorous work ethic, but this year she has been in overdrive.She decided to master the art of watercolor painting, and I’ve seen her day by day, month by month, churn out painting after painting. Watching her progress has been astounding. She also learned how to make clothes. I’ve watched her go from one homemade clothing project to the next, mastering various aspects. Each week, more fabric and vintage buttons arrive in the mail. So. Many. Vintage. Buttons.

For myself, even though I have put aside some creative projects temporarily (such as finishing writing my next book), I have ensured creativity has stayed central to my weeks. This has mostly been through music, playing guitar and dabbling with my synthesizer and digital music.

This same kind of creative intention can also apply to how we connect with others around our work. This past year, I have been working on a social media reset. I joined Twitter in January of 2008, Facebook a couple years after that, and Instagram a few years later.

What am I optimizing for with the reset? A feeling of connection with those I follow. To open up Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and feel a sense of caring about what each person shares. To be quick to engage with them with a like, a comment, a DM.

This reset felt necessary because for awhile, opening up social media felt like being on the receiving end of a firehose. Over the years, I would follow people one at a time. But before I knew it, I was following more than 1,000 people on Twitter, and nearly as many on Instagram.

As I looked through my feed, there were names and faces I didn’t recognize. I couldn’t remember who they were, why I followed them, or when I started. Invariably it may have been because 7 years ago I was researching a conference, and followed some of the speakers. Or perhaps I met them briefly at an event. Or I liked what they shared on a random day in 2014.

I began imaging a reset. What if I only followed a few people who inspire me in some way. What if my feed was short, and where nearly every post was something I wanted to leave a comment on or click “like” to? What if this allowed me to support these creators with greater depth, instead of an infinite scroll?

To optimize my social media for a feeling of deep connection, I had to do something I have resisted for years: unfollow people. In some ways, this has been an arduous process.

So much of being on social media is about wanting to be liked. To hope that others care about what you share, and that in the process, you get to validate the work of others. To unfollow someone feels like the antithesis of all of these things.

As I considered this, I looked around at others. Hmmm. Brené Brown has 3.3 million followers on Instagram, yet she only follows 537 accounts. Brit Bennet has 28,000 followers, and only follows 427 people. Alyne Tamir has 328,000 followers and only follows 337 people. Maybe it was okay to follow fewer people so that I can engage more.

So, I started unfollowing people. This was so difficult. I’ve spent months on this process, slowly unfollowing people in small batches. I started first with big brand accounts. Then to people who didn’t seem to update at all. Then to people whose I couldn’t remember why I followed them.

But then, it got more difficult. People who I recognized and knew and liked. Now, this doesn’t mean they aren’t wonderful people, sharing great stuff! They are.

I kept reminding myself of my goal: to fill my days with a deep sense of connection. And I can’t do that following 1,000 people. Too often, I scroll through Instagram or Twitter and don’t click “like” or leave a comment because there is simply too much to engage with. I want that to change.

With each person, I worried that the moment I clicked “unfollow” that they would be alerted to it. They would be offended by it. Deeply. That they would feel attacked or dismissed. That they would wonder what they did to cause such an extreme action. They would reconsider why they liked me, and my intentions. They would talk badly about me.

As I went through this process, again and again something funny would happen. I would hesitate over the “unfollow” button, with all of my fears, then click it. Then I would realize, “Oh, they don’t even follow me.” That didn’t bother me. Instead it was a reminder that while I was worried they would be offended that I chose to unfollow them, they were already being intentional about where they put their own focus and intention. They can’t follow everyone either. That was very freeing.

This process of unfollowing got more complicated as I unfollowed more people. Choosing to unfollow them is not to meant to remove them from my life, but simply to not clutter my feed. I kept reminding myself that social media is not reality. These relationships and connections do not solely exist on a social network.

Doing it in batches helped. If I just unfollowed one person, I feared it would look like I was targeting them. But if I unfollowed 10 at a time, it was a reminder that none of this was personal.

This is one of the strange ways that social media can come to feel suffocating. When you feel you have no control over your experience of it. But for me to fill my day with creative intention, then I need be able to choose my focus. This social media reset is not a rejection of anything, it is quite the opposite. I want my connection to others to be filled with intention. With energy. With more direct engagement, and less obligation. To open a social network and have it feel calm, manageable, and inspiring.

I’m curious: have you felt the need for more intention in putting creativity first, or connecting with others with more intention? If so, tell me about why this is challenging for you, or solutions you have found that are working.