The 500 Hats of Blog-tholomew Cubbins: Reducing Social Media Stress

Have you ever read The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins? It’s a Dr. Seuss story, set in feudal times, featuring a poor boy named Bartholomew. One day while riding through a market, he removes his hat to abide by the law. Once he does, another hat appears in its place. The same thing happens repeatedly, each hat appearing more extravagant than the last, until eventually, the king offers him reprieve and riches for the spiffy 500th. Finally, the boy can breathe easy! The prize was worth the stress and confusion.

Bartholomew reminds me of modern-day writers. Each time we move forward in our careers, we expose more of ourselves, gaining riches and, very often, stress. Every achievement—finishing a draft, landing representation, publishing—seems to invite an additional part-time, or even full-time, job. But we still only have one head!

As some of you know, I first delved deep into social media engagement upon my agent’s suggestion. And holy schmoley, did it feel like a ton of work. I researched the various platforms like crazy and raced through Kristen Lamb’s books in two days, spending the little sleep I could manage in between dream-tweeting. I’m pretty sure I looked something like this:

Social media stress

Since then, I’ve learned ways to fit social media into my writing life without going padded-wall crazy. Over time, it’s felt less like enigmatic work, and more like an enjoyable blessing. I’m sure many of you can relate.

As with most aspects of our careers, it’s important to utilize social media practices that work for us individually. I thought I’d share practices that seem to work well for me, and invite you all to chime in with your fabulous thoughts.

The following habits help keep me productive and sane—pretty simple and straightforward:

1) Save social media for warmups, breaks and cool downs. Social media is for authors what stretching is for marathoners. Our blogs, Twitter and Facebook shouldn’t rule our time, or take precedence over our primary writing. Saving social media for downtime and breaks helps on multiple levels. Shifting gears helps keep our other brains and work fresh; engaging in social media can bring respite, support and fun.

2) Write your most important work when your brain works best. I went into detail on this topic in an earlier post. Basically, working hardest mentally during our “golden hour,” or when we tend to feel the sharpest and most creative allows us to make the most of our time. (I’d personally rather wake up at 5am and work like crazy until mid-day than write at night, when my brain is somewhat mushy.)

3) Take breaks from it ALL. This has been a tough one for me to master, but I’ve learned that working non-stop doesn’t help anything. We can be more productive, creative and efficient if we allow ourselves wiggle room and, you know, that thing called life. Music, friends and my dog help me stay semi-balanced. I’m super grateful for that.

4) Learn to say ‘no.’ This is a biggie. Saying ‘yes’ to too many other tasks or events says ‘no’ to writing time. While breaks and days off are invaluable, they won’t do much if we have scarce work-time left over. If you’re overextended, try cutting back, or ask others for help. If you feel guilty, remind yourself that self-care makes us more enjoyable to be around. (Totally true for me.)

5) Be yourself. Aiming for popularity rather than authenticity doesn’t work well on-line, in my opinion. If we view social media as an extension of ourselves, we don’t have to try so hard—which can stressful and time consuming. Since people tend to recognize and appreciate authenticity, being ourselves naturally attracts engagement and support. If you’re like most writers I know, you enjoy supporting others. So if for no other reason—of which there are many—do that, too.

6) Savor the path. Back to Bartholomew: the prize is in the bedazzled journey. If we enjoy the process, and aren’t crippled by fear or self-doubt, our treasures will only brighten. Sure, we might (okay, will) get criticized along the way. But if we take it all in stride, write because we love writing and remain gentle with ourselves, we’ll reap less stress and more joy. Every day may not be sparkly, but embracing the whole shebang can make it all worthwhile.

Related links you may find helpful:

5 Quick Facebook Tips for the Busy and Shy, by Gene Lempp
25 Things Writers Should Know About Social Media, by Chuck Wendig
I is for Introvert: How Do You Know if You’re an Introvert or an Extrovert? (and how it affects blogging), by Jenny Hansen

Have you found ways to manage social media without feeling stressed or lost for time? What works best for you?

Leave a comment

52 Comments

  1. Marc Schuster

     /  April 18, 2013

    Great advice… Thanks, August! (What works “best” for me is using social media as a form of procrastination when I know I should be doing other work… Not always the most productive use of my time, but at least it keeps me amused!)

    Reply
  2. I…am going to write an entire post about this. While I acknowledge that at bottom it’s a marketing tool and a necessity, I think if it’s a thing that creates stress or that must be “managed,” you’re kind of doing it wrong. It has to be fun, and a real conversation.

    Though that post by Chuck Wendig is brilliant, and I think that if everybody just read that post really, really carefully, no one would look at social media that way anymore at all, and also that there would be no more war and asparagus would taste like chocolate ice cream.

    Reply
    • Fair point, Bill. That’s kind of what I was getting at—being ourselves and not letting social media become something it isn’t, or taking up too much time, helps on all levels. It shouldn’t be stressful, but for many, it is. There’s a ton of pressure on authors these days, with agents, publishers and others encouraging social media for marketing and branding. I personally have found that simply having fun and staying true to who we are is ideal. (That’s why I shared habits and not, say, strategies.) Agreed on Chuck’s post. And I happen to dig asparagus as it is. 😉

      Reply
      • So the WordPress app doesn’t carry over the little winky face, and for a second I thought I might have offended your asparagus-loving sensibilities. 🙂

        Yeah, I don’t think I was really disagreeing with you, just kind of thinking out loud. As I’ve kind of waded into this non-sports world I’ve seen too many people just auto-tweet links to their own and others’ blog posts, and the problem is that they’re broadcasting those links to 1500 or 5000 other people who are also just using twitter to auto-tweet links, and who in turn follow 1500 or 5000 other people but don’t look at the links those people are auto-tweeting, and on and on and on. THERE HAS TO BE A BETTER WAY. Still just kind of spitballing for the thing I’m hoping to write later. 😉

  3. I still struggle with finding the right balance between social media and writing. I’m getting better, but if one’s not careful, his or her day can be swallowed quickly with few written words to show for it.

    Reply
  4. I had an epiphany in a comment made on another blog a few days ago, August. The topic was about NEVER, ever giving up. My biggest challenge is perfectionism. I can and have made a career opportunity out of a single page or chapter. I wrote what popped into my noggin (as usual), but this comment wasn’t snark-riddled.

    Paraphrasing. “As writers we want our characters to have flaws and character growth. Why don’t I give myself that same latitude in my faults and growth as a writer?”

    Another epiphany that rings true for me in life as well as my on-line persona: “Build your life around who you are rather than who people expect you to be, so you don’t have to escape your life to be happy.” Substitute any sub-set of “life” and it helps.

    I don’t blog on a regular schedule. Why? Still riddling that out, Batman. I suspect it has a ton to do with that Perfectionist word.

    Off to write before brain mush descends! GREAT advice.

    Reply
    • We writers are so darn hard on ourselves—makes me sad. You know what helps me get past perfectionism? Enthusiasm for the story, and whatever mission I’m on. Supportive friends and looking inward, as you’re brilliantly doing, also go a long way.

      I love that paraphrased bit, and may just print it out. Thanks, lady! Keep your chin up, and keep writing. You are too fantastic to not.

      Reply
  5. August, I needed to read this today! So easy to get overwhelmed with it all and as I’ve just started writing my first book, I’ll be following your suggestions! Getting an important section done NOW! (getting off Facebook always helps too 😉 )

    Reply
  6. It’s stressful for me, and not just because of the time it takes. I like blogs, but I just don’t get Twitter. To me it feels like either butting in on someone’s conversation, or talking into an empty room. And that’s when I can think of something to say to start with.

    Reply
    • Twitter’s always been the most perplexing to me, too, Jennette. I’ve learned a lot from others, and have a ways to go. Hoping my friend Bill (@Bill_TPA ) will share a more, as he seems to have it down pat. And I’m sure you know all about the groovy #MyWANA crowd. 🙂

      Reply
  7. I’m still working on this to be honest. I really like blogging, but it can sometimes be a problem for me to balance all the social media sites. I’ve taken a little break from everything but blogging to get my head on straight, and I’m about reading to jump back in.

    Reply
    • I wonder if we’re all works-in-progress in this regard. I think those occasional breaks are vital, for the very reason you’re doing it, Marcy. Good luck!

      Reply
  8. Kourtney Heintz

     /  April 18, 2013

    Awesome tips August. You definitely are a social media maven and role model for me. 🙂 One thing I learned is to try different platforms and figure out what you love and allocate the most time to those. For me it’s my blog and Facebook. I pop over to Twitter and Pinterest when time permits. But my blog and FB are where I most enjoy spending my social media moments. 🙂

    Reply
    • So sweet of you to say, Kourtney. I think it’s wise that we find and use what works for us most, as you’ve done with your blog and Facebook (my personal faves, too :)).

      Reply
  9. Catherine Johnson

     /  April 18, 2013

    Great post, August. I too like to do social media in the in-between moments like the sand in the jar approach. I don’t write fresh poems at the same time religiously either. I wrote one today in the waiting room getting our health cards renewed. I can’t wait for May though, first month with no crazy poem event, enjoyable though they are 😉

    Reply
    • Those quieter months are important, right? Glad you enjoy the “ping pong” (sand/jar) approach, too. 🙂

      Reply
      • Catherine Johnson

         /  April 19, 2013

        Yeah, sometimes I think my bottle is just full of different coloured sand and no rocks lol 😉 They are important, I’ll probably do a course and some submitting before pool season 😉 My parents are coming over from the UK in the summer 🙂 Have you got a holiday planned?

  10. I was struck by this line in particular: “Aiming for popularity rather than authenticity doesn’t work well on-line, in my opinion.”

    Interestingly, I wrote a post not too long ago about authenticity and following trends in relation to blogging. In at least one blogging group I am in being successful as a blogger comes down to following the content that is most popular at the time. Traffic is what matters and you cannot expect to get traffic if you don’t write what is popular.

    The same applies to social media. If you are not writing what is most likely to engage readers or posting at the most optimum times you are not likely to generate as much traffic.

    While there are elements of truth to this in my experience, living by these so-called “rules” all the time can be stressful. I’ve tried to play that game and it does nothing more than frustrate me and make me feel I am not good enough as a writer or blogger. I admit I am still somewhat playing that game but I am playing by my rules. If that makes me a sucky blogger, so be it. As long as I am writing and putting my thoughts out there, I’m happy.

    Reply
    • Valid points, Kim. I’ve found that last bit there, about stress, to be absolutely true. If we focus on statistics and popularity, we run the risk of not only stress, but blog fatigue and an overall lack of enjoyment. When we write authentically, we draw in readers for whom our work and voice resonate. I’d rather have quality followers and engagement, than massive numbers due to trends.

      So glad you’ve found a happy place, writing and sharing your thoughts. Huge success in that, IMO. 🙂 Thanks for weighing in!

      Reply
  11. As always, you offer great advice, August. I’m so with you on the mushy brain thing. My best writing is in the morning too. Which I guess makes me do all my social media time with fuzzy, tired brain. So it’s me, but the mushy me. 🙂

    Reply
  12. Working on finding a balance.

    Reply
  13. I, normally, don’t mention type-os unless it is really bad or too humorous not to. This one is the second. You wrote: “hat thing called life. Music, fiends and my dog help me stay semi-balanced.” Leaving the “r” out of friends makes it a whole new quote! 🙂
    Scott

    Reply
  14. lynnkelleyauthor

     /  April 18, 2013

    I love your analogy, August. Such a cute children’s story. I’d forgotten all about it. I’ve had to cut back on blogging and other social media. I do what I can, but I make it a point to enjoy the journey.

    Reply
  15. This was the kick in my pants I needed, August. You know I’m amidst big changes right now and I was totally freaking out, much like your photo, about how I was doing, how fast I was going, what my dreams were (or more accurately what they weren’t at this point), and I really wasn’t accomplishing much of anything in the process. Today is the first day I feel like I have some better focus. Could also be the caffeine I just IV’d. LOL. Nah, it’s YOU!

    Reply
    • Aw. LOL So glad it struck you in a timely fashion, Jess, more so that you’re feeling better. Everything is going to work out for you, in better ways than you could ever imagine. I just have a feeling. 😉

      Reply
  16. Raani York

     /  April 18, 2013

    Thanks for sharing more great advice, August!
    I personally find it useful to use social media as some kind of “entertainment” instead of “duty” and keep it easy and fun.
    I don’t permit myself to feel guilty leaving it for a day or two and even more often during vacation time.

    Reply
  17. I have to confess, I love social media. I feel like it has opened my world to so many amazing people I’d never have known. Especially for the people who, in these economic times, cannot attend conferences, the online world allows them to network in a way they would never otherwise be able to.

    Reply
  18. Oh, and thank you, thank you, thank you for the blog love. You’re one of my fave peeps (except that you dig the dentist…we’ve gotta discuss that one…)!

    Reply
  19. That was all really good advice, and something I needed to hear! I get so caught up in the idea that we have to be on socail media all the time, but that just doesn’t fit my personality. I am on all day in my day job and when I come home, I just want time away from everyone and everything. Including social media. But, if I can pop in on breaks, it will be doable. I’m going to give that a try.

    Reply
    • The pressure really can become intense, Emma. I love social media, AND breaks from it. LOL I really think one supports the other, particularly for busy folks. Good luck!

      Reply
  20. Great post – and Dr Seuss had more wisdom than we often know. Of course, he DID start as a political satirist! For myself, I tackle social media same way I tackle everything else in my day – via time planning. Otherwise it turns into a billowing time-suck that takes me away from writing time.

    I think it’s a great way of keeping in contact with (and ‘meeting’) some great people, especially in the writing world – and I have. But it seems to me that there’s a lot of ‘Sneetches’ about the way the system works. It creates a framework for interaction that’s pretty artificial, at times – we interact the way the creator of the system wants, not the way we would like to. And I think that provokes stress. Trends come and go. Competing companies keep offering different ‘models’, and keep changing it anyway. Confusing at best, and who has the time to keep up?

    Reply
  21. It’s crazy to read this as I’m taking a two month blogging/social media hiatus as of Monday. So much juggling, so little time. I love your advice though – all very real to keep in mind. I’m taking a step back, so I can get back to #6…savor the path. : )

    Reply
  22. Great thoughts.

    The two important aspects to me would be ” Be yourself” and ” savour the path”.
    As one follows one’s passion, the vibrations that one sends out into the Universe attract like minded minds to you.

    Shakti

    Reply
  23. Yes, it’s so important to set rules and boundaries when it comes to social media!

    Reply
  24. This is a great road map, August! As for me, I am on a new career path and so have pretty much dropped out of social media for the most part and it feels glorious! I stop in 10 minutes overall all day vs. 2 hours before. While I know I’m missing fab posts (like this one!) I also know that my absence wont make a ripple in the grand social media scheme of things…and I’m spending my time now DOING what I love – writing in chunks of concentrated time – not futzing around online wasting time. It was so hard for me to find that balance – so I backed off and am happier. I know a few writers who turned off their FB account and removed the FB and twitter apps from their smart phone’s too – and they dont regret it. For some, they can accomplish a balance (as I see you do!) but for some it’s an uncontrollable waste of time that accomplishes nothing. So I guess we have to ask ourselves first, what is it I hope to accomplish through social media? And then tailor a plan for ourselves – or deem it not important at all. I’m in the latter. 🙂

    Reply
  1. Twitter for Writers (a Sort-of-Outsider’s Perspective) and Promisses No. 3: What to Do with Your Body Parts « The Cranky Lefty
  2. The End is Near (and we deserve it) . . . Luxury Chicken Hotel « Bayard & Holmes
  3. Lindsey Gunstad » Social Media Whaaaat?
  4. Writing Resources 20 April 2013 | Gene Lempp ~ Writer
  5. Finding Joyful Calm in Happy Storms (or How NOT to End Up in a Wrist Brace) | August McLaughlin's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: