Me: I’m stuck. What kind of sentries would the bad guys set up?
DS Baker (a former soldier): Hang on…
Two minutes later we’re talking face-to-face across the Atlantic. I love the 21st century!
Yes, there are good reasons for a writer to stay on social media.
Well not all the time — and yes you have to avoid falling into the rabbit hole of long debates where you can’t let something stand. However, if you are a writer, then my experience is that properly curated social media is your friend.
I’m not talking about marketing, though it does help to have a wide circle of friendly people who are on your wavelength so might — not that you are entitled to this in any way — give your books a try.
No, I’m talking about more basic stuff.
Social media is… (drum roll) social. That gives you an opportunity to interact with people you otherwise would not meet.
First and foremost, it gives you contact with other writers at your level.
I don’t hold with all this angst-waving crap some (mostly wannabe) writers go in for; please don’t let toxic memes script your emotional experience of writing.
However, it is true that there are some experiences unique to writing that only other writers can get: all the twists and turns of creating twists and turns, all the hurry up and wait of getting an agent or publisher. Other writers are the only people who really want to hear about this stuff, and they’re the only people you can tell it to without sounding pretentious — in most other contexts, any sentence that begins, “My agent…” is best left unstarted.
Second, social media is a place where you can network and make useful professional contacts.
You usually can’t do this by cynically setting out to turn every fleeting contact into a contact in the business self help book sense. However, if you stick to being your interesting self on the Internet in interesting places, sooner or later you’ll bump into somebody higher up the tree who thinks you might look good on their branch.
It was thanks to my old Livejournal blog that I ended up here, despite not doing the stateside convention circuit. It’s also how I got the advice that pointed me to the right agent, and how I got help crafting the perfect cover letter for what my agent called “an ungodly brew” (and to which Charles Stross responded, “Holy ****!“)
Third, social media will bring you into contact with inspiring friends you wouldn’t otherwise meet, and give you intriguing insights into their lives. For example, one of my oldest and dearest Internet friends is a homeschooling homesteader from somewhere in rural America. I’ve never visited, but thanks to the wonders of technology I’ve been privileged to visit her life.
Fourth, social media gives you access to friendly experts.
It’s where I can ask about mounted combat, pick the brains of military types, or find out about aspects of space exploration.
Fifth, and finally, it’s where you can find reciprocal beta readers able — thanks to time zones — to turn around a manuscript while you’re asleep. It really is incredibly useful to be able to shoot off an email in the evening saying, “Is this insane/does it make sense/does this work?” and get a response when you wake up.
Some friends you make fall into all these categories. DS Baker of Modern Medievalist, for example, is pretty much my writing buddy: the time difference works out so that it’s like having him in the next office for a quick chat; we plough slightly different professional furrows so it’s useful to compare notes; our lives are sufficiently different to be interesting to each other; he’s ex-military, meaning I can pick his brains on things like military culture and firefights; and we can both turn around beta reads by return email.
Friends like this are worth their weight in unobtanium, not least because they are friends.
But you did notice when I said the bit about “properly curated social media”. You have to do the curating. Follow where people inspire or are inspired, unfollow when they aren’t. Avoid getting sucked into the time sinks, walk away from the drama. Otherwise, maybe you should unplug after all…
M Harold Page is the Scottish author of works such as Swords vs Tanks (Charles Stross: “Holy ****!”) NOW AVAILABLE IN OMNIBUS EDITION! For his take on writing, read Storyteller Tools: Outline from vision to finished novel without losing the magic. (Ken MacLeod: “…very useful in getting from ideas etc to plot and story.” Hannu Rajaniemi: “…find myself to coming back to [this] book in the early stages.”)