I went on Facebook with the understanding that publishing houses demanded that writers who wanted book contracts must do social media. It was a struggle for a while as I figured out how Facebook worked, and once I had that nailed, searched for a way to use it that satisfied the unconventional me. Not that there’s a conventional me. I had to use it in a way that reflected my personality, not the customs pertaining to FB.
Once I got onto the idea of writing about my experience, my past, my thought, I got a kick out of posting. This lasted a few months. The satisfaction lay in writing a short essay – a memoir, a reflection, a fragment of observation, a prose poem – and publishing it by hitting Post. It pleased me artistically, while also annoying me – I couldn’t post anything that was a perfect piece of written art, only quests for that elusive nirvana. This is my writing life in a nutshell – the quest for the impossible, and the technical improvement I gain along the way.
The responses I got were a different thing. I can be frank here on my blog – while I was obsessed with the Likes and Comments, I was also irritated by them. The Comments especially seemed irrelevant, or they missed the point, or they led me into discussions I didn’t want to have. When writers publish in the usual way, in a magazine or newspaper, in a book, they don’t know how many people read what they’ve written, and rarely know whether it gave delight or provoked thought. I like the anonymity of that kind of publishing. I never have to find out how unsatisfactory my writing is. I never have to be reminded how imperfect my writing is.
And yet, writing without an audience for me is hollow and empty. I’ve never been a diarist. I’ve tried a couple of times. The last time went on for a few months. I was living in a suburban wilderness, sharing with a woman who worked as a council gardener by day and a prostitute by night. I was lonely. The world felt like eternal winter. I was ill, and thought so at the time as I scribbled and scrawled for dear sanity. It reminded me of living with my mother, who was also a wintry woman.
So Facebook satisfied a need to write FOR people. It gave me an inviting space to fill with my stories. I loved the stimulation it gave me, the chance to practise writing technique, the means to fashion my inchoate thoughts into shapes of clarity and expressiveness.
Then it stopped satisfying me and became exhausting, a chore, a search for something to write about and the disappointment of knowing that all I had left to say was unformed and unready. The fact of being on FB placed me under a social obligation to read other people’s posts and comment. That was even more exhausting. I felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people on my newsfeed. By this time I had ditched everyone who dealt in trivia and built a newsfeed where people talked about subjects I found, if not vitally interesting, then justification enough to read. But my mind was cluttered with too much information. Even when I engaged in conversations I enjoyed, I wished I was on a desert island, free of internet connection, where socialising was confined to the intermittent visits by passing travellers.
I brought it all to an end when I joined some friends to self-publish my novels. Since I was my own publisher, I was under no obligation to socialise online.
I closed my FB account two months ago. At first it was odd not to have notifications appearing in the bottom right of my screen. I kept checking Messenger the way I used to check Facebook and felt let down that nobody had contacted me. I felt what I had always known – that FB friendships are two-dimensional – but I also felt how strange it was. The kind of things I posted meant that some people revealed intimate details about themselves in their comments or private messages, and yet that meant nothing because this was FB and everything there is two-dimensional. I had made some enduring friendships with FB people – but only because they entered the three-dimensional world. I understand that for some people, my leaving FB was a rejection. I accepted that some people would feel hurt and frightened. What I hadn’t counted on was how excluded I myself felt. I had bowed out of FB voluntarily and with relief and yet I felt shunned.
That feeling has passed. What remains is the occasional sharp yearning for that inviting space to fill with my stories and reflections. My blog has never offered me such a space – my anti-spam ware rejects all comments, so at my end, my posts drop into silence. I kind of like that – silence means freedom from the obligation to respond. But silence also means I don’t have an audience I can connect with, and that makes the writing space neutral, without that enticement offered by FB.
So here I am, writing this blog because I need to speak on the screen while my imagination works on some rewriting I have to do for Wolf Angel, my psychological thriller. I have a ravenous hunger to write, but since my imagination isn’t quite ready to work on Wolf Angel, I must put it to this use.
I will never go back on FB. But occasionally, I miss that invitation to say what’s on my mind.