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Social MediaThere’s a school of thought which insists social media is an essential tool for writers.  As advertising budgets at publishers have shrunk, the attitude has been that authors should pick up more and more of the slack, constantly entertaining the world via clever tweets, perfectly filtered Instagram photos and pithy Facebook updates.  I could not care less about any of that, and I respectfully suggest you consider taking this stance.

At best social media is a time-wasting distraction.  Every minute you spend reading tweets, looking at posts or perusing images is a minute lost.  No work has been done.  And if you’re not working, then by definition you’re goofing off.  For someone like me, who depends on a steady income from producing fiction, goofing off is literally something I can’t afford.

This isn’t to say entertainment must fall by the wayside, or that one must work all the time.  However, I’ll ask you this: would you rather spend your time scrolling through a feed (of whatever kind) that’s been shown by objective study to cause depression (link), or is it better spent reading a book, taking a walk, playing a game, talking to someone close to you, or simply watching television? I know my answer.

If you’re a writer and your publisher says you have to use social media to sell books, tell them no thanks.  If your friends or family or coworkers insist you get a social media account to “keep up with everything,” don’t do it.  There is no good to come of being on these services that outweighs their negatives.  You are better off doing almost anything else.  Your Twitter feed isn’t going to sell books.  Your friends can send you a text if they want to go out.  Your relatives can pick up the phone.  You don’t need to see pictures of someone’s vacation, party or food.

And that’s why I don’t use social media.

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Sam HawkenThere’s a cliché that writers, especially good writers, are all either unhinged, or on the cusp of being so.  While there may be some degree of truth to this, as bipolar disorder (from which I suffer) can and does contribute to periods of enhanced written production, I think I can safely say you’d probably consider not having bipolar disorder more of a plus to your writing ambitions than the other way around.  Which brings me to my point: madness is not a prerequisite for being a creative soul.

Despite that fact that it’s a new century and we ought to know better, there’s still this idea that mental illness is somehow a character flaw.  If only we were tough enough, or practical enough, or did enough yoga or had a better diet, that pesky depression (or whatever) would simply disappear.  Being tough, practical and/or healthy doesn’t hurt in general, but not being those things doesn’t cause mental illness and they certainly aren’t a cure.  If one were to say one had cancer, and someone recommended jogging as a way to fix the problem, I believe it’s legal in most states to bludgeon that person.

Mental illness need not be so severe that it causes suicide in order to be taken seriously.  Any level of mental illness is a concern and deserves treatment.  If you’re experiencing manic episodes, or suffering from long-term depression, or you’re having disordered thoughts, seek help.  Even if you don’t have a lot of (or any) money, options are out there if you look.

And whatever you do, don’t use the excuse that you might upset your writing life somehow by addressing your illness.  These things — creativity and mental health — aren’t inversely related.  In fact, you may find your writing improves dramatically when the true roadblocks to wellness are removed.

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