A month off social media showed me I need to focus


It’s me.

Happy to see me?


You know, if I were in any way organized, I would have planned better for my return to social media after taking a month off.

Did I take that time to assemble a backlog of blog posts full of the thrilling insights—no, wait—full of the Thrilling! Insights! that I accumulated while basking in hours of focused concentration unimpeded by the constant distraction of the internet?

Right. As if.

So what did I do while I was away from the Facebook and the Twitter and the Instagram and the Tumblr? (Okay, so I don’t spend all that much time on the Tumblr anyway.)

Well, I went and saw Star Trek Beyond, starring John Cho.

Oh hai John Cho is that drink for me?

Twice. It was really good.

But anyway, what I haven’t been doing much is working on revising my novel. I know, I know. That was the whole point of this sabbatical. But it turns out that sometimes your point is not what you think it is. Instead, I wrote three stories. Two of them were brand new. One of them was a story that’s been hanging around waiting for me to finish it for, oh, years I think. You might not be surprised to find out how many of those I have. There’s another one that’s literally about hanging around—the characters are figures in paintings on opposite walls of a museum, and they’ve fallen in love with each other as they’ve stared across the gap and conversed when the museum’s closed. One of them finally embarks on the journey to reach the other, which involves passing through all the other paintings in between them. One of these days, I hope, I’ll finish that one, too.

I also led a workshop for some members of my writing group, wherein we analyzed the first five pages of their novel manuscripts and tried to pinpoint areas for improvement. It was kind of exhausting but ultimately worthwhile (or so they told me, and I don’t have any reason to doubt them).

It still feels weird for me to offer up my advice in these ways. I mean, I’m just this guy, you know? But the great thing was how many people around the table offered their own insights as well, and how it got me thinking again about my own manuscript, wondering things like “how much backstory do I cram into the beginning?” and “is my main character really well-established from the outset?”

In the last couple days of July, finally, I found myself working on the novel again. I have a long way to go. But at least I’ve started.

I can’t say that I learned from my sabbatical that I’m easily distracted; I already knew that. It did reinforce that point, however. Without the urge to check Twitter or take pictures of every little thing and post it to Instagram, I’d pick up my phone and stare at the screen and think, what is this device for, again? It also drove home how ephemeral my digital connections with other people are. I e-mailed a few people I don’t get the chance to talk to in person these days (being in different countries will do that), and I met up with a couple people for lunch whom I don’t get to see that often, and I spent a lot of time at the bar at Civil Life chatting with my friend Jake the brewer. And I saw a friend for the first time in years when she came to town for a conference.

I also lined up a new freelance client and got the ball rolling on three new projects.

So, even if it wasn’t what I expected to be doing, I got a lot done. Focus is a wonderful thing.

I’m hoping that hopping back on Twitter and Instagram this week (I’m still on the fence about Facebook) won’t derail that focus completely. I still have a lot to do: three project deadlines, a novel to revise, and a trip to take (tomorrow, in fact, to Olympia, Washington; I still need to pack). Even after a month away, I know how easily I fall back into old habits—that’s probably why I’m perpetually trying to lose five pounds, because french fries are a habit I can’t kick. This October I’m scheduled to teach a workshop on using social media for writers, and I’m hoping to remind students that an online presence is necessary, but not to let it distract from their real work: writing.

It’s true, we teach best what we need to learn the most ourselves.