This morning, instead of starting the first major redraft of my third novel, I was checking Twitter. I saw a tweet from a friend and thought, I haven’t spoken to you in a while so went to send her a DM. Only to discover she’d unfollowed me.
Fair enough, I thought. I’m not surprised. I’ve been relentlessly self-promoting on my Twitter stream recently. I had a book out. I thought, well, I have to promote it, right? That's what we're told. I'll just promote it. A lot. So I did. A lot. After a while it gets excruciating. Especially if my friend, who is already friends with me on Facebook, gets the message and has bought into the idea of supporting my work. And my stream is one long advert for me.
Twitter now tells you whether someone is following you back or not on your ‘following’ screen. I found myself in this social media blackhole last week, scanning through my ‘following’ list to see who was still following me. And I noticed a fair few weren’t – and they had been recently. I knew this because of DMs, because of conversations they had jumped in on and because I considered us mates. But, having a book out recently has sent me into this strange space – I need to know everything everyone is saying about it. I'm in a space where I check my Amazon sales rankings, I have keyword searches set up on my name and the title of my book, I interact with people who are talking about me who aren’t even following me just because they’re talking about me. I’m checking what other books people are talking about, why aren’t they talking about mine, who is talking about mine, what are they saying?
I’ve lost all perspective.
Every minute, that refresh, the crushing disappointment when you realise no one is talking about your stuff, when you check Google search history so often you're refining it to the past hour, when it becomes a tick - that scrolldown pinch-pull you do on a touchscreen. When you are making that action in your sleep. When the blue sheen of a screen is in your blind spot as you try and count your breaths and calm down for bed. When you walk up in the middle of the night and while you check your phone to see the time, notice there are interactions on your lock screen so you head to the toilet so you can check them. When the only things you have to say are about yourself.
I feel anxious all the time at the moment.
Because I have this innate need to see what people are saying about my book all the time.
I wrote a book about our relationship with social media to reconcile my own relationship with it. The things I railed against, I have become. In the book, there is a repeated joke about the only constant email the main character receives being from Amazon recommending he buy his own book. Three times in two weeks, I have received that email from Amazon, recommending I buy the book I wrote satirising the people who constantly check their Amazon sales rankings, which generates that very sales email. I am become that person who, as the first line goes, ‘every morning sees what people are saying about me’. And what does it matter, scanning through the people I follow on Twitter to see if they follow me back, to wonder what it is I said to make them go away?
It’s horrible. I hate it.
My wife asked me last night what I was distracted by. I didn’t want to tell her the thing that made me keep checking my phone was a tweet that had got over 140 retweets, and I wanted to see what that did to my follower account.
None of this has to do with writing, which is the tragedy. It's to do with self-promotion, with being a brand, with bombarding your followers with sales messages.
Of course you'll chase people away. Of course you'll seem needy and self-obsessed and utterly dull if that's what you spend all your online time doing.
This is all very embarrassing to admit but when you realise you can’t retain your friends in your digital social circles, maybe you need to review what you need those circles for. I wrote a book about how we’re losing ourselves to the internet before losing myself to the internet. This feels like the ultimate meta-in-joke.
I love the internet. I need to remember what I need it for. It's time to try and embrace meatspace.