Social Media Anxiety

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I rarely make it all the way through writing a blog post. I’m in the zone, spilling my secrets, loving it, enjoying it, reveling in it — and then suddenly, I hit the wall. Or rather, I hit the question:

Why would anyone be interested in this?

As soon as that question pops up in my mind, I’m gone. Finished. Whatever enthusiasm or inspiration I had trickles away, leaving behind nothing positive. I rage-quit and that’s that. Another half-written post in the draft folder. Another monument to my failure.

I’ve been an anxious, awkward little thing for as long as I can remember. I used to avoid my teachers’ eyes when they asked questions even if I knew damn well what the answer was. I’d feign illness or sudden family plans to get out of social gatherings with friends. I would walk past a shop five times before plucking up the courage to go inside — or, better yet, just go without food, or washing up liquid, or whatever it was I urgently needed to buy.

When social situations make you feel like you’ve come down with a nasty case of norovirus, you get pretty good at finding ways to avoid them.

Being a bit older now and ever so slightly wiser, I’ve learned to cope with my anxiety a lot better. Okay, so I still need an entire week of mental preparation and then three hours of intense sweating and shaking to make a phone call, but I get it done. Eventually. And there’s a rush of euphoria every time I put down the phone or walk out of a shop or say goodbye to a friend. I’ve achieved something. I’ve been brave.

One of the reasons I love being a writer is the solitude. I get to be alone with my thoughts, far away from all the things in the real world that make me anxious. I don’t have to deal with apoplectic customers or needy colleagues or snarky bus drivers. I’m safe from judgement. It’s calm. Quiet. Isolated.

Except, it isn’t.

What they don’t tell you when you sign up to be a writer is that you have to be active on social media. You have to be bubbly. You have to make friends. You have to put yourself out there.

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The Pains of Composition — Leonid Osipovich Pasternak

Shudder. 

A squealing, gushing, .gif-sharing person is not what springs to mind when I think ‘writer’ — but it’s the reality. Take a glance at the #amwriting or #writing tags on Twitter and you’ll see that writers — modern writers — are outgoing creatures, not the solitary, isolated vampires of the last few centuries. Writers no longer stay in an attic until dawn, squinting at their tiny handwriting and staying well away from other human beings. They revel in connections and friendship and networking. They show off. They share.

On paper, it sounds simple to be one of those writers. I know the theory. To a build a brand and market yourself as a writer/author, you’ve got to make connections, interact with people, post content, tweet as much as you can, generally put yourself out there. You’ve got to be visible.

Those things are not hard in themselves — but to me, an anxious, shaky, hopelessly introverted creature, being ‘visible’ is terrifying.

It’s not really a self-confidence issue. I struggled a lot with that when I was a teenager, but I think I’m pretty great these days. I’m an intelligent young woman with healthy hair, an okay face, an amazing lipstick collection, and impressive buttocks (thanks, squats). No, my issue is more to do with crippling shyness, with failure, with fear of the unknown.

The lament I mentioned above — Why would anyone be interested in this? — stalks me everywhere. I hear it when I’m working on my novel, when I’m composing a blog post, when I’m thinking up a tweet, when I’m replying to someone on Facebook… And I suppose, quite importantly, it’s often fulfilled when I do manage to post something. Just like how my fears about RL socialising were confirmed when not one of the friends I invited to a party showed up, my previous ‘failed’ social media attempts seem like a stark reminder that no, nobody is interested. Of course they aren’t. I see that fact in every unliked tweet, every unshared blog post, every ignored Facebook comment. And as I craft my new novel, I can’t help but remember the rejections for the previous one.

The doubt — the fear —  never ends.

I hate myself for letting that question follow me from the real world to the internet and to my private, creative thoughts — but there’s no stopping it. I think I’ll always feel it, the doubt, nagging away at me, tripping me up, dragging me down. But I know what the answer is. I know it, and I always have known it.

Ignore it.

So what if nobody’s interested? I’ve seen posts on writing blogs about what authors had for lunch, or how they bathe their dog, or their favourite kind of slipper — and I’ve read them and enjoyed them. They weren’t strictly relevant or informative, but they were nice. Fun. Worthy of being shared. So what’s wrong with me blogging about progress on my WIP? Or my preferred method of description? Or my thoughts on onomatopoeia? Why am I ashamed to tweet about MY LIFE on an account that is about ME? Why do I make myself sick with shyness and self-doubt when plenty of people have far less to say but say it far more often?

I have to stop holding myself to such an impossible, cripplingly high standard, and just enjoy myself. Write. Share. Be friendly. Be a friend.

Writing naturally comes with its doubts and insecurities: am I writing the right thing? What if agents don’t like it? Will I ever get published? How will I cope if readers hate it? I accept those doubts, because they make sense. They’re reasonable. They have a point. But I can’t let it extend to social media anymore. I can’t let myself blot myself out of existence because of silly, stupid nerves.

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I’ve lived the past three years in a fug of solitude and doubt. I’ve made a lot of progress — finishing a book and drafting two others, having the courage to query, making writing friends, meeting writing friends — but those years still feel blurry and dark and horribly quiet to me. Being able to share with other writers, to feel at ease with posting boring life updates and jokes and snippets, will refresh my whole way of writing — my whole way of living.

Because even though I’m more like the vampiric nineteenth-century novelist of old, I see now why the writers of today are so vocal, so peppy, so fun. It keeps you grounded. It keeps you sane. It makes you feel like a proper writer, a proper author, even when you’re wasting away in the slush pile or slaving over a messy draft. Because with the internet, you’re never truly doing this alone.

Locking oneself away to write may have worked two hundred years ago, but the world is a different place now. We have information and friendship at our fingertips, at all times. We don’t have to be solitary. We don’t have to hide. And, with the sheer size of the community, there will always be somebody out there who IS interested in what you or I have to say. Not everybody, but somebody.

I don’t think I’ll ever find it easy to stand up and scream into the abyss, but I’m going to try. I’m going to really, really try. And when that question rears up, as it always does, I’m going to kick it back down and keep walking, keep writing — because if I let my doubts get the better of me, all I’ll ever have is half-finished projects and regret. And that truly is something nobody’s interested in.

And here it is again, that horrible question I can’t help asking myself. The one that makes me drag the cursor to the X in the corner. But this time I have an answer.

Why would anyone be interested in this? Why are you bothering?

Because someone, somewhere, will have scrolled right to the bottom to read this line.

That’s why.

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7 thoughts on “Social Media Anxiety

  1. Ignore that inner voice and let the verbal diarrhoea flow I say! 🙂 I think my inner sensor works on a delay, I’m always wondering ‘why in the hell did I say that’ when thinking back to past conversations. With writing at least I can finish the article, set it aside, and get my chance to edit it before clicking ‘publish’… and yes, many never make it because I’m afraid they will hold no interest to anyone but me. But at least I get to revisit my choices that I can’t when my mouth runs away with me…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Lucy,
      I was impressed with what you have written on the subject. I had no idea you were struggling so much. I too suffered, perhaps not quite as bad as you, when I was growing up. I used to be shy of my own parents, even though my mother was my whole world. I used to be called a snob because I found it really hard to interact with people. My mother had a very large family from London who were obviously very loud. I never fitted in and always sat on the sidelines. I was then unlucky enough that my parents decided to emigrate to Australia when I was 14. A terrifying experience for me being taken away from my sister and everything I knew. I had to go to school there which did not work out well forcing me to leave school at 15. I have struggled all my life with trying to deal with everyday life. Like you, I never used to say very much because I did not think anybody wanted to listen to what I had to say. I found it hard to let my first husband before we married know how I felt about him and had to write it in a letter. The only problem was when we used to go out no-one knew who I was, as he never introduced me, making me feel worthless. My real breakthrough was meeting my second husband. I think the reason we get on so well is that we have a lot in common, moved around a lot as kids so do not need anyone else. He encouraged me out of my shell and, although it took a long time, I do now find life easier, although not brave enough to do things like my daughter, who travels the world on her own without a second thought. I struggled to get to Gatwick on my own to go away with her for a weekend to Scotland. I am probably rambling now, but hope you realise you are not alone. Like you I am wondering whether to press the button on this.
      Sue

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you so much for posting that, Sue. I think most of us plaster on a façade of confidence to some degree, so it’s hard to recognise each other as allies and sufferers. Often people write me off as being rude or stuck-up or aloof because I won’t talk to them or like to sit by myself, but it’s just awkwardness. I suppose it’s good that our nerves don’t betray us too much in public, but cruel that some can interpret them the wrong way.

        I’m so pleased you’ve managed to overcome some part of your anxiety, and how lovely that your husband was the one to help you. 🙂 I think most of us will never truly leave it behind, but we can make progress. I’m in awe of my mum. She’s someone who you’d never guess feels this way, but she does. She does, and she doesn’t let it stop her. What a superstar.

        Thank you for reading and thank you for having the courage to post this! I read it all. 🙂

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    • Funny that we’re the opposite! I’m forever thinking, ‘Crap, I should have said [this brilliantly snarky thing] earlier!’ — but you’re right, at least being hesitant doesn’t get me into any trouble!

      I’ll try my best to follow your advice and ignore that inner voice. I guess you need to work on waking yours up! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t count the amount of times that I write out a post, or a reply to someone and the words just keep flowing. But then suddenly, I think to myself ‘what the hell am i doing’ *select all* *backspace*.

    I try to remind myself this but often fail.My therapist always tells me that not everyone is going to like/agree/care about what you say/write. But you know what? That is okay.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s very true: not everyone will like/care/agree with the things we say online. I suppose the key thing to remember is that the more we actually post, the higher the chance someone WILL like it. Giving in to our fears will only confirm them. Of course, saying that and doing it is another thing entirely…

      But hey, you posted HERE! And I liked it! We’ve both had a success today. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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