Literary Hub

Where Are the Likes? Coming to Terms with Being a Writer on Social Media

likes

Writers, has this ever happened to you on social media?

You share the good news that your story, poem, or essay has been accepted by a magazine. You get a cascade of likes and congratulations. Exclamation points abound.

Then later, when you actually share that same published work, the post meets relative silence.

Why the difference in reaction to the news and the work?

A decade ago, when I started publishing in literary magazines, I didn’t have a Twitter account. Those were the waning years of SASEs—self-addressed stamped envelopes—when rejections were sent by mail, on silent but dismissive 3×5 form cards. Those rejections helped build my backbone as a writer. I’d labor through months of drafts before waiting several more months to only hear the word no.

It was a necessary education. Most writing should be rejected. Editors do us a favor when they pass on our lackluster work.

When those rejections started turning to acceptances, and my writing started appearing in places like The Kenyon Review and the Mississippi Review, I would share the good news—but in a small circle of people. My family (God bless the patience of a writer’s family). My professors and mentors. Fellow writing program alums.

Back then, my writing wasn’t cast into the social media waters, hoping for bites. Now, when I publish work, it feels necessary to share the news online. It’s actually expected of me to spread the word. To get clicks, to help move copies. That makes sense; writers should support the editors who’ve supported their work.

In our digital present, it is easy to forget that silence has always been the most common response to literature and art. This does not mean that work met with silence hasn’t been appreciated; rather, it means that the creator of that work often doesn’t know about that appreciation.

Silence is a hard pill to swallow for younger writers. Writing workshops create the expectation of response to works-in-progress. Whatever the merits of that method of instruction, writers who pass through MFA programs receive volumes of reactions from fellow students, professors, and thesis advisors. It becomes easy to confuse the process of writing with its output.

Outside of that workshop world, silence is the norm. Yet I can’t imagine writers putting their heart into a story, sharing it, and being satisfied with silence. There are many romantic conceptions attached to writers, and one of the least realistic is that of the stoic workhorse—writers who create for some artistic purity, and the world’s reaction to their art be damned.

I don’t think so. Writers want readers.

Writers who publish absolutely want readers. Now, if people don’t like or retweet the poem they congratulated you on months earlier, what was the point of the earlier support? The reason, I hope, is that good news tends to lift the literary tide. Jealousy and competition are inevitable in the world of writing, but I like to believe that someone else’s success is welcome. That might be a naïve hope, but scanning my social media timelines, it seems accurate. Good news can be infectious.

Equally infectious—or perhaps addictive—is the desire for our work to gain the same reaction as our good news. However silly and slight the social media world might be, even cynical writers will likely admit that when we share something, we want people to respond to it. Writing is a form of expression, but I believe publishing is a form of validation.

Yet I’ve learned to change my expectations when it comes to social media. It’s not healthy to look toward social media for validation as a writer. Writing is slow work, but so is reading. Congratulations on publishing a poem is a second’s worth of action; reading and understanding that poem is a real commitment.

Social media is best seen as a place for writers to share struggles and talk process, rather than expect authentic interactions with the works we create. All writers—whether you write about religion, politics, books, food—experience the same difficulties. We worry that our work isn’t ready for the world—especially the moment it is published. We stress over pitching editors. We want to create better work. We look for inspiration in the work that has moved us.

It’s time to embrace the silence. Write with all of your heart, soul, and mind, but then step back from the work once it is published. Share your work, but don’t wait for likes and retweets and mentions. Get off your phone. Get back to your desk.

The silence is what has always fed us. The silence is you and the page. You and the idea that you can’t stop thinking about. You and the perfect word that’s needed to break a line. The silence will always be there—and if you are lucky enough to hear a good word or two about your work, the sound will be that much sweeter.

Originally published in Literary Hub.

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