Prayer and That Day I Spent Two Hours on My Phone

If the public spectacle of allegedly pro-family, pro-morality, pro-ethics, pro-absolute truth evangelical Christians unashamedly and unequivocally supporting a Supreme Court nominee with multiple, credible criminal accusations against him hasn’t killed irony forever and ever, then perhaps my experience yesterday will put us over the top in the war against irony.

Irony, brace yourself for what follows.

I’ve been working on a grant application with an October 1st deadline. The grant is highly competitive, but securing it would significantly help cover the costs of deeper research into the impact of digital devices on spirituality for my book Always Present: Contemplative Resistance to Digital Distraction.

On the due date of the grant, we had to make a few changes to the grant, changes that would make it stronger, but each change brought other changes and renewed complexity. Text messages and emails throughout the day were essential for keeping everyone on the same page.

Before I say anything else about my day, the focus of this grant project is studying the impact of smartphones on spiritual practices, and part of the project includes an experiment where we ask some subjects to increase smartphone use, some to decrease, and others to keep it the same. I didn’t anticipate that applying for this grant would inadvertently turn me into a test subject!

It just so happened that over the weekend, I had updated my iPhone to the latest operating system, and it includes a “Screen Time” section under Settings. You can set limits on certain groups of apps and see how much time you spend on those groups of apps. You can also track how much time you spend on specific apps.

Adding to the complexity of the day our grant was due, our kids were on fall break from school. Part of my screen time involved reading articles at The Athletic while our daughter fussed over her bottle, including several stretches where I put the phone down with an article open. I was also managing several emails and text messages while building boats out of Legos with my boys.

All of this is to say, I wasn’t shocked to find at the end of the day that I had spent a little over two hours on my phone. Certain aspects of the day demanded it. We got the grant done, and there are big plans to build some more boats the following day without so many interruptions.

However, I don’t want to merely make excuses for myself. This kind of day was full of the unusually urgent, but things can start going off track.

Did I Train Myself to Use My Phone More?

The problem with such “exceptional” days, addicting tools like smartphones are designed to be rewarding and to appear useful, if not essential. I can begin to use an exceptional day as a baseline for new habits, checking on my phone or seeking distractions with more regularity.

For each day where I’m immersed in my phone for a work project, I need at least another day to disconnect from it. Even this morning I caught myself pulling my phone out to check my email… at 5:30 am. There can’t be any urgent messages about the grant at 5:30 am, can there?

Did I Pray During My Busy Day?

As you can guess, prayer was hard to come by with a baby sputtering each time I gave her a bottle, constant emails and text messages, and my kids asking me to help them find Lego pieces or disconnect pieces that were stuck. Prayer isn’t easy with kids around under normal circumstances, so toss in a competitive grant deadline and a smartphone, and it’s not looking good.

However, I was grateful for the chance to see what increased smartphone usage did to my spirituality. That is the point of our study after all?

  • I caught myself getting impatient with our kids when they were bickering.
  • When I had a moment in the car by myself later in the day, I took some time to pray in silence rather than turning to a podcast. I could tell that my soul was unsettled.
  • When I sat down at a café to work on the final details of the grant, I took a moment to pray because my mind was scattered.
  • After hitting send, I took five minutes to close my computer and to write a few thoughts in my journal. It was reflective, but it also felt like a prayer of sorts.
  • Later that evening, I took a break from the dishes to sit with my wife on the back patio while our kids took literally every book off two book shelves in the other room. It was worth it.

After spending two hours on my phone on a busy day, it’s not surprising to conclude that prayer was hard to prioritize.

Can Contemplative Prayer Practices Help?

While I feel like I need a bit of recovery time today to get myself into a better spiritual and mental place after yesterday, it was encouraging to see that regular contemplative prayer practices have helped me establish a new baseline of sorts.

I sort of know what it feels like to be spiritually grounded, and I sort of know what it feels like to be spiritually adrift. I have invested enough time in prayer practices that I knew when things were going off the rails.

Having some simple charts and stats about my smartphone usage was also extremely helpful. I couldn’t lie to myself. Let’s be honest, I would totally underestimate my phone usage if it was up to me!

Most importantly, even though I had lost a lot of time and space for prayer yesterday, I still had enough self-knowledge and enough practices handy that I could turn a five-minute car ride into a moment of semi-stillness before God.

Mind you, those five minutes of silence after a day of perpetual mental and physical motion were AGONIZING. I wanted to keep moving, to keep my mind humming with stimuli rather than turning toward God in silence.

I dramatically increased my smartphone usage, and while it wasn’t good for me, contemplation was able to help in the thick of it. In the days to come I’ll continue to use that little screen time chart and my prayer practices to help me keep my feet on the ground.

Prayer also sounds A LOT better than checking my email constantly about my grant status…

What Are We Mad about This Week?

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I have been taking the weekends off from Facebook, and something strange has been happening on Monday morning. Feeling like Rip Van Winkle, I open up Facebook and review the news from the weekend. I catch myself wondering what people are angry about this week.

It’s strange to feel so detached from the passionate debates of the past two days.

Of course there are many things that we can legitimately become angry about. The world is rife with injustice. I’m not doubting these things or suggesting that we embrace complacency.

Rather, I’ve been noticing that the daily use of Facebook can lead my mind into a kind of ongoing angst and anger, if not a sense of anxiety. In light of the injustices and problems in our world, I’m concerned that despite the benefits of awareness that comes through Facebook, it’s also creating a mindset of anger and anxiety that leaves me unable to thoughtfully engage the problems of our world in a constructive manner, let alone the people who disagree with my perspective.

I will never doubt that Facebook has been a great tool for sharing worthwhile causes and events. Heck, even the much-derided ALS Ice Bucket Challenge led to major research innovations and potential breakthroughs. I follow causes such as the Preemptive Love Coalition primarily through their Facebook page. Social media can do more than raise awareness for a cause—it can help us take organized action.

However, social media isn’t as great for fostering empathy, hosting complex, nuanced conversations, or creating a mindset that can take measured steps toward solutions. It’s so very easy to assume the worst about others, to lament what “those idiots” think, and to demonize people who post smug memes mocking what I hold dear. More to the point, I’m sure I’ve done all of these things to others plenty of times as well.

I am committed to being constructive, redemptive, and action-oriented within my resources. I don’t want to go through my life critiquing and criticizing others without ever getting involved in a cause. In fact, for many years I’d been involved in prison ministry, and I immediately noticed that I wrote with far more snark and divisiveness online compared to the way I reached out to the men in prison. I wanted my in-person words to guide my online words.

This brings me back to the weekend breaks I’ve been taking from Facebook (and all other social media channels). I don’t know how long I’ll keep this up, but I feel the acute need to know what I am like without any social media interactions. I need to feel the gnawing desire to check in and to ask what’s driving that and whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. The more I’m driven to check in, the more I need to examine that drive and where it’s coming from.

I need solitude each day, and a big part of creating that space means learning to cut myself off from distractions and time wasting activities that eat up precious blocks of five, ten, or fifteen minutes.

I need solitude in order to hear the still, small voice of God.

I need solitude in order to recognize when my mind is spinning off track into anger, fear, and frustration.

Rage can become a lifestyle, a habit that we cultivate by constantly feeding it tidbits of injustice and fear from our circles and from the news cycle. In fact, news outlets and social media sites have every incentive in the world to push outrageous events into our faces. That isn’t to say there aren’t journalists doing good and essential work. Rather, the people running these companies need to attract viewers in order to maximize profits, and rage works.

The worst part about today’s outrage culture is that we need solitude in order to actually address it, but we’ll no doubt hear guilt trips that we’re putting our heads in the sand or acting irresponsibly if we disconnect for an extended period of time. The pursuit of an actual solution appears to be just another part of the problem.

Activists and saints surely figured out ways to address injustice before social media, and I trust that a bit more mindfulness and consideration about the way forward will help us take better steps forward together.

I care deeply about the injustice that America has inflicted on the Middle East (see the Preemptive Love Coalition for more ways you can help the most desperate refugees today). I think often about our criminal justice system, and I still associate names and faces with sentencing laws and parole policies. I very much want to stay engaged. I want to feel the anger of the injustices people continue to suffer. I can use Facebook to raise awareness about these issues, but I need something more than rage.

I need the focus and direction that comes from silence and contemplative prayer.

I need a still small voice to speak in the midst of the storm, or I’ll most likely become just another voice in the storm.

The Hidden Danger of Business for Creative Workers

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“I just want to create things. I’ll let someone else handle the business and marketing side of things.” I hear this all of the time. I thought the same thing for a very, very long time.

That mindset may have been the most damaging mistake for my creative work. It laid a foundation for a myriad of other mistakes, resulting in hours and hours of work for books that suffered from my ignorance. Had I actually understood the business of publishing, how the industry has evolved, and where I fit into it (the hardest piece to sort out), I could have invested significantly more time in projects that would have been both creatively fulfilling and financially sustainable.

I’m not alone with my mistakes when it comes to the business side of creative work. I’ve seen friends literally lose control of their books because an inexperienced agent made a bad publishing deal with a new publisher who went out of business right after the book released. I’ve seen colleagues get more of less dropped by their publishers before or during their book releases, with publicists offer very vague, limited support.

Other professional writers and bloggers have suffered from SEO changes that hurt their websites or social media shifts, such as changes to Facebook’s author pages, that sent their click-throughs and ad revenue diving.

There are so many things that I wish I had done differently 5-6 years ago that could have helped myself immensely today. That isn’t to say that I wish I had given myself over completely to the business side of the publishing and writing industries. Rather, I wish I at least knew what I was missing and had been more intentional about the direction of my creative career.

Creative workers can mistakenly think that ignorance of business is a virtue that makes their work pure. 

Ignorance of the business end of creative work is by no means a virtue. It may actually hold your work back, deprive you of opportunities, and even prevent you from being generous with your work. For instance, some publishers make it very difficult to share a high quality eBook with potential readers and reviewers. You would think publishers understand the value of putting books in the hands of reviewers who can help improve your ranking on Amazon by putting your book over the 50-review threshold. However, there are many, many cases of employees at publishers shipping PDF’s of the book’s print file to reviewers, which appear as a mangled garble of words and punctuation in most eReaders.

The more you know about business and marketing going into creative work, the better off you’ll be in choosing the direction that is most sustainable and consistent with your values. I have taken one self-directed crash course after another in the publishing business and marketing. I’ve made enough mistakes over the years that I’ve been very motivated to sign up for industry publications and blogs such as Digital Book World, Jane Friedman’s blog, Writers Digest, Joanna Penn’s podcast, and many more. I’ve read books about the craft of writing, the business of writing, and how independent authors make it work. I’ve read about the marketing strategies and tactics that are available.

None of this has taken away from my creative vision. I’m not changing my plans dramatically. Rather, I’m learning where my creative work can overlap with the strategies that work best today.

Here’s the ironic part of this shift: the more I understand the publishing business and where I fit into it, the more I’ve been able to invest in the kind of work that I love. Back when I was completely ignorant of the publishing industry, I wasted so much time on social media, chasing influential people, and more or less wringing my hands about the things that didn’t work out.

With a better picture in my mind of what works and what doesn’t work, I’ve invested in tools that make my work time more efficient so I can focus on my creative projects and the freelancing that will help pay the bills.

Understanding the business side of my creative work means I can choose what to ignore and compensate for the gaps that creates. For my independent books I spend very little time courting endorsements or reviews on top blogs. Rather, I focus on sharing guest posts and give out the books liberally to all who will read and review them. It runs against some of the industry advice, but it feels like a good path for my work. It’s a choice that I’ve made with full awareness of my options.

These are the decisions that no one else could make for me. I couldn’t just “trust” the experts to tell me what to do. The experts can tell you what has worked for them and for other people, but they can’t tell you how to chart your creative career.

Most importantly, if you don’t set your own course with the backing of research and self-knowledge, you could end up running from half-baked ideas to half-hearted projects over and over again. It’s far better to spend time focusing on what you need to do and then jumping in with both feet and playing the long game. It’s a risk and you’ll certainly need to make adjustments along the way. However, it’s far better to give yourself to a particular plan in order to know with a fair amount of certainty that it doesn’t work than to dabble in three different directions without a clue about what would actually work if you give yourself fully to one of them. 

There’s a danger for creative workers when it comes to the business side of their work, but the danger in most cases is ignorance of business, rather than selling out. I only have my own network to go on, but I think the number of sell outs to business are far fewer than those who flounder because of ignorance of the business side of their work.

Authenticity and integrity do not demand ignorance of business.

If you value integrity and your creative vision, there’s no harm in learning about the business side of your creative work. Dig in and sort out which advice rings true and which doesn’t. Take a look at how you fit into your industry and how your creative work can either reach more people with this knowledge.

If any particular practice in your creative industry strikes you as troubling or unsustainable, no one will blame you for avoiding it. It’s better to see the opportunities and obstacles with clarity than to avoid them both in ignorance.

 

 

I Limited My Time on Facebook and This Is What Happened

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I have so many reasons to be on Facebook.

I live far away from most of my family and friends. Solution? Facebook.

I work in a relatively isolated profession where my colleagues are spread all over the country and even world. Solution? Facebook.

I write stuff that I’d like people to read? Partial solution? Facebook.

I like to be entertained by witty comments on current events and cultural trends. Solution? Facebook.

I often get stuck with my work and need a distraction. MAJOR PROBLEM: Facebook

It’s so easy to just check Facebook one more time… just one more time… OK, just one more time… MAJOR PROBLEM: Facebook

Despite the benefits of connecting with friends, family, and colleagues over social media, it has a way of invading my free time that should be devoted to family, house work, and, if I’m lucky, a bit of reading. Social media offers me a quick out when I hit a slow point in my day, a difficult part of a project, or a minute of free time in the evening.

I’ve already enjoyed the benefits of the SelfControl App that shuts down any sites I’ve specified for a set period of time. It’s amazing what I can get done at work once I turn on the app and have no entertainment recourses for 45 minutes.

However, the invasion of social media into my free time has been a major concern. There simply aren’t clear lines for me between work time and family time on social media. I’m always connecting with family AND promoting my work. The two are tied together. Feeling the need for stronger boundaries, I opted to set up a limited social media fast for Lent:

No social media after 5 pm on weekdays.

No social media on the weekends.

I’ve learned two really important things about myself so far during this fast.

 

First, I Read a Lot More.

That’s not really a shocker. Without my 5,10, or 20 minute detours into social media, I often find myself looking for something to do in the evening if I’m giving the baby a cat nap or spending a little free time on the couch. Without the siren call of Facebook, the latest Richard Rohr book added to my collection, Eager to Love, quickly shoots to the top of my list of things to do.

 

Second, I Complain a Lot Less

I would have told you that I’m more of a joking complainer. I’m often tongue in cheek, right? Well, no, actually. I never realized how much of social media is actually just a litany of complaints for me until I set some boundaries around myself.

These limits have helped me see the ways I’ve “wasted” my tweets and status updates with complaints.

Mind you, some complaints are warranted. If I can’t rant about my hockey teams on social media, then I don’t really know what else I can do with it. However, each time I’m tempted to complain about the baby’s failed nap, a toddler tantrum, or yet another quirky, boundary-invading person at the café, I now stop and think about what I’m about to do. More often than not, I need to either get back to work, get back to my family, or, if I’m set on complaining, shift my sights on my hockey teams.

 

What Happens After Lent?

I love Lent because it offers a chance to experiment and test out which areas of my life are unhealthy and unbalanced. If giving up something like social media on the weekends feels like such an enormous burden, then it sure seems like some boundaries are really needed.

A few weeks into Lent, I’m sensing that these boundaries are going to become my new normal. Not that I WANT them to be the new normal. Rather, I don’t want these social media boundaries, and that’s what tells me I need them.

 

What are you fasting from during Lent?

Do you have any lessons or changes to report at this point?

 

 

Don’t forget, you can now pre-order my new book Pray, Write, Grow on Amazon for $.99.

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Nook | Kobo | iBooks | Print

The price goes up on March 11, 2015 when it officially releases.

Download a Sample PDF.

Read the reviews at Goodreads.

Why Bloggers Should Share Their Posts on Their Personal Facebook Pages

facebookThere is a trend lately among bloggers to share their blog posts on writer pages for fans rather than in their personal news feeds. This means that friends who want to follow their personal updates and their blog posts need to friend them AND subscribe to their pages.

Here are three reasons why this is bad for most bloggers along with a hefty caveat:

Assumptions about Blog Content

The fear among many bloggers is that their friends and family will get tired of blog posts being pushed in front of them. Perhaps there are ways a blogger could do this poorly, but this kind of thinking assumes that sharing your own writing is somehow wrong.

While pushy blog content or a pushy approach to sharing blog content would be a turn off, I’d like to ask you, “Who do you write for?” There’s probably a good chance that many of your friends and family would benefit by reading your blog. If not, then you may want to rethink your blog rather than changing your sharing plans.

If your blog is sharing something valuable, then you shouldn’t feel bad about sharing it. When your blog is an extension of who you are and what you’re interested in, it belongs on your personal Facebook news feed.

Assumptions about Friends

I tend to assume that my friends and family don’t read my blog, but every month I hear from someone else who has been quietly reading my blog posts or the articles I write for other sites and share on Facebook. While some friends may choose to hide my updates, enough of them have been quietly following my blog through Facebook that I have no intention of separating my blog from my personal Facebook updates any time soon.

I think it’s more helpful to set up a writing page for yourself if you want to keep your professional contacts away from your personal life rather than sparing your friends and family from your blog.

I use my Facebook writers page to share writing industry news and my blog posts. My personal Facebook page is a mix of my personal updates and blog posts.

How We Manage News Feeds

While this move of blog posts away from personal walls to fan pages is rooted in a desire to be considerate to friends and family, I would like to suggest that this separation causes more problems than it solves. If I want to keep in touch with a friend and follow his/her writing, I don’t like the idea of having to subscribe and friend this person so that I’m stuck following both of his/her feeds.

I like the idea of just having one feed for one person. I’ve got hundreds of friends to sift through, and it seems like more of a liability than an advantage.

Another huge wild card that I can’t speak to directly is how Facebook manages what shows up in my news feed. I’ve heard that pages aren’t always prioritized, and I’ve had too many friends write these posts explaining how I can make their fan pages a priority in my news feed. All of this seems far more complicated and annoying than these friends simply sharing their blog posts every day in their personal feeds.

The Caveat about Blog Content

The one exception to this would be if your blog is firmly planted in a narrow niche that your friends would never want to read about. For example, if you blog about website coding, don’t share your blog posts with friends and family.

There may also be some bloggers who would rather not let friends and family know about their writing. They may even use a pseudonym so that no one can discover what they’re writing about.

An Apology

I’m sorry that I’ve become that bossy blogger telling people what to do about social media and their blogs. However, I think the core issue here is one of self-esteem and personal assessment for bloggers.

Far too many bloggers undervalue their writing.

They just assume that sharing their posts with friends and family is annoying or burdensome to them. I think it’s time for bloggers to embrace their value and to boldly share their work with everyone who needs to read it.

If you blog, it’s your job to writing something valuable and to then share it with readers. If you aren’t willing to share it, then you’ve either failed to create something good or you’ve convinced yourself of a lie about the worth of your hard work.

How to Claim You Are a Rock Star When You Are Not a Rock Star

There are all kinds of people today on social media who call themselves “rock stars” who are most decidedly NOT rock stars. This can be confusing.

How does one arrive at such a position without having accomplished any of the required “rocking” or “stardom” that is typically associated with rock stars?

Don’t worry, I’m a professional writer, and I’m here to help. While I am not a rock star in either the literal or self-proclaimed sense, I have observed enough self-proclaimed rock stars to cobble together a handy little guide that will show you the can’t-fail path to self-proclaimed rock stardom:

Step 1: Choose A Non-Rock Career

Choose a career path that is most certainly not related to rock music—the more boring and technical, the better. For example, marketing, website design, or social media consulting are particularly fertile careers for non-rock stars to claim rock star status.

Step 2: Adopt a Peppy Tone

Rock stars are passionate, off the chain characters who defy bland copywriting. Jazz up your website’s about me pages and social media profiles with peppy descriptions of how awesome you are. You’re really living on the edge if you can also claim you’re a ninja while weighing over your recommended body mass index.

Step 3: Crown Yourself a Rock Star

Peppy copy alone does not make you a rock star. Rock stars are self-confident and cocky enough to call themselves “rock stars,” critics be damned. Claiming rock star status for yourself, even if you’re hardly a social media maven or a blogging guru, is about going out there and taking what’s yours.

You know you’re a rock star already, so go out there and type it into your profile now, you… you… rock star.

The Benefits of a Limited Social Media Fast

During the 40 days of Lent, I decided to fast from social media in a limited sort of way. While I know it’s probably more common to quit these things cold turkey, I didn’t think that 40 days separated from social media would actually provide the benefits I needed for the long term.

The Problem

I was using Twitter and Facebook as sources of constant distraction from my work, family, and spiritual life. I wanted to use social media as a tool to communicate with potential readers, to network with fellow writers, and to keep in touch with friends. Instead I checked them both an unseemly number of times in search of links, conversations, or anything that I could read.

I responded to any mention or post immediately. Links to interesting posts were pursued, and I left comments without thinking about the time they consumed.

Any time I hit a tough spot in my writing, I’d drop by Twitter or Facebook.

I needed to break my dependency on these tools, while learning how to use them in healthy ways. It wasn’t going to help me if I could quit cold turkey for 40 days, learn a few lessons, and then gradually forget them over the following months while rediscovering the lure of social media again.

I needed a practical way forward so that my personal, spiritual, and work times were equally guarded that would last beyond Lent.

The Plan

I settled on a plan to spend only 30 minutes each day on Twitter and Facebook. To be honest, that seems absurdly long, but in practice the time goes by quickly! I broke it into 3 ten-minute slots. This meant that I needed to make the most of my time online and if I really wanted to interact with people, I needed to space my time out.

This required a decent amount of discipline, since I wanted to think of interesting things to say, but I also wanted to read what other people were sharing. I didn’t have unlimited time to follow blog posts and links.

In addition, effectively tracking your friends on a tool like Tweetdeck, as I do, I needed to leave Tweetdeck open for a while before I could look at it. I hide my menu bar so as to limit the temptation, but I still knew it was there.

The Results

While I certainly missed my sources of distraction, I soon appreciated the limits of my fast. Sometimes I followed links and ended up reading them beyond my time limit, so I had to subtract time from my next 10-minute session. I probably interacted online a lot less to my detriment in some ways, but I also thought a lot more about effectively using my limited time, which is a real benefit.

I’m most grateful that I broke the habit of checking social media first thing in the morning. Instead I spend my early morning time writing fiction, drinking coffee, reading scripture, and praying. My mornings are SO much better without Twitter and Facebook.

Waiting until 11 AM or later for social media really helps me use my most productive times in the most effective ways—both for work and spiritual growth. I never catch myself thinking, “Damn, I wish I’d spent 30 minutes on Twitter this morning instead of praying or editing my novel!”

In addition, HubSpot marketing found that more people are willing to retweet something on Twitter around 11 AM, so I really have no reason to use Twitter before 11 AM. I can share my links and socialize at 11 AM just fine.

Perhaps my biggest problem was that I found new distractions such as checking my e-mail, but even that was a bit easier to resist since it’s much easier to convince myself that no new e-mails have arrived in the past 15 minutes. Twitter guarantees fresh content. In addition, an empty inbox isn’t all that distracting even on my worst day.

Here are some outcomes from my limited fast:

  • I now budget an extra 30 minutes for blog reading and networking.
  • I stick to the 3 ten-minute social media sessions on Tweetdeck and Facebook. I aim for 11 AM, 2 PM, and 5 PM.
  • I try to avoid social media at night. If I want to drop someone a note or need to send a message via Facebook, I can drop in, send the note, and then log off.
  • I allow myself to visit Twitter online if I want to post something, but I can’t do anything else.

How have you dealt with your bad habits in social media? Have you tried sometime different that worked? 

Should You Edit Your Twitter Updates?

Yesterday I almost sent out a press release with a horrendous sentence in it that would have made nuns weep. Are you ready for this?

“Actor NAME will be dramatizing the birth of Jesus.”

I wrote the release late one night, sent it to someone else, edited it the next day with that person’s feedback, and then I opened it the following day to give it one last read-through.

Then I caught it.

Two sets of eyes reading through the release a total of four times before catching that whopper of a sentence. And that got me thinking, are there any other forms of communication where we need to exercise extra caution with the words we use?

If there’s one medium that welcomes, nay begs, for gaffs and awkward statements, it has to be Twitter. Designed for quick, instantaneous communication, Twitter allows us to share anything we’re thinking with thousands of people with a tap of the finger.

The possibility of saying something so stupid, so quickly to so many takes my breath away.

I worry about having moments like Michael Scott (a la The Office) where I’ll mean one thing and inadvertently say something offensive or rude when the words leave my lips. That’s why I fear on Twitter.

While I may have deleted a few tweets in my day, more often than not I simply abstain from tweeting anything that could possibly be misconstrued. In addition, I read and reread my tweets before I send them out into the world.

And yet, I still worry about writing something dumb.

How I communicate with others is important, and I want everything I send out to have some kind of value as information, humor, a question, or encouragement. Misspelled words, bad grammar, or a careless phrase damages the overall impact and value of the rest of my communication on Twitter.

Even if a tweet can be deleted, damage may be done among those who read an errant tweet before it’s removed. The words we use matter, even they’re part of an endless stream of 140-character messages that flood the internet. The last thing you want is to be noticed for the wrong kind of message.

When Does Self-Promotion on Social Media Go Too Far?

As a writer I’ve been regularly confronting the concept of self-promotion for a solid three years now. With online applications such as Twitter and Facebook many worry that we are not only falling into a nasty pattern of narcissism, but some businesses and sole-proprietor businesses will abuse their networks of family, friends, and acquaintances to make a buck.

I’d like to tackle this from the perspective of a writer. Writers face the tricky matter of essentially “selling” ourselves and our talents of weaving words together. Readers and publishers look for someone with name recognition, and so writers must think of ways they can “make a name for themselves.” If you’re familiar with the biblical story of the tower of Babel, you may recall that the attempt of humanity to do such a thing resulted in their language being garbled by God.

Such a prospect is not necessarily encouraging for writers—especially a Christian writer.

The only way I can see handling this delicate matter of self-promotion in a way that avoids the exploitation of friends, family, and acquaintances is the following:

  1. Only promote what may help them. If I’m hoping they’ll buy my book and I send updates and links their way to that end, then the book I write should be of value to them.
  2. Don’t bombard anyone. I try to only send a manageable number of updates about myself and my work via twitter and facebook. I don’t want anyone to become tired of my endless stream of self-promotion. Everyone has a different limit here, so be cautious.
  3. It’s not all business. Part of keeping in touch with friends and family is adding some color from your own life, sharing pictures and stories that may be funny, interesting, or unusual. Don’t stick to mere work concerns in social media.

I can’t say for sure if I’ve done this perfectly, but as a writer who has to walk this fine line, I find that friends and family generally want to know what I’m up to. Therefore, it’s my job to keep them in the loop without wearing them out with my updates.