Saving Our Souls from Social Media Division, Despair, and Deception

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There’s nothing like a national crisis to stir up a bit of trouble on social media.

I frequently turned to social media for curated reflections in 2016 and early 2017, and it proved to be severely detrimental for my mental health.

So far as I can tell, I had relatively good motives. I was seeking out the opinions of a wide variety of experts in real time.

Why would that leave me feeling anxious, sad, or hopeless?

Divisive, Extreme Views Thrive on Social Media

The challenge with social media is that it rewards the most divisive, shocking, and reactionary voices with more attention, not less. Taking the most recent news of Greta Thunberg’s advocacy to take action against the global climate crisis as an example, the critics who shared some of the most controversial or even cruel responses to her received the most attention on social media this week.

That’s just how social media works.

As I have used social media with more awareness (and MANY more limitations), I’ve noticed how the most extreme and divisive views tend to get the most interaction and responses. Even if I want to seek out helpful perspectives on social media, I’m also exposing myself to the toxic actors as well.

Most bloggers and social media users know that the easiest way to draw a crowd online, or anywhere really, is to start a fight.

Even worse, numerous reports and studies of social media trends have found that more groups and nations than ever are employing automated “bots” or programs written to promote certain content. Pew Research estimated in 2018 that 66% of links shared on Twitter were shared by bots. In other words, there is an unknown amount of manipulation to social media trends.

We Are Exposed to Despair on Social Media

If you’re already a bit nervous about an issue, event, or an individual, you will most assuredly be exposed to a wide array of responses on social media that may leave you wondering about your own views.

Perhaps the person voicing reasons for despair or a lack of hope will place just enough doubt and unease into your mind to leave you feeling unsettled. In fact, you may even know on an intellectual level that such a despairing view is most likely wrong, but just knowing of the possibility may be enough to disrupt your day.

Even when I’m expecting to find people on social media who are drowning in despair, their comments on otherwise informative posts can still change my mindset.

Social Media Can Spread Deception

If the primary way to get noticed on social media is to trigger a reaction of any kind, then the truth of a statement is less important than the sentiment it stirs up in readers. In fact, we all struggle with confirmation bias that expects people to act in certain ways.

Narratives, whether based in reality or in a twisting of the truth, can be woven on social media and passed off as factual because they fit within our expectations.

If we’re already despairing of a situation on social media, then we may be more likely to believe a story that alleviates that despair.

If a particular narrative, whether true or not, has already left us angry or divided from others, then we may be more likely to believe a story that justifies that anger or those divisions.

Finding confirmation bias in my own social media use has been humbling but quite good for my soul.

Saving Our Souls from Division, Despair, and Deception

Now is a great time to ground ourselves in silence before God and awareness of our family and friends immediately around us. Social media can sweep us away in a current of emotions that can leave us feeling fearful, angry, or uncertain.

There’s only so much we can do in a given day, and most of what we can do that will make the most difference for our souls and for our neighbors won’t require extensive time spent on social media or any digital devices.

If you need to check on the news, consider going to a few different news websites rather than subjecting yourself to the chaos of social media. While there may be a time to engage experts on social media or to share posts on social media, beware the way that we can be swept away by the emotions, divisions, and narratives placed before us.

Social media is not designed to help our souls to thrive, and any benefits it offers for connection come with perhaps even more serious threats for disconnection from one another and from God’s present love for us.

Reconnect with Soul Care

I’ll be sharing more about these ideas in my newsletter and in my upcoming book, Reconnect: Spiritual Restoration from Digital Distraction (releasing June 2, 2020).

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What Happens During a Season of Rest?

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After some much-needed time away on vacation completely disengaged from client work (editing books, writing blog posts, etc.), social media, and the daily practice of writing, I’m still not quite sure what happened to me.

The intensity of life grew especially acute before we left since I had a major book draft to wrap up and a pile of work to set in place, to say nothing of packing and planning for our three weeks away. Our car always has an expensive repair right around this time to boot.

Stepping away, I felt like I flipped off a switch in my brain, and coming back, there are moments when I’m not quite sure if I should flip it back on again or if I really have any say in the matter. Perhaps I had simply woven a narrative of being busy and it took a time of rest to shut it down.

Then again, there are legitimate seasons of increased intensity that need to be faced.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of this season of rest is that I stepped out of my mindset of constant urgency, reacting to each successive challenge. While certain challenges in life can stir us to urgent action, my sense is that urgency and reaction can become default responses at times.

The perfectly normal and even the mundane can be viewed through a lense of urgency and reaction that makes more of them than warranted.

This season of rest has offered a welcome time for greater awareness of my outlook each day, how I respond to the events of each day, and how other practices and responses could help.

During my time away I had a chance to step away from many things that appeared urgent or vitally important, to replace them with things that were better for my soul, such as reading, silence, or a walk, and to assess the impact on my life.

While I certainly can’t live each week with the same amount of time alloted for reading, recreation, or silent prayer, I was able to see how many of the urgent parts of my life were more of a mirage, an image conjured in the heat of the moment that then became imprinted in place. Even worse, the urgent, reactive parts of my life had been crowding out or at least interfering with my already limited time for silence, rest, and reflection.

Making space for rest continues to remind me how my view of reality can become distorted, skewed by what appears to be urgent or important. Rest has allowed me to remind myself what it feels like to live without impediments on the soul care practices I value the most.

Rest has reminded me what life can feel like when I preserve space for spiritual restoration and attempt to maintain a more measured perspective of each challenge in my day.

Perhaps rest could even remind me what it feels like to live by faith, that a sense of urgency won’t really help me transcend my very normal limitations. Rest reminds me that pushing myself to my limits really isn’t adding all that much in the grand scheme of things and that perhaps a bit of soul care could do far more for myself and for others.

 

Photo by Natalie Grainger on Unsplash

Write without Crushing Your Soul: The Trap of Doing What You Love

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Sometimes we fall into the trap of believing that we’ll find personal fulfillment by throwing ourselves into a job that we’ll love. In fact, the lure of a “dream job” could even lead to justifying an unhealthy obsession with our work.

While freelance writing or book publishing could provide a much more satisfying and flexible career for many, it’s certainly no substitute for the fulfillment that comes from cultivating a healthy prayer life, family life, and interior life.

Writing professionally and sustainably should force us to make some tough decisions and sacrifices, but those sacrifices shouldn’t extend to our families and spiritual lives.

If anything, a healthy spiritual life has been extremely important in my productivity as a writer. If I’m ever feeling stuck on a writing project, the solution isn’t necessarily to work into the evening. I typically need some time to rest, collect my thoughts, read a book, or just let my mind wander in order to be fully present for my family and for others.

Today’s post was adapted from my new book, Write without Crushing Your Soul: Sustainable Publishing and Freelancing.

The eBook version is on sale for just $3.99:

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Write without Crushing Your Soul: The Gifts of Rejection and Failure

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As you begin the writing process, remember this: nothing is wasted. If you want to write sustainably for years to come, every word you write is an investment in yourself as a writer.

Stop focusing on your output each month as the measure of your success. It’s more important that you’re learning and developing: creating healthy habits for outlining, writing first drafts with reckless abandon, and then revising with patience and awareness of your audience.

Over and over again, I’ve learned that there’s no shame in trying something new. Sometimes we fear the appearance of failure that we end up digging ourselves into deeper holes that make the sense of failure greater and greater. At a certain point we don’t just fear failure. We lose hope.

Rejection can be a terrible trial, but it can also prove extremely helpful for your soul. The rejection you face as a writer will force you to either live in misery or to find your soul’s true rest in Christ.

Any success you experience will fade with time, so the only real options you’ll eventually face boil down to disappointment in the counterfeit identity you’ve created as a successful writer or your real identity before God.

Today’s post was adapted from my new book, Write without Crushing Your Soul: Sustainable Publishing and Freelancing.

The eBook version is on sale for just $3.99:

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Write without Crushing Your Soul: Fighting Envy with Faithfulness

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While every writer should learn from others and should be personally confident in his/her own abilities, once we give in to the scarcity mentality, we distract ourselves, discourage ourselves from doing our best work, and make our success about what others are did yesterday than what we can do today. There are plenty of opportunities for all of us to grow and succeed.

The best cure I’ve found for envy is to focus on my own gifts, calling, and readers. In fact, it’s quite an insult to my readers if I spend all of my time envying someone else’s success. I’m essentially telling readers that they’re following the wrong writer!

When I focus on serving my own readers and give up on the soul-sucking envy that is fed by unhealthy comparison, I can direct my energy toward my own calling and audience.”

We have the rather obvious and basic task of accepting that we can only move forward from where we’re at instead of wishing we were further along or had made different choices. In addition, we can only go so far as our gifts and personal callings.

The good news is that we can often do more and go further than we expect. The bad news is that we often focus on the wrong things and the wrong direction.

We see someone else’s accomplishments and begin to desire them for ourselves. Another person’s calling may be the worst thing for us since we may not have the capacity to handle what others have. That is a humbling and freeing lesson!

We each have to figure out our own paths, even if we can learn a lot from those who have been more successful in different capacities and callings.

As I’ve let go of my hopes to duplicate the success of others, I’ve found a greater sense of peace with who I am and what I’m called to do. That has made me a calmer, gentler, kinder person.

I don’t resent writers who have been more successful, and when the successful complain about the challenges they face, I’m at least aware of when I start to resent them.

Today’s post was adapted from my new book, Write without Crushing Your Soul: Sustainable Publishing and Freelancing.

The eBook version is on sale for just $3.99:

Kindle | iBooks | Nook | Kobo | Print

Hope for Weary and Discouraged Writers

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My book Write without Crushing Your Soul started with a very open-ended question while chatting with a group of Christian writers:

What surprised you about book publishing?

I kept my unfiltered response to myself, but I knew what I should have said:

It hurt like hell and crushed my soul over and over and over again.

To my surprise, a colleague who has published several well-received books with large publishers commented:

“I wasn’t prepared for how much publishing would hurt.”

His honest, vulnerable answer gave the rest of us permission to let out a kind of collective sigh of relief and weigh in with our own failures, disappointments, and struggles. We all had stories of pain and disappointment. Several expressed a fear that aspects of the publishing process were toxic for their souls.

No one was planning to give up on their publishing careers or putting an end to the writing they do for an audience. We were all committed to our work for the long term. However, we didn’t realize how unsustainable publishing has become for so many.

The pain and the challenges that face many writers today can wear you down if you don’t have sustainable practices and a pace that enables you to stick with it for the long term.

This is why I started working on How to Write without Crushing Your Soul.

  • Disappointments will come in book publishing
  • Sales will usually be disappointing.
  • Some reviews will be “meh.”
  • The influential people you care about won’t care about your book.
  • The promotions you plan may flop.
  • The stuff that you considered brilliant will be largely ignored.

And it gets more challenging if you work with a commercial publisher:

  • If you’ve never been a fan of social media, you’ll be expected to jump into it with both feet.
  • If you’ve never thought about how to sell books, you need to become an expert of sorts.
  • If you’ve never launched a book before, prepare yourself for a time-consuming, emotional roller coaster ride.
  • If you’ve never hosted a book event before, prepare yourself for either tough questions or an empty room.

I’ve been on just about every side of publishing. I’ve released books that succeeded and books that flopped. I’ve released books that were well-received by colleagues and books that hardly turned heads. I’ve heard from publishers that my email list and social media followers are ideal, and I’ve heard that I have no business publishing books.

Despite all of these ups and downs, I still persist in book publishing and know so many other writers who take on all of these same risks because there is something holy and freeing about the work.

Writers are creating something intensely personal and sharing it with the world in the hope that it will help their readers. It can be crushing to see that work go unread.

For those who persist to discover what their audiences need and how to reach them, it can be immensely fulfilling to see that work connect with readers.

How do we preserve our souls while still actively engaging in this important work?

We’ll find our own answers in two places: our mindsets and our practices.

For your mindset, begin here:

Writing cannot, in any way, shape, or form, become the source of your identity. Only God can give that to you.

A bad day, week, month, or year as a writer does not, in any way, diminish God’s love for you.

Writing is a calling to serve your audience.

The moment writing becomes a means of personal validation, you’ve handed over immense power to other people—power they don’t even want.

When “God so loved the world…” stops being enough for you, you’ll set off on a never-ending, diversion that will leave you restless and completely devoid of peace.

Writing from this place will be miserable, and it will be especially hard to bless others because the goal of writing is personal validation, not serving others.

Secondly, focusing your practices can also go a long way in saving your soul.

You can find plenty of posts sharing 50 ways to promote your book or 20 ways to grow your online platform, but most of us just need the two or three most effective ways to promote your book or writing.

Most of the writers I know who have enjoyed significant success have invested in just a few tools for connecting with readers, and everything else grows as a result. For instance, some popular bloggers I know focus on writing great posts and then hosting related conversations on their Facebook pages. I’ve personally chosen to publish short eBooks that I give away for free and then write personal email newsletters bi-weekly to those readers.

There are lots of different ways to reach readers. You can focus on developing Instagram, a podcast, Periscope videos, a weekly email newsletter, Thunderclap campaigns, or a blog that serves a niche of readers. When you’re releasing a book, don’t overlook advertising options such as Facebook ads or eBook discount sites—most of these are affordable or have lower cost options. Like I mentioned before, there are at least 50 ways to reach more readers with your writing.

Only you can tell what lines up the best with your personal talents, calling, and soul care.

Finding readers can be exhausting, so it’s best to develop the most sustainable ways that won’t eat away at your creative time, family time, and spiritual renewal.

You can’t win at everything. You can’t do it all. You’ll never be done.

I’m not a publicist by trade. I’m an author, but as more of the publicity work rests on authors, I’ve been forced to look long and hard for sustainable publicity practices for my writing work.

Perhaps the most important rule is that we need boundaries. We have to test out a few practices and then invest in those that land in the sweet spot between what works and what’s sustainable for us.

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A certain level of struggle and pain will be inevitable for writers. There’s no getting past that. When I talk to new writers and aspiring authors, I’m always quick to mention that writing for an audience will always bring some level of pain and struggle. It will be especially difficult for book publishing.

That isn’t to say it can’t be done or shouldn’t be done or that some authors have had an easier time at it than others.

My hope and my prayer for the readers of Write without Crushing Your Soul is that they’ll be prepared at the outset for the challenges and hardships coming their way as they set out on their writing careers.

I want my readers to be empowered to make the best possible decisions for their souls, their relationships, and their work.

I want my readers to be as prepared as possible for what awaits them so that they can fulfill their calling to write while keeping their souls healthy for the long term.

 

Today’s post was adapted from my new book, Write without Crushing Your Soul: Sustainable Publishing and Freelancing.

The eBook version is on sale for just $3.99:

Kindle | iBooks | Nook | Kobo | Print

 

Write without Crushing Your Soul Preview: What Sets Healthy Writers Apart

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In order to write sustainably, you need to relentlessly be yourself. That isn’t necessarily the same thing as following a calling or your dreams. The difference is essential, in fact.

The writers who lead the most sustainable careers, at least in my circles, are the ones who recognize how they’re wired and have a sense of how God has gifted them. They know what kind of writing is their own true north, but they also recognize when they need to take on work in order to make ends meet. They also have a clear sense of what drains them and what their limits are.

We all have our parts to play, but we’ll only find contentment if we invest in seeking our own roles and joyfully carrying them out.

Sustainability means you can keep writing for the long haul even after receiving bad news from an editor, failing to land a client, or making a huge mistake on your website.

If you’re truly drawn to something and you know your role in the grand scheme of things, how can you stop yourself, let alone let anyone stop you?

 

Today’s post was adapted from my new book, Write without Crushing Your Soul: Sustainable Publishing and Freelancing. Regular eBook price is $3.99

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An Interview with Tara Owens on How Writers Care for Their Souls

What does soul care look like for writers?

What is the most important aspect of a writer’s career?

These are just a few of the questions I was fortunate enough to ask author and spiritual director Tara Owens when our paths crossed. We sat down for a 40-minute chat in a Barnes and Noble  (Note: the background music is loud but not overpowering, and I’ll happily send the file to anyone who can help remove it!). We also spent a little time discussing my new book, Write, Without Crushing Your Soul: Sustainable Publishing and Freelancing, which releases November 10th and is available for a $1.99 pre-order until then.

Enjoy the interview!

Listen on SoundCloud or the direct file

Order the eBook version of
Write without Crushing Your Soul for just $3.99 today.

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About Tara Owens
Tara is a spiritual director and founder of Anam Cara Ministries, which is dedicated to the practice of soul friendship, of coming alongside in order to facilitate healing, wholeness, holiness and spiritual formation.  Check out her highly acclaimed book Embracing the Body. Reviewer Kristine Morris writes, “Through a gentle, compassionate exploration of our thoughts and feelings about our bodies, enhanced with exercises for reflection, Owens helps us to learn what it means to be at home in our own skin and sensitive to the body’s innate wisdom.”