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How Do You Protect the Silence Within?

social media

The writing life is supposed to be all about silence and solitude. This was exactly how it was for me, for years. I wrote in my notebooks, showed my work to a few trusted readers, submitted stories and gathered a ton of rejections. That was that.

I’d never dreamed of publishing more than half a dozen stories. Novels were things to be read, not written. I still can’t believe I wrote and published You Beneath Your Skin, or that The Blue Bar will be out in the world this year.

Now that I’ve finished writing three novels (one of which is in a freezer) and almost two-books-worth of short stories, I long to find my way back to that hermit-like existence, where my only deadlines were self-driven.

I’m an ambi-vert, an introvert at most times and an extrovert on rare occasions. I have very few real-life friends but dozens upon dozens of online friends and while that’s hugely rewarding, it sometimes fraught. Written communications don’t translate too well, so I feel like I must be careful. In a very divided world, I feel wary of expressing my opinions other than when veiled in my fiction. Screen-friendships have been a boon during pandemic isolation, but sometimes hugging a tree or petting a dog feel so much more rewarding than staring at a screen even when chatting with a kind friend.

And then there’s the constant strain of having to be available. On some days I post a picture on Instagram and immediately receive a dozen queries about whether I’m moving countries. Those to whom I owe work are also on social media and though they may not be watching, I feel their gaze.

All of this of course can be moot–I could, in theory, switch off all social media and simply retreat into isolation. I’ve done that before, gone on a hiatus, but I feel the need to strike a balance now. On the one hand, social media doesn’t really move the needle for book sales, but on the other, it helps create that elusive thing called ‘brand.’ We authors have so much stacked against us, and so little we can do to help ourselves–social media feels like something we can ‘do,’ at least, to find more readers. Objectively, it is a losing battle. The internet is saturated with sales pitches, and social media is geared to make you spend more time on them than you want to.

Sometimes, it feels criminal not to participate, for instance one of my idols who has just finished reading The Blue Bar put it on this STUNNING list on Booktrib about 11 books for our perilous times. The Blue Bar doesn’t even have a cover yet, and it is a generous gesture from a much-lauded author, who I have been privileged to feature on this blog. So off I go to share the post, because, of course. How can I not?

To me though, social media is more about the community, the people I have come to think of as friends, and who prove their friendship again and again through moral and tangible support. And even beyond that, it is undeniable attachment. All of you on the blog, for instance, are precious to me beyond any sad little brand-building efforts I might make, and when on hiatus, I’ve often been tempted to check your blogs, to find out how you are. It is a double-edged sword, because there are so many of you, and only one of me, and I’m not able to keep up even though I want to. More guilt, that I let go of when I can.

Social media for writers is a tricky thing. How do I balance the community that I love with the writing that is crucial? And of course, not to forget the rhythms of daily life and chores. I’m trying to learn how to cope, because now my deadlines are not my own, and my publishing timetable is far less within my control.

These are good problems to have, for sure. None of my stress is beyond my own tiny self. I’m at home, have enough to eat, and am loved by my immediate family.

I just need a good routine, time management skills, and discipline, but none of them have proved easy. Even now as I dictate this blog post while taking a short break from work (my wrists have swollen up due to a few months of 16-hour work days— I have family history of bone trouble and am not a spring chicken)–I keep thinking about the proofreads on The Blue Bar I need to get back to, which, sadly enough, can’t be dictated.

What about you? How do you balance your day job or your writing with your online life? What tricks for time management work for you? Do have any advice for me?

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Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • Pam says:

    This is such an issue for me who has a full time job, a busy volunteer life, my own blog, and a novel-in-progress – plus a family. But I’ve come to consider many of my bloggy friends to be more than acquaintances and I want to keep up with all they are doing and pursuing, but time – there is just not enough of it! I’ve always admired how you seem to be on everyone’s blog, Damyanti, always thoughtfully commenting. Not sure how you do it, but it’s inspiring. ♥️👏💕

  • Jemima Pett says:

    Sorry about your wrists. Mine are currently aching from having taken a screen time break and forked over the lawn and spread compost and seeds on it – all that unaccustomed exercise for them!
    But I wholly agree with you about what we can and cannot do with our social media presence, and visiting friends, and yes, I’m an ambivert too, although it’s getting more intro.
    Keep up the good work (hugs)

  • hilarymb says:

    Hi Damyanti – I feel for you … and perhaps that’s why I’ve kept away from social media – but I haven’t had the urge to write a book … I’d be lost without my blogging friends, there’s a relationship that we bloggers know … and is definitely more defined than FB, Tw, etc etc … Just do what you can – and first do the important things … exercise, relax for a while, write and write, then move over to social media. Looking after yourself is the most important aspect of life – Cheers and with thoughts – Hilary

  • What I would give for that silence and solitude… I don’t spend a lot of time on SM but I do check it quickly several times a day. It can be distracting. Having to share living space cuts deeply into both aspects. Thanks for reminding me of what’s important; I need to make it a goal worth reaching. So much wonderful wisdom from you lately!

  • Nicole Pyles says:

    I’ve taken a major step away from social media, mostly because of how unsatisfying it is. I think if I was aiming to keep sales up for books though, I’d absolutely keep it up because I think it’s an incredibly effective way of selling books. In terms of separating work and writing life, well that’s a tough one. I write on the weekends, mostly, and lately I’ve been limiting how much freelance I accept just so I have the mental space to write. It’s a tough balance that I haven’t figured out right yet!

  • Damyanti I find that being supportive to other bloggers, writers, and book reviewers on social media is very time consuming. I feel it is essential to my own success as a blogger and to the book community as a whole, so I try to make time to do it. Not always easy, even though I am retired. Family always come first with me, then there are health issues, and balancing online time with reading time. It is a constant struggle.

  • “…Even now as I dictate this blog post while taking a short break from work …” I’m impressed you dictated this post- it has a great focus, I haven’t tried dictating my posts yet, I may try in the future… For me, I find that I must turn off notifications on my phone as they serve as silly interruptions when I’m writing. I’ve also deleted Facebook for a variety of reasons, including that it’s a time eater…

  • “It is a double-edged sword, because there are so many of you, and only one of me, and I’m not able to keep up even though I want to. More guilt, that I let go of when I can.” I feel you girl. How can we manage to read and comment and write? Who do we leave out and who do we add? The guilt is ever present!

  • Attention residue is real, and that’s why I plan out how I’m going to tackle the tasks that keep cropping up in my mind when I’m busy tackling other things. For instance, if I’m working, and the thought of my unfinished chapter bothers me, I just write down what exactly I want to write later (if I haven’t already), and that allows my mind to go ‘Oh, okay. We can stop thinking about that for a bit.’

    That clears my mind enough to at least get through my present task, which can be a blessing sometimes. Anyway, thanks for this post!

  • That was so interesting. An ambi-vert. I’ve never heard that term. I’ve never had 11 comments on my Instagram! That may be an ‘influencer problem’!

  • It’s a balance. I do very few live events and rely heavily on the online community to help with virtual events. Coupled with my publisher’s efforts, the two combined can make a difference. A lot is about community though, thus the success of the IWSG. We support each other, through our words, through spreading the news, and through reading and reviewing books.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      You’re so right. I’ve read and reviewed IWSG groups, and have absolutely enjoyed the experience. You’ve created a wonderful community.

      And I’m excited to host you later this year for CASSADARK!