Many writers view Facebook, Twitter and other social media websites as nothing more than a diversion from what they should be doing — namely, crafting their manuscript.
Don’t believe it.
Social media sites can be as inspiring as they are distracting, and help inject your story with a depth and realness that draws readers in. Here are some ways that social media can inspire your writing.
Deepening your characters: The thing that makes social media sites so addictive is also the thing that can make them valuable to writers: They give greater depth to those characters that you call your friends, family and coworkers. It does that by adding details. Sometimes the details are so mundane as to be meaningless – “I’m eating a ham sandwich!” However, others can shed light on rarely seen aspects of the person’s character. For example, perhaps the mousey intern in the office talks in great detail about shotguns when describing her latest hunting trip on Facebook. Or maybe the chauvinistic mechanic shares a picture of him braiding his daughter’s hair. These details give these people dimensions that may surprise those around them – and make them more interesting.
These details are compelling whether they’re from the past or the present. For example, seeing a friend’s high school yearbook photo in which he’s wearing a baseball jersey and then seeing his video of him coaching his son’s little league team may give you pause. Is he coaching his son’s team because he loves spending time with his little boy? Or is he trying, sadly, to live out his failed dreams through his son? Those are the kinds of ambiguities and complexities that make for interesting characters in fiction.
Enhancing your story’s sense of place: Again, it’s all about detail. Places – like people – come alive through precise description, and social media can help make yours more vivid. Say a friend posts pictures of himself and his sons fishing at a local park. Those images and the details they contain – the terrain’s rockiness, the water’s murkiness, the landscape’s sparseness – can all inform your story and help you paint a broader picture. It can be especially helpful when crafting images of places you’ve only visited once or twice – or have never visited.
Connecting you with your idols: Aspiring writers have greater access to their favorite authors now than ever before. Liking an author’s fan page or following them on Twitter opens up the possibility of her communicating directly with you. Even the smallest communication from someone you respect deeply can energize you to write more. Or perhaps she’ll tweet some detail of her life that you can relate to – for example, that she writes between 11pm and 3 am because that’s the only time her kids and husband are quiet enough for her to concentrate – and that will give you the impetus to keep working on your work-in-progress.
Mobilizing a support group: Writing is a marathon, and it can be very solitary. I’ve found social media helpful in overcoming that isolation. For example, simply sharing with your Twitter followers or your Facebook friends that you’ve set a goal of writing 5,000 words in the next month can be helpful. Just posting that bit of information will often result in a slew of encouraging tweets – “You can do it!” “Awesome!” – and posting updates on your progress will elicit the same. It may not seem like much, but having that information out there can inspire you. After all, you don’t want to let all of those people in the Twitterverse down, do you?
This just scratches the surface of the potential impact of social media on writers, however. How does social media inspire or influence your writing? Comment below or contact me @matthewschulz on Twitter. I’d love to hear what you have to say.
Matthew Schulz has written for the Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, Associated Press and American Banker. He is currently writing his second novel and aspiring toward his lifelong dream of becoming a published author of fiction. His day job has him working as a Managing Editor at CreditCards.com, where he helps lead an award-winning news team and has even helped coordinate a video town hall with the White House. You can follow him on Twitter @matthewschulz and learn more about him at MattSchulz.com.