Writing Reality: How Social Media influences Creativity

04/09/2013 at 20:44 (Personal, Reviews, Writing, Writing Reality articles) (, , , , , , , , )


The following points have all been inspired by the spark of creativity in others. My contemporaries, if you like. It’s through their respective ideas and opinions that I’ve come to develop an enhanced view of my writing.

We know one another. Our foibles, strengths and passions. I honestly believe that the only way to understand completely how beneficial social media is to art, is to experience it first hand. To have others of a similiar mindset reach out with anything from a useful link posted after a blog entry, to an understanding comment on a status update full of self-doubt.
These are some of the most relevant points that I’ve picked up on thus far, in my experience of art filtered through social media.

Letters to the Mind

With constant updates in technology, it would only be an eventuality that letter-writing should follow suit, in modernized formats. We practice what we learn from history, after all, with the emphasis being on discovering innovative new ways to reach out to one another. In this sense, I find the art of blogging invaluable. It’s the modern effect of letter-writing to the soul and outside world; an affirmation of self, and a desire to project thoughts and ideas onto an audience, in non-fictional terms.

It’s a life-enhancing experience to read an artist’s blog – whatever their chosen medium – as it opens the range of understanding of their work. To know the dreams, fears and hopes of my fellow creatives, is to know what makes them tick. To find where the leylines of their souls crisscross with actual output; what has inspired them, and could inspire me in turn?

Some accounts are so detailed and emphatic in emotion and sense-imagery, that I could well be wandering the world’s markets and bazaars with these people. Wholly substantial, when it comes to gaining perspective of an artist’s life in and outside of their work. A real insight into such matters I may need to know about, for my own writing output. What better way to learn what a blistering hot blacktop feels like through all the senses, than by reading about it on the blog of a traveling artist, unfiltered by fiction and in first person? You’ll generally find a more candid, raw perspective; an unraveling of thoughts and emotional reactions.

A kaleidoscope of the everyday – career, family life, the raising of a child / children – some of which I don’t have access to and perhaps never will. It gives me a real sense of empathy for those I interact with, developing them as people until they’re no longer names and taglines of a profile.

This plays out as an obvious source of inspiration for fictional writing, where characters may come alive in the minutiae, the little stories, the everyday stuff. We need to know these things, to find out who our characters are outside of the plot. We need to hear their narratives, as filtered through the mundane as well as the life-changing. I hear individual voices through their word choices, dialectical references – these have helped me to develop character dialogue and narrative in my own fiction. As with Ridley Scott’s “Alien”, it’s the lives and everyday faces of the characters that elevate the story from science fiction, to reality (with a few ugly bits thrown in) –
We know this isn’t the Enterprise, there’s not really even an implied sense of mission beyond the job. They’re space-miners, but this could be a bunch of truckers or lumberjacks or oil-rig guys in a break room.”

In this sense, plot becomes almost superfluous to needs. Background noise, in comparison to what the characters – your people – are doing, thinking, dreaming, enduring. The plot drives itself forward through their reactions to circumstances – and these will become all the more credible, when hooked on traits and habits gleaned from experience of others’ lives.

These accounts of the life and times of artists, run parallel with the great letter-writers of old; the need for discourse was just as great back then, if not more so, seeing as letters were the only means by which a debate, affair or platonic use of a Muse, might continue. These are some examples of published letters by historical figures. I can’t recommend enough the letters that Vincent Van Gogh sent to his brother, Theo, and artist contemporaries Paul Gauguin and Emile Bernard. They’re a true insight into the fracturing of optimism, amid years of indifference aimed at his work; as much an affirmation to a struggling artist, as can be found on a modern blog. They’re so full of his personal inflections and inspirations, that the artist might well be narrating in your ear.

Handled well, a blog can become the present-day discourse for debate and enlightenment. They can sell an artist’s work through their undiluted perspective. I make a point of learning the background of anyone whose creative output has sparked my imagination. Who are their influences? Who completely turns them off? There’s the chance of gaining fresh perspective on cited classical works (again, invaluable for personal and professional reasons.) If a comments section exists beneath the blog, or a responsive article / blog entry is published to social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, there’s the chance for further debate and discourse.

Formatting

In its pared-down state, Twitter is the micro equivalent of these letters. Though bound by the limitation (some might say the freedom) of 140 characters, the tweets that continuously shuttle a timeline along suggest that the world always has something to say, invoke, pass on. I find this particularly handy where writing memes like #MondayBlogs are concerned. A great way to meet fellow writers and bloggers, the posted links offer insight into just about every aspect of creativity going, as well as tough aspects of marketing, publishing and editing. There’s a real sense of camaraderie, for we all understand the real need to keep inspiration flowing, and the inherent voices of self-doubt that exist damped down. As writing is, for the most part, a solitary endeavor, these memes act like online seminars and gallery openings – a continuous ream of work from all over the world, for artists to read, view, review and pass on.

The same goes for Facebook, on a slightly less organized scale (at least on my timeline) and without character limitations. However, an interesting aspect I’ve noticed between these two most popular platforms, is the editing of voice. Where a personal memory / reference might be applicable on Facebook when surrounded by family and friends in the right contextual setting, these might drop flat when placed in Twitter’s wider arena. Certainly it’s been a learning curve for me. There’s an inherent need to keep certain personal aspects of my life, and those I care about, in one arena and not the other. This isn’t only a security or privacy measure; often times, I’ve made casual reference to something indigenous of my country / region, and been met with confusion. As such, I’ve learned to filter my language as much as possible, to accommodate a global audience as opposed to one generally bound within the confines of my locality. This doesn’t mean that I don’t drop in references to my personal life from time to time; only that I do so, with the realization that I may need to explain myself, and act accordingly. Since this tends to break up a conversation slightly, it’s made an impact on how I view my audience with regards to writing.

There’s the crucial need for context. It’s no good dropping a reference from this world and present time-frame, into a story that doesn’t have need of it. This only shatters the fourth wall, throwing the reader out of their suspension of disbelief. Rather, an edited form of the reference to acknowledge the fictional surroundings, is necessary. By all means, make a point of including music in a sci-fi novel, but at least try to anticipate the audience’s expectations of something fresh, otherworldly. If your protagonist is going to warble a few lines by The Smiths, make sure that it’s set in context; that they have at least had access to Earth, whether first-hand or by the passing on of an “artifact” vinyl. It’s these little nuances which make the reading experience all the more pleasurable and interactive, so long as they’re gathered within context.

Also brought to my attention, is the need for clarification when communicating across social media. In general, there’s a lack of body language and tonal inflection involved. Poor grammar, bad choice of words, can instantly alter the meaning of an update or tweet, and bring anything from confusion to irritation among followers if the point is misinterpreted. Subtext is a critical part of discourse too, whether narration through a blog or as part of an online conversation. Emoticons only go so far to add depth of inflection, and they certainly can’t be used in artistic output. Since subtext often travels parallel with dominant meaning, like underground trains heading in the same direction via separate lines before diverging, it’s essential to make the audience aware of those individual destinations. I’ve learned to sharpen up my editing skills, through experiences on social media. It’s as small a thing as pausing before pressing Send, to inspect what has just been written and how it might affect others. Will my words be misinterpreted? Did I make it clear enough that I’m only joking through subtext, or are my words a little too harsh? This isn’t about censoring oneself to be a people-pleaser. It’s about audience awareness.

Shouting into the Void

This is a reference that pops up time and again across social media outlets. With our ever-widening access to other’s minds and lives, there’s a real need to be more user-friendly; to set up personal boundaries too, for there’s no real way to avoid misinterpreting at least one element.

For example, if I know what I’m posting to my blog has a particularly “heavy” content – with references to suicide, eating disorders, violence etc – I make a point of prefacing the entry with a trigger warning. These imply to the audience that the content has something of a watershed-boundary on it. How many times have you been made to feel vulnerable, or at least uncomfortable, when stumbling across something online that was not earmarked for its weighty content? It’s unfair on the audience. This holds especially true of subjects which I blog regularly about. Mental health disorders tend to be rife with trigger aspects, and I’d be doing myself a real disservice, as well as the audience I’m writing to reach, by not acknowledging them with warnings.

All it takes is one poorly-researched opinion spun out as fact, to have an audience member – say, another Twitter user – flag it up as inappropriate and / or inaccurate. I know I’ve been caught out like this a handful of times, and nowadays check every link, every reference that I’m about to post. It makes all the difference, where establishing credibility and authority are concerned. It helps build trust between artist and audience.

I’ve learned to be far sharper when it comes to editing my written work. A clinical eye, used for filing down superfluous details, lazy references without factual backup, opinions not strong enough to stand up as part of debate. I’ve been made all the more aware of who I’m projecting to.

Learning to modify language used, opinions stated, need not be inhibiting. Rather, it should be a refining of your voice, to help others understand where you are coming from, without resorting to baseless and ineffectual means. This can be made applicable to everything, from characterization to construction of plot, and narrative threads.

Non-linear narrative

We’ve all experienced it at some point. A conversation free-flowing, before one or more of the respondents suddenly pulls out, vanishing into the ether. Whether you’re distressed by this or not is irrelevant; real life will continue to exist outside the somewhat gluey time-frame of social media. The best part is that, unlike the real world where things must be paid attention to immediately or be lost, the online world can hold messages in stasis. When the reply does come, some reflective time may have passed and a perspective changed.

In this sense, I rather enjoy the way some topics go off-kilter. Problems may be tackled side-on. Others can chip in, if the conversation is live and active on a general thread. There’s a wealth of opinions and ideas to choose from. People may send links of inspirational help. In this sense, social media outdoes itself on the interactive scale; I’ve had writers’ block kicked into touch a few times, with a well-placed comment that struck sparks. A range of minds can be picked, help offered.

That being said, there’s often a need to loop back around to the original topic, or the point becomes lost. Twitter monkey-thoughts are notorious for this, and I try to keep them in mind when writing from several tangents, as with Iain Banks The Crow Road. Narrative threads run through a handful of characters, along several time frames; from the childhood past of Kenneth McHoan, to the present POV of his youngest son, Prentice, the novel’s core voice. To enhance the plot, Banks often swung between said time-frames in his chapters, even between paragraphs. Often a theme will act as a conduit, to link the content of the past to the present, as though the experience of said theme had sparked a memory – as with Kenneth, and the rain:

“Prentice turned and waved to his dad with his free hand. “Bye, daddy,” the wee voice said. Then he was pulled out of the room.
“Bye, son,” McHoan said, and smiled. Then he turned back to the window and the rain.

* It’s at this point that the chapter breaks linearity to send Kenneth back through his own memories, to a childhood experience with his friends.*

“It’s a bit damp still.”
“Ach, yer no afraid of a bit a wet, ur ye? Yer no a girrul ur ye?”
… The castle stood on the side of the hill. The tall trees around it were still dripping, and its rough, uneven stones were dark and wet from the rain that not long stopped.
– pgs. 84/85, The Crow Road, Iain Banks.

Each section of this chapter holds a point key to the plot, with clues dropped that will be later referenced in Prentice’s present time-frame. So the points stay relative to one another, Banks cunningly used rain as a conduit, to keep the audience looped in; the following passage takes place later in Kenneth’s life, as a young adult:

“Mrs Urvill looked at her husband, still squatting in front of the opened machine, with an expression Kenneth thought might have been scorn.
‘What’s that, my dear?’ Fergus asked, looking over at his wife, an open, innocent expression on his face.
‘Nothing,’ his wife said brightly, voice oddly high.
‘Hmm,’ Fergus adjusted something inside the dishwasher, scratched above his ear with his pipe again. ‘Jolly good.’
Kenneth looked away then, to the windows, where the rain spattered and ran”
– pg. 96, The Crow Road, Iain Banks

These themes behave in the same way as a few key words would when dropped into social media conversation, to refer back to topic while using several outlets / voices to gain a wider perspective.

Remarketing, Rebranding

With the continuous stream of articles and links posted on my Twitter and Facebook feeds, I’m never short of inspiration or advice. Being surrounded by like-minded people adds a marketing perspective to my world; I keep an eye on news reports, on opinions and debates over a trending topic, or a longstanding issue which I have an interest in, perhaps wish to write/blog about. While it’s important to be aware of what an audience wishes to see, it’s also important to balance your own needs and preferences against what has already come before. In this sense, social media is a great insight to what does well, what bombs and – most importantly – how an innovative twist may be set to something interesting but in need of a rebrand. This in turn opens up a whole new niche market for your exploration, with the social media platform acting as a soundboard. It’s field research, with the body static and the mind openly active.

Pick-Me-Up

I know for a fact that my own life is one of solitude, based on preference and need. Writing has a habit of cutting ties to the outside world, even while we work to portray it. Online socializing with fellow writers has not only opened a variety of creative outlets to me; it’s been a wealth of supportive input. There’s nothing quite like having the empathy of those who know what it means to shut the world out. Fellow artists will have been to those dark places too, for the sake of an essential piece of creativity, a message that would change public opinions. It’s to these people I turn, when feeling down on myself. Let’s face it, we’ve all felt unappreciated, overworked, uninspired. Flatlining. The fellow creative will know the words to say, how to be the virtual pick-me-up. They’re beneficial for the soul, as well as the writing technique.

Switching Off

But of course, the most relevant point of all is moderation. Keeping in mind that your original point is creativity – output as well as input. The only real way to sustain this, is to switch off the social media platforms, all of them, and get back into your own personal groove. No one but you can make this happen.

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14 Comments

  1. Talicha J. said,

    Very interesting, this really made me think about the way I utilize my own networks. Thanks for taking the time to share this with us 🙂

  2. jabe842 said,

    Thanks for posting … a great dissection of what a positive experience social media can be. I really related to this, especially the sense of community and support between creative types (wonderfully, not just writers but artists and musicians etc – my view is, whatever the medium, ultimately we’re all striving to draw from the same well). Loved it. Again, thanks for posting.

    • celenagaia33 said,

      No problem, honey – glad it reached out to you 🙂 As far as I’m concerned, we’re all in this together. The world can be pitiless when it comes to art, but it can also be the long drink after a desert walk.

  3. Carrie said,

    Writers are such generous people, obsessive about the craft and wanting (almost needing) to pull it apart and put it back together. I am part of a writers group and you could talk about the various aspects of writing forever. And we do.

    I think that once you decide that you are a writer, there is this desire that blooms that you have to share, to tell stories and I love that the internet provides that platform to do so. I’ve found that over the few years that i’ve been blogging that I’ve found the most satisfaction in telling a story, having someone read it and say ‘hey, this is pretty cool!’

    • celenagaia33 said,

      Oh I hear that, about the sharing need! It’s all I can do sometimes, to not grab hold of people and spin them around, yelling “look how friggin’ awesome this world is! How beautiful and deadly!” I’d get branded an even bigger kook 😉 But there’s so much writing experience to share, and often times the thoughts are bursting out of my head like popcorn.

  4. Rachel Ott said,

    As you know from reading back through my blog, I find writing immensely cathartic. I love social media for the closeness and separation it affords, which is so key to an introvert. I often feel, reading your words, that we are kindred spirits on different parts of the world. Should you ever come to Canada, I hope I can see you in person. Until then, much long distance love!

    • celenagaia33 said,

      I know what you mean re: degrees of separation … very much so. At times, it has been frustrating to the nth. What with the illness and slow rehab, my first real relationship didn’t take off until 2008, and then via Myspace of all places 😛 But the distance it afforded us, was crucial. I felt safe and secure behind the screen; could log off and leave at any point. He was very careful about what he said, having learned some of my background, and when it got to the point where I didn’t actually want to flee anymore, we progressed to IM’s and then to actual meeting, in London – this was a safe neutral ground for us both. Neither one had the upper hand.
      It took 18 months but we ended up living together 😉 Five years passed, and though we’ve recently split up because we’d become more like best friends than lovers, it was well worth the wait, and the effort. Sometimes, degrees of separation count. They establish early boundaries, allow for a quick exit – and allow feelings to be built upon them, layering up, until after a while it seems like you’d just met down the pub or in the library. The whole online aspect, takes a back seat. Though he does love reminding me of the tart little reply i gave him after he’d messaged me first; I was new to Myspace, had had a week of hassle off lechy guys, and he seemed like just another player 😉

      Your candour, empathy and wit always shine through your work. You’re obviously super-smart; this glows too, though more in the observations you make than how you articulate them. The latter, is often so full of a child’s wonder at the world – especially the Austria entries – that I actually break into a grin reading them. You call attention to things that might seem mundane, painting them up with fresh colours. For want of a better cliche, you make the world look brand new.

      I’m seriously glad to have met you on here, Rach, along with so many others. Definitely kindred spirits. I’ve big plans where the US / Canada are concerned, for my future travels, so watch this space x

      • Rachel Ott said,

        If you come to Canada, you best be looking me up! Hopefully I’ll have my own living arrangement by then and can accommodate you for a few days. Would love to meet you in person. Your kindness and support have been beyond valuable and crucial to my self esteem as my anxiety rages over me. Thank you for being you.

        xoxo

      • celenagaia33 said,

        That would be wicked-cool; I’m more than up for proper meeting, especially since the days-out you’ve described with people before, sound right up my street 🙂 I keep hoping some US/Canadian media company’s going to scoop me up for a bit and say “Hell yeah, here’s your visa etc, now get over here.” High hopes indeed.

        In the meantime, there’s nothing to stop me laying down some savings into 2014, and heading over for a bit of quality time with friends. Travel’s always been on the cards since I was a kid, and now i’ve more impetus than ever. It’d be great to look you in the eye and tell you how bloody awesome you are.

        I know that anxiety too, from my own angle; I can’t pretend to know all that you’ve been through in life. But you’re indelible, and so is your writing xxx

      • Rachel Ott said,

        You’re so sweet. Thank you for being so wonderfully supportive. I need more talented and intelligent people like you in my life.

  5. The Administrator said,

    This is a wonderful look at how social media can be a boon to artists. There are plenty of articles out there with advice on how to promote work, build your brand, etc., but you go deeper than those and actually explore how social media can enhance the creative process.

    What makes it a truly clippable article for me is your section comparing blogging to letter writing. Not only is this a great piece of insight, but it happens to be something which might help me with a very specific issue in one of my projects. I’m indebted, friend.

    Finally, as I read through the comments section, I got to learn even more about you and your readers (some of whom I also know through social media circles). I really enjoyed reading your of your experience on Myspace. Makes me want to tell you about my “wild west” adventures in the early days of what I’m not even sure can be called the Internet. But perhaps I’ll leave that for an eventual blog entry of my own… 🙂

  6. A. B. Davis said,

    I realized, upon reading this–on @UnhingedinTime ’s suggestion–that I really liked your writing style (this adoration for your writing was further confirmed upon reading “Still can’t find what keeps me here”). This is a wealth of very helpful information on twitter and interesting insight on making connections with like-minded people. Coupled with your accessible, visual writing, I found its length enjoyable—whereas longer posts are sometimes a chore to read by the end. Thanks for the hard work you obviously put into your posts, and for that reminder at the end to turn it all off and write! 🙂

    • celenagaia33 said,

      No worries at all, and thank you for this quite wonderful comment 🙂 I tend to go off on one a bit with these articles, so thanks for making it to the end. I’m only ever trying to see things from others’ perspective, as well as trying to get across to them how I view the world. Creativity just got escalated by the introduction of social media – it’s a juggernaut now. For all the foibles of letting the world in, there’s so much to be gained.

      • A. B. Davis said,

        I couldn’t agree more, and this post opened my eyes to so many ways creativity and social media interplay. Your long posts are welcomed; you do a very good job at tastefully navigating the views of others and subtly distinguishing your views from those.

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