Friday, August 1, 2014

How Social Media Has Made Me a Better Writer and a Better Christian (Part 2 of 2)



(Access the audio here.)

Writers have a love-hate relationship with social media. While they know that they need to be active on the internet in order to extend their reach and gain a wider audience, many of them dread the time it takes away from their writing. 

I happen to love social media, and not just because I'm an extrovert. I believe that its use has benefits beyond gaining an audience and establishing a platform. 

I believe that it's made me a better writer and a better Christian. 

How Social Media Has Made Me a Better Writer and a Better Christian:

#2 - Social media reminds me of the reader. 

Literary pursuits are often solitary crafts: writers spend most of their time writing alone, and readers nearly always read by themselves. 

Sitting in my cold kitchen in the dark, listening to the whirr of my dehumidifier, it’s easy to feel as if I’m alone in this—that I’m the primary focus here, and that what I think, know, and feel is all that matters. But the truth is that every time I write, I enter into an unwritten contract with the readers: I expect them to read what I write, and in turn they expect me to provide something worthy of being read. 

It’s okay to admit it! I know the score.

To that end, I stand in constant need of reminder that I don't write as therapy or for pure self-expression. Writing’s too hard and too time-consuming to be just that; and although it often brings catharsis as a by-product, the real goal is to meet the readers where they are and lead them to what they need. 

Whatever that may be. 

I’ve learned that to reach people, it’s not enough just to know how to write—I need to know them. 

What better avenue for learning about my readers than through social media? Not only do my friends’ posts offer a small (albeit fragmented) window into what they’re thinking, but through my own posts, I can also learn what sparks a reaction—and from whom. 

What reaches them in microcosm can later expand into e-mails, blog posts, articles, essays, books. What sparks nothing either gets shelved or carefully analyzed to see why it sparked nothing… and therefore what sort of introduction would be required to lead readers to understand the value of the topic.

Something similar happens when I teach from the Bible. I don’t prepare my lessons as therapy. Although it’s true that the best lessons often do well up out of the conviction of a deep truth the Lord’s just taught me in my own spiritual life, I don’t teach for catharsis or pure spiritual self-expression. Ministering the Word is too hard to be just that.

I’ve learned that to teach people, it’s not enough for me just to know the Scripture—I need to know them. 
And that’s where social media shows its real limitations. 

It’s neither a good avenue for getting to know people nor for letting them know me.

After all, even those of you who follow closely (but know me solely through social media) have no idea what sort of struggles I’ve been facing over the course of the last year. 
And that’s by design! 

I don’t use social media to express that. Instead I express my joys and the unimportant frustrations: the jumping pictures and the family fun and the pranks; the vacations and adventures; the toothy grins and the jokes and the ridiculous hair.

That’s what I’ve chosen to share, because in my estimation, the world could always use a little more of that sort of thing. What the world doesn’t need are more problems: we each have enough of those on our own.
The point here is that social media isn’t enough: it’s an imperfect connection.

That’s why God set us together in groups: families, church families, and communities. When we purposefully break ourselves off from these, we sever vital connections. We block ourselves from reaching and being reached.

It’s time to come off the page and step into people’s lives.

Yes, social media may help us inch our way toward becoming better writers and better Christians, but it can only take us so far. 

The truly big steps—the giant “Mother-may-I” steps—come when each of us take the time to face life and people in real time, as they really are.

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