Guest blogger: Ed Cyzewski (@edcyzewski)
As writers, we all have a fierce, powerful, all-consuming competitor. You won’t find it at a book store, and it’s one of the few things you can’t find on Amazon. I’m talking about Facebook.
If you use Facebook, think about what you love about it for a moment.
→ Interaction with friends
→ Immediate gratification
Facebook is your competition because it consumes a ton of leisure time. I’m not saying that we need to fight Facebook toe to toe. I don’t think the world is pining for a book written like a Facebook timeline (though, you never know). Our challenge as writers is to drag our readers away from irresistible distractions like Facebook long enough to teach, enchant, or motivate them with carefully crafted words.
Facebook offers info-graphics about political controversies, YouTube videos of kittens and rabbits wrestling, and unmatched drama from that friend who can’t use a toaster properly. What are you offering?
This is not a call to find more controversial info-graphics or videos of cuter rabbits—though I won’t complain about the latter. I’m merely stating an old adage about my writing and your writing in a new way: no one cares, especially with Facebook as a source of entertainment.
How do we make readers care about our ponderous phrases, picky poems, and pushy prose?
We tell the truth.
Facebook thrives on distracting pets, entertainment, meal minutiae, and controversy. Sure, we may find the truth here and there when someone shares a profound blog post or video. Heck, you may have even found this post through Facebook. However, the only way a writer like me can compete with Facebook is by telling the truth with more boldness and honesty than I thought possible yesterday and with greater depth than a status update.
At the Festival of Faith and Writing, actress and author Susan Isaacs led a nonfiction workshop where she encouraged us to think about what stands out about our favorite books. I immediately thought of Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies.
In one scene, Lamott is just trying to have a quiet moment during Ash Wednesday, but her son kept turning the television on. As the whiny voices of Alvin and the Chipmunks chirped the song Achy Breaky Heart, Lamott’s anger boiled over and she angrily scolded her son, yanking him away from the television and the Chipmunk’s cover song. She later had to coax him out of a tree where he tried to hide from the “meanest person on earth next to Darth Vader.”
The raw honesty of that scene has stuck with me throughout the years because it made me realize two things:
1. Anne Lamott sounds a lot crazier in her books than she does in person.
2. I’m every bit as crazy as the Anne Lamott in her books.
Lamott took one of her lowest moments as a parent and used it to touch my own brokenness and humanity. As she pried open her life in page after page, she didn’t teach me about herself. She gave each reader perspective, knowledge about brokenness, and hope.
Facebook is not the place to write about an emotional outburst like that. It just doesn’t work. Who knows what would happen in the comments, and really, I think a lot of us would just “Vaguebook” something about chipmunks ruining a perfectly good morning. Facebook doesn’t give us the space we need to process, to confront the truth, and to poke around at a particular situation long enough to learn something of value.
Immediacy is great for entertainment but not for meaningful life reflection and fearless confrontations with truth.
Writers have everything they need to overcome the distracting powers of Facebook because we are ultimately purveyors of the truth, even if fiction writers have to make up a story to find it. Make no mistake: dealing in the hard currency of truth has a steep cost.
It will hurt.
I once had to hide in a café bathroom, a weepy mess after writing a piece. As I tapped the final words, they reached into me and tore out my heart. It was one of the most truthful things I’d ever written, and the unflinching honesty broke me.
I gave readers of that article the truth, and they responded with words of gratitude. For at least one day I beat Facebook in a tiny corner of the internet because I told the truth. Readers told their friends, “Stop what you’re doing and read this.”
It’s tough to compete with Jon Stewart or cute kittens on Facebook—if someone ever combined the two, the internet would probably explode. This is a challenge I gladly accept—competing with Facebook, not combining Jon Stewart and kittens. I count myself among those who believe God can use us to make this world a little better with our words.
More often than not, Facebook is designed to hide the truth, to create alter egos, to project our ideal selves, or to prevent meaningful self-reflection. Writers are among the few who have the power to serve up the nourishing power of the truth in a world starving to death on entertainment and distraction. This is our calling if we’re willing to pay the price.
In your writing, do you ever think about the fact that you’re competing with Facebook and many other entertainment options? What do you think of the idea of “telling the truth” as a compelling alternative to Facebook?
Ed Cyzewski is the co-author of Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus and is the author of Coffeehouse Theology, as well as the self-published works A Path to Publishing and Divided We Unite. His blog about imperfectly following Jesus is www.inamirrordimly.com, and his writing blog is www.edcyz.com.[ Next Post → ] [ ← Previous Post ]