Get off Twitter

This was originally posted on my personal blog, but after getting a lot of positive comments from people saying they felt it was an important part of the conversation, I decided to repost it here as well.

Although I’ve been off Twitter for over a year at this point, a few days ago an author friend of mine sent me a Twitter thread to look at. It was a reaction to an essay by Nicole Brinkley called “Did Twitter break YA?” (Yes, it did.)

Adding on to the very excellent article, the thread brought up a very scary aspect of YA social media:

This right here was the reason I deleted my Twitter account. It was the reason I kept backing away from it before I deleted it. It was the reason I was terrified to open the app every day for four years before finally deleting my account.

This is also the reason the Iamos Trilogy isn’t finished by now. Because YA Twitter had me so constantly anxious, so terrified, that I couldn’t bear the thought of continuing to write YA. I was in a constant state of panic while writing New World. I knew I needed to go on social media to promote the book coming out, but every single time I opened Twitter there was one more controversy, one more news item, one more thing making the rounds that I felt pressured to weigh in on that I didn’t feel equipped to weigh in on.

I don’t believe in armchair activism. I don’t believe that yelling on Twitter is going to do a damn bit of good. It is, quite frankly, virtue signaling. It’s showing off to people on the internet that you’re a “good person” without having to lift a finger to actually do anything. I believe helping in your community is the best solution, but I also don’t want to doxx my IRL identity by performatively sharing what I’ve been doing to help so that people on the internet will approve of me. Doxxing aspect aside, if I were to give you a laundry list of all the “great things” I’ve done for the community, it would feel like I was humblebragging. It would feel like I was only doing it to show off and earn brownie points and people’s approval instead of doing it out of a genuine desire to help. I don’t want to help out only because it gets me attention. Likewise, I don’t want to help out only so that people will not try to destroy me on Twitter.

Additionally, half the time I’d see people screaming on Twitter, I wouldn’t even know what they were talking about. But I would repeatedly see, “Those of you who aren’t saying anything, we see you.” The implicit threat in those words was paralyzing. “Weigh in on this controversy that you don’t understand or know all the nuances of, or you’re next.” So I would sit there feeling pressured to try to dig into things that were guaranteed only to upset me, stress me out, and make me anxious, so that I could then craft a carefully-worded statement so I could go on existing—in terror, of course, because even though I’d weighed in, if I’d weighed in incorrectly, that would also be grounds for my own destruction—for another day.

Twitter was an echo chamber of screaming voices getting louder and louder, paralyzing me in fear. Every time I’d open it, my stomach would churn and my hands would shake.

New World released in 2018. I love that book with all of my heart. It’s my favorite thing that I’ve written. Every time I reread it, it fills me with joy. I love the adventure I sent my characters on. I love the new characters we meet. I love Nadin’s growth, the way she comes into her own and finds herself. I love the way I handled the exploration of her asexuality. I love the chase scenes. I love the twists. Everything about that book gives me joy.

I was also terrified to publish it and terrified to promote it. Because:

[A] line from a book is posted out of context and shared as a flattened reflection of a book’s worth or an author’s personal beliefs. The community expects that the line must be owned and apologized for, behaviors that validate the initial criticism of the book. Authors who don’t do this are accused of not caring or of not being involved in the conversation—even when, if read within context, the same line would firmly put the author on the same side as the readership in terms of what they believe is good. – Nicole Brinkley

Every single line I wrote, I thought, “What if someone misinterprets this?” Every single time a character is tactless, clueless, selfish, acts like a jerk, or makes a statement that could be interpreted as political, I would overthink it until it kept me up at night. On release day, a day that should have been exciting for me, a day I should have been celebrating the book of my heart being out in the world, I was in a state of such horrible anxiety that I was crying, pacing, panicking, my hands were clammy, I couldn’t relax, and I couldn’t sleep that night. I can’t remember if I even managed to send my newsletter out about it. I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want anyone to know about it. This book that I loved so much, that I was so proud of? I wanted to hide it away and pretend it didn’t exist, because there might be something unintentional in those pages that would turn the mob on me.

And after that, I was such a basket case that I couldn’t bear the thought of writing YA anymore. So at the encouragement of my family and therapist, I stopped. I still wanted to write, but I just couldn’t handle writing YA. So I turned my back on the series I love, on the stories I love, and on all the dozens of ideas for more stories that I’d had saved for years. I moved on to a genre that is safe.

But I felt so sad every time I thought about what I’d left behind. As much as I do like and enjoy my pen name books, my YA books are the ones I feel passionate about. Moreover, they’re the ones that I feel I’m meant to write. But even when I knew I needed to go back to them, I was afraid to. Because of Twitter.

But I couldn’t just delete Twitter. YA authors have to be on Twitter, right?

[The] publishing industry decided that Twitter was an essential platform for YA writers. Put simply, YA authors needed to be active on Twitter.
The end result of all this is that YA publishing professionals must enact performances of perfection online: They must be constantly accessible (as demanded by the needs of their own marketing), while responding to everything that is happening all of the time (as demanded by their audience). – Nicole Brinkley

I bought into that. The requirement that I HAD to be on there, and HAD to be acting a certain way. I bought into it until my mental health just couldn’t take it anymore, and it had to go. It. Just. Had. To. Go.

And amazingly, I felt better. I felt a lot better. My friends were even remarking to me how much happier and less stressed I seemed after I deleted it.

Unfortunately, at the point I made that decision, in a lot of ways it was too little, too late. Because the years of anxiety stemming from Twitter (and Nicole Brinkley’s analysis of it starting in 2016 when the algorithm changed lines up with when Twitter started being a source of anxiety for me) had done their damage to my body. Because I’d been misdiagnosed[1]Since this is a repost from my personal blog where I’d already gone into this, here’s the TL;DR version: Last year I saw a new neurologist who gave me an incorrect diagnosis and put me on … Continue reading, and consequently the things I was doing to try to “treat” my chronic illness were in fact making it worse. Because EBV reactivation flares tend to be caused by stress, and I had built up years of stress into my system. Because stress and anxiety wears your immune system down, and I had driven mine into the dirt by trying to make Twitter work instead of nuking my account into orbit like I should have all along. Because I bought into the lie that I needed Twitter if I wanted to succeed as an author.

So where does that leave me now? It’s been a year since I deleted Twitter. Sometimes I miss the old days, the days before it became toxic, when I was meeting other author friends who became meaningful connections. I also miss knowing what’s going on in terms of new releases and book trends. I feel so disconnected and out of the loop sometimes. I feel like the world is moving on without me, something compounded by my chronic illness.

But I don’t miss what it turned into and what it did to my state of mind. And knowing it’s still this way, hasn’t changed, and is unlikely to change, I can’t bring myself to miss Twitter.

In the year since I’ve been gone, I’ve felt my passion and joy return. The combination of losing that source of anxiety, finding a proper answer for the cause of my illness, and starting medication for my anxiety in November has all helped me feel less afraid. I feel joy about my stories again. I feel excitement about my stories again. I feel excited about Iamos again.

But I can’t do anything about it. Because the years of stress wore my immune system down so much that every single time I sit down to write—no matter what project I’m working on, whether it be One World, a short story, even something mindless and fluffy in an attempt to be able to focus on something—I can manage a few paragraphs and then I get disoriented and confused, lose my train of thought, and wind up having to stop because I can’t remember what I’m doing. It’s not what I’m writing anymore, it’s writing at all. It’s just not doable with my health the way it is now.

So now I have to wait. Now, instead of telling the stories that I love and that I feel called to tell, I have to sit around resting and doing nothing until I finally feel better. I have no way of knowing when that will be. It could be months. It could be years. And there’s nothing I can do about it.

What’s my point in this tangent? I want you to see what Twitter can do to someone. To all my author friends who have been hanging in there on Twitter despite how miserable it’s making you. To everyone who keeps saying they’re going to take a hiatus and is back posting and retweeting within an hour, because you’re afraid to quit it. Just do it. Just let it go. It’s ruining your life. Maybe your life ruination won’t have such obvious consequences as mine, such obvious and tangible symptoms. But it is still ruining your life all the same. Is your writing output diminished? Are you not finding joy in writing the way you used to? Are you having trouble concentrating, or getting enthused about your stories like you used to when you first started? It might not just be burnout. It might not just be that you’re “wasting time” or “procrastinating” being on Twitter all the time. It might be that social media hellsite ruining your mental health.

There are some good things about Twitter. They used to be more noticeable back in the day, but I’m sure they’re still there. There are meaningful connections to be had. But as far as I can see, the tradeoff isn’t worth it anymore. It used to be, but it’s not now. It’s ruining publishing and it’s ruining authors’ lives. Stop letting it ruin your life.

Get off Twitter.

We cannot reshape the entire YA community. We certainly cannot fix Twitter.

But we can choose to walk away from rage. We can choose to give the grace to our communities that we want for ourselves: to learn, and to grow, and to be approached with nuance. We can take a breath before we interact with strangers online. We can remember that social media is not our job.

We can, if we choose, break the cycle.

These days, it’s okay to not be sure what Twitter is for. We can stop going there until we figure it out. – Nicole Brinkley


1 Since this is a repost from my personal blog where I’d already gone into this, here’s the TL;DR version: Last year I saw a new neurologist who gave me an incorrect diagnosis and put me on a treatment that was really hard on my body and on my mental health. Then in April of this year I saw another doctor who informed me that the bulk of my chronic conditions stem from Epstein-Barr virus and some problems with my immune system, and basically all the stuff that the previous doctor had me doing had run my immune system down even further than it already had been.

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