Updated: Jul 27
Have you ever considered swearing off social media? What about taking a long break?
As writers, it’s not an easy decision. Social media isn’t just something we use to keep up with old friends. Many writers rely on the distribution powers of social media to promote our books, blog posts, and latest author news — the kind of tasks that pay the bills.
Seven months ago, I decided to take a year-long break from social media. As a full-time freelance SaaS copywriter, social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have helped me generate tens of thousands of dollars for my business over the years.
But by the end of 2020, I was tired of the distraction and noise. I’m about halfway through my break. (For now, the only way to follow me is through my newsletter about building a career you love as a writer.)
One of the biggest things that inspired my break from social media was reading how other authors had done the same. So: to inspire you on your decision to give up social media, here are four successful authors who don’t use social media.
Authors who don’t use social media
One of my favorite nonfiction authors, Michael Lewis has a unique talent for telling complex true stories using memorable characters and intellectually-engaging plot. Some of my favorite books by Michael Lewis include The Big Short, Flash Boys, and Boomerang.
Michael Lewis primarily promotes his books the old fashioned way: by writing as a journalist for major news sites and appearing in interviews in the media. He also hosts a podcast called Against The Rules and (when he has a new book to promote) regularly appears on other podcasts as well.
Zadie Smith is a novelist known for books like White Teeth and Swing Time. She is also an essayist, with many articles in The New Yorker.
Smith’s decision to swear off social media, according to her statements in the media, seem to come down to a choice of privacy and “the right to be wrong.”
“I have seen on Twitter, I’ve seen it at a distance, people have a feeling at 9am quite strongly, and then by 11 have been shouted out of it and can have a completely opposite feeling four hours later. That part, I find really unfortunate.
“I want to have my feeling, even if it’s wrong, even if it’s inappropriate, express it to myself in the privacy of my heart and my mind. I don’t want to be bullied out of it,”
As with Michael Lewis (and everyone else on this list, for that matter), Smith seems to primarily promote her work by writing for major publications and being interviewed by the media.
It would be odd not to include Jaron Lanier on this list. After all, he wrote a book literally called, 10 Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts.
Jaron Lanier is a computer scientist who writes about technology. In addition to 10 Arguments, he is the author of several other technology books, including You Are Not a Gadget and Who Owns the Future?
He appears to promote his writing by appearing in the media, including appearances in popular documentaries like The Social Dilemma on Netflix.
Like Lanier, Cal Newport has written at length about intentionally not using social media as an author. In fact, he has a great book on the subject called Digital Minimalism, which greatly influenced my personal decision to take my current year-long break. His other popular works include Deep Work, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, and his latest, A World Without Email.
Newport has a popular blog and newsletter. He promotes his blogs and books through consistency, as well as writing for major publications like The New Yorker and Wired. He also hosts a podcast and regularly appears as a guest on other shows.
Murakami is a novelist known for many works, including A Wild Sheep Chase and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. He also happens to be one of my wife's favorite authors. As I write this, I'm reading his memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.
You can find a Facebook author page, Twitter account, and Instagram for Murakami. But as far as I can tell, all of these appear to be managed by his publisher or are fan pages. When asked about his lack of social media, Murakami said:
“Generally speaking, the quality of writing isn’t very good. Reading good writing and listening to good music are incredibly important things in life. So, to phrase it from the other way around, there’s nothing better than not listening to bad music and not reading bad writing.”
Do authors need social media?
It seems most people pursuing creative careers rely heavily on social media. It's an easy way to promote your latest project, connect with your followers, and see how people react to your work.
But there's a big difference between true needs and the status quo. Yes, I think it's safe to say that most authors nowadays use some form of social media. But it's equally true that social media is not a prerequisite for being published or making a good living as an author.
Please take this with a grain of salt. I am not a published author. All I can do is reflect on what I see as a freelance writer and avid reader. And from my vantage point, the path to publishing without social media seems achievable, though it requires giving up some low-hanging fruit. An author career without social media seems to require greater creativity when it comes to promoting their latest books and articles.
Blogging without social media: A brief reflection
Now that I’ve highlighted a few famous authors and bloggers who aren’t using social media, I want to discuss my experience away from social media.
As I mentioned in the intro, I’ve been on break from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram for seven months. My last day was at the end of December 2020.
The experience so far has been divided, but I would call it a net positive, if I had to give it a rating. The primary downside has been a lack of feedback for my writing. I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed the light engagement of social media until it was gone. These days, most of what I write does not elicit any form of engagement. Occasionally I’ll read comments on my guest posts or reviews on writing products I’ve created for SaaS copywriting clients.
But other than that, it’s mostly crickets when I publish on my blog. Fortunately, the newsletter usually generates a handful of kind messages.
But now let’s discuss the pros. There are many.
Many of my suspicions about giving up social media have proven true. For one thing, I no longer find myself tempted to write short, low-value content. Tweets and short LinkedIn posts, in my opinion, tend to offer shallow information. I’d rather consume and create longer-form content, as I believe that tends to offer greater depth and value.
This year, I’ve taken a deeper dive into long-form content as both a writer and reader. I’ve continued reading books, but now I also follow many bloggers very closely. I find this long-form content much richer and more satisfying than scrolling Twitter threads.
Also, since giving up social media I’ve discovered new hobbies and rediscovered a few old ones. I now regularly play tennis, a sport I used to love but had neglected for years. I’ve become more active with investing and enjoy reading investor news and stories. And I’ve gotten into a new hobby called Adventure Racing, which has helped improve my endurance over the past several months.
As I said: net positive.
I will likely return to social media someday. The ease through which I can promote my business and writing using LinkedIn and Twitter is hard to beat. Facebook and Instagram, on the other hand, still have to prove themselves before I’ll return to them. Not sure I’m missing anything there.
Even if I do return to social media someday, I’ll try to hold Cal Newport’s advice close to heart, “If you’re serious about making an impact in the world, power down your smartphone, close your browser tabs, roll up your sleeves and get to work.”
Your most important work is ahead.
(2022 update: In 2021, I took a year-long break from social media. Read about how I grew my freelance business without Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.)
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