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On social media as a creative block

The struggle between ego and focus, work and play, real and fake. Some swear by social media, others wouldn’t sign up if their life depended on it (I’m looking at you, Ian MacKaye). While there are many constructive uses of social media, it can also eat your time, toy with your focus, and poke at your ego.

Photographer Yumna Al-Arashi suggests that with the growing use of these platforms, “people don’t spend as much time focusing on doing research work… but just kind of comparing themselves to other people all day long.” Author Maggie Nelson says that “for somebody who might have a reputation as a ‘look, I’ll let it all hang out’ writer, I’m actually not a ‘look, I’ll let it all hang out’ person.” She asserts that the steady, real-time drip of social media isn’t built into her writing process. “As much as I like certain manifestations of the avant-garde tradition of a life/art bleed, for me personally, I don’t think of what you’re describing—blogging or posting or tweeting all day or whatever—as an art practice. It can be for some people, but for me, it wouldn’t be.” Below you’ll find words from a selection of TCI subjects about their use of social media (or lack thereof), and how it can negatively impact their creative practice.

Charlotte Zoller

Roxane -Gay
Author
Maggie-Nelson
Author
Yumna-Al-Arashi
Artist
Rafaël-Rozendaal
Artist
Albert-Goldbarth
Writer
Patricia-Voulgaris
Photographer

I take three or four day breaks [from social media] at least once a month, and people don’t notice, because I don’t make a big announcement. I think too many people make huge announcements, “I’m leaving social media.” When I hit my limit, which I do regularly, I just don’t go on Twitter for four days. It’s fine. I choose when I want to be part of social media.

After the election, I didn’t really want to be online but I had to say something. You can’t stay silent in the face of what is in many ways a tragedy for a great many people, so I definitely had something to say there.

I don’t do social media. For somebody who might have a reputation as a “look, I’ll let it all hang out” writer, I’m actually not a “look, I’ll let it all hang out” person (or writer, for that matter). As I said in The Argonauts, it would be a nightmare, to me, to have that kind of steady, real-time drip. I’m into the aestheticized product. I guess I’m old fashioned that way. As much as I like certain manifestations of the avant-garde tradition of a life/art bleed, for me personally, I don’t think of what you’re describing—blogging or posting or tweeting all day or whatever—as an art practice. It can be for some people, but for me, it wouldn’t be. I’ve always been somebody really interested in the form of the book, what two covers do to seemingly raw expression.

I see a lot of my creative friends who are going through creative blocks, and it’s usually more from them being concerned about themselves and not their creativity, or concerned about how the world perceives them and not about actually putting out work based on what you’re doing.

I think that becomes more and more of a problem now that social media is such a huge part of people’s art. It can really destroy your creativity, because people don’t spend as much time focusing on doing research work or consuming enough to make them feel as though they’ve had enough brain food but just kind of comparing themselves to other people all day long or feeling like they’re not actually moving forward in any way. I always see that happening to my friends, and I just want to shake them and be like, “Stop. Get off of your phone. This is what’s happening to you.”

We all get in those zones where we realize an hour later that we’ve just been scrolling through and don’t even know how you ended up on some girl from Tanzania’s page, like 50 posts and who are you and why am I in this world? It’s not good, but it’s also such an interesting world that we’re living in. That’s, in itself, so inspiring to me in seeing that. It does, I think, a lot of damage for people who are really interested in creating things. Most of my friends that want to be creative or are creatives that are suffering from a lot of creativity blocks are those people who are very consumed in their ego and displaying the ego and comparing themselves to other egos in the world and not actually focusing on the work that’s involved in creating.

When I’m on the computer, I’m actually more distracted by: “Oh, let’s see if there’s a new song by this person, or movie, or clip.” I installed all kinds of blockers to block social media to use the computer as if there’s no Internet. I work better that way.

There’s this tool which might be helpful to the readers. It’s a Chrome Extension called StayFocusd. If you use social media for more than a certain amount of time it says, “Shouldn’t you be working?” I use that. I’ll cheat every now and then. In the afternoon, I’ll finish a lot of tasks then I’ll do some browsing.

It’s funny to me because more and more I run into people who just don’t understand that you can know things or sound smart or have this information without the internet. And then I say to them, especially if I’m talking to someone relatively young who really may not have thought about it, that you have to realize that this god of yours—the internet—the alpha and omega, the end-all and be-all that owns all of the hours of your day, and your shopping, and your sex life, and your research, and your work, and your child-rearing, and all of your social communication… that internet was invented without an internet. It’s true! It’s absolutely verifiably true. I certainly never felt the lack of that. And my day is still perfectly happily, usually overfilled, sometimes frustratingly, without being able to access anything on a screen.

A lot of people don’t realize the power of people coming together and just discussing things. It’s like, get off your phone and let’s meet face to face and talk about stuff. There’s so much power in group collaboration. I meet with a few women from Pratt and we share our work a couple of times a month. We usually meet up on a Saturday and use the time and space just to talk about things. Maybe it’s not art, maybe it’s about what’s going on in the world but it’s so important to have a conversation about the things that are going on around you. It’s therapeutic. There’s so much crazy shit going on in the world, it’s kind of relaxing sometimes to look at each other’s art and not think about everything else for a while.

About the Author

Charlotte Zoller

Social Marketing Specialist

Charlotte Zoller is the Senior Social Media Strategist at ELOQUII, overseeing all social output from the digital brand marketing team. Previously, she was the Director of Community Engagement at The Creative Independent. She worked at Pitchfork as the Director of Social Media, in charge of the operation of Pitchfork’s social output for all verticals (Pitchfork, The Pitchfork Review, Pitchfork Music Festival, and Pitchfork Music Festival Paris) and events. Before Pitchfork, she managed VH1’s music based social media channels including VH1 Music, VH1 Classic, That Metal Show, and more. Before VH1, she tour managed bands such as Jukebox the Ghost + Tennis, as well as worked as a freelance photographer for outlets such as Rolling Stone, Vogue, SPIN, and more.