Thursday, May 17, 2012

Preventing Writer's Cramp, or, Control Your Social Media So It Doesn't Control You: a guest blog by Elizabeth S. Craig

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Social Media. We love it. We hate it. We dash from Twitter to Facebook to Tumblr to Pinterest, trying to fit in a little paid writing along the way and not ignore our family members too much. Sound unmanageable? Then you need to meet Elizabeth S. Craig. Elizabeth writes three - count 'em, three - series: the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin/Berkley as Riley Adams, the Southern Quilting mysteries for Penguin/NAL, and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink. Her blog, Mystery Writing is Murder, has been named one of the 101 Best Blogs for Writers for three years running by Writers Digest. She helps run the Writer's Knowledge Base, a search engine dedicated to writers' resources. Her writing-related Tweets are must-reads for every author, published or un-, and, oh, yes, she still finds time to volunteer at her children's school.

Good grief. I feel tired just typing all that. Contrary to what you might think, Elizabeth says she doesn't accomplish all this by cloning herself. Instead, she uses time management. And she's here today to share some practical advice on how to control your social media...before it starts controlling you.

The Reds had a great roundup on social media recently—and it really got me thinking about the love/hate relationship we writers have with being online. It’s a fantastic way to connect with readers and other writers…and subtly promote our books, which was the reason we got on social media to begin with. But how do we keep from spending all day online? How can we have an online presence and still protect our writing time?
I’ll admit it’s tough for me—I love my online time. Here are seven ways I’ve found to work around my social media fixation...and still find time to write my books:

Write first. It’s great knowing that I’ve got my writing goal knocked out first thing. This means I get up before five a.m. to do it, but I get that smug feeling the rest of the day, knowing I’ve written. The writing I do later in the day is just icing on the cake. 

Use a timer. I’ve gotten so I live by my timer—it’s easy for time to fly by when I’m online. Usually I use a free online timer to help me track my time. 

Automation. Automation gets a bad rap, but it’s incredibly helpful if it’s not misused. You can use a program like Timely or check out this Kissmetrics infographic to figure out prime time for your followers on Twitter and Facebook.

Use an editorial calendar for planning your blog posts. Schedule blog posts in advance. Blogging is an important part of an online presence and many writers use a blog as a home base online. But you can burn up a lot of time trying to decide on topics to post on. I use my Google calendar as an informal editorial calendar. When I brainstorm an idea for a post, I go ahead and put it on the calendar (it’s easy to drag and drop, too, if you want to rearrange the order of the posts. It’s also helpful if you write a couple or more posts at one time—once you’ve written one post, go ahead and start the next while you’re in post mode. Then you can schedule posts in advance and not be in a panic when it’s your day to post and you’ve got nothing to say. 

Dedicate specific times to check email and social media messages. And then try not to check messages in-between.

Make old material work for you. If you have old blog posts in your archive, you can bring new readers to your blog by pinning top posts on Pinterest (careful here…bring out that timer. Pinterest is especially addictive.) New visitors to blogs appreciate seeing a list of the most popular posts in a sidebar (it can quickly help them brand you and your blog.) You can even update some of your more popular older posts and repost them. What are your most popular posts? Use the free Google Analytics program to learn your top content and what’s resonated most with readers.

Limit the number of social media applications that you use. We don’t have to have profiles on every app. If we stick with the ones we like best, it’s easy to keep them updated and we won’t spread ourselves thin over multiple platforms during our allotted social media time. Some applications (like Goodreads and LinkedIn) really only require updating whenever we’ve got a change (a new release, a new website, etc.)


If all else fails—taking a look at the calendar and an upcoming deadline works  wonders, too!
How do you keep your social media time in check? And, thanks for hosting me today, Reds!


Elizabeth’s next book, Quilt or Innocence, releases June 5th. Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque series as Riley Adams, and the Southern Quilting mysteries and the Myrtle Clover mysteries under her own name. She blogs at Mystery Writing is Murder. You can also follow her on Twitter as @elizabethscraig and friend her on Facebook.


  1. Thanks for hosting me, Reds! I'm looking forward to spending my social media time hanging out with y'all today. :)

  2. Excellent tips. I'm off to check out the online timer now. That's exactly what I need.

  3. Shelley--Hands down, that timer helps me rein in my time online better than anything else. Good luck!

  4. I always put my writing efforts first. But morning time between kids leaving for school or over a cup of coffee offers me a chance to do a little tweeting before the day starts!

  5. Julia - Thanks for hosting one of my favourite author/bloggers!

    Elizabeth - No doubt about it, social media time can eat away insidiously at productive writing time. But it is important for an author and let's face it; it's fun. I try not to let it take over by limiting, the sites I use the most. I'm on FB, Twitter, Pinterest, G+ and a few more, but I really only spend time on those that are really relevant for me. I also have my blog posts set to post automatically to FB and Twitter. That way I don't have to spend time with that.

  6. Laura--Oh, I know what you mean! Tweeting and mornings and coffee all go together! It's a struggle for me every day...

    Margot--I think what you're saying is so key. We can put ourselves *on* those media, but just *maintain* our presence there. Then we can interact on the media we find most relevant to our platform.

  7. Elizabeth, you are a sheer wonder! Are you working on more than one book at a time--how do you juggle all that?

    We're so honored to have you spend your sm time here today:). Have you found Pinterest to be good marketing, or mostly just fun so far?

    Love the cover of your new book--it's red, red, red--yesterday's guest would approve!

  8. Lucy--I was working on two books for two different series until May 1 when I handed one of them in. :) Honestly, it can be confusing! Luckily, I got to the point where I was just editing one and drafting the other and that was much easier (different sides of my brain being used, I guess!)

    So far, I love marketing on Pinterest. It's one of the very few places where I actually interact more with readers! It's just so easy to pull out a theme or a setting from one of our books/series and make an entire board out of it...and find new readers.

  9. Thanks for the tips! This is an area I'm trying to get a handle on. (Elizabeth, you're an inspiration!)

  10. Hi Elizabeth~ Thanks for the excellent tips---I just tried out the online Countdown Timer and it's fantastic. No more borrowing the kitchen timer for me!

    I've learned a lot of helpful info from your blog, and now being a Pinterest addict, I regularly keep up with your book news besides just enjoying your pins. I'm partial to the corgis.;)

    As a matter of fact, thru Pinterest I saw Roberta's pin a few minutes ago,alerting me to you guesting here at JR, so I'd say that's social media at work!

  11. Tracy--Thanks so much! Good luck taming your social media time. :)

    Lynn--I love the corgis, too! Pinterest is a little dangerous because I honestly feel like I could lose a day there. I noticed that for the first time today, I got a newsletter from Pinterest with a round-up of their most popular boards. Clever of them! I clicked on some recipe pics before I controlled myself. :) And that's cool that Pinterest brought you over here!

  12. Whoa, Elizabeth. Wonderful. Can you come to my house? Thanks so much for being here..and taking the--time--to be so available!

    And thinking about it a bit--it's all about control, and awareness. And mindfully doing whatever you're doing--not just--surfing.

    See you at my next break!

  13. Great post. Great advice. Its really critical to turn off and not let it overwhelm you. Especially since every study shows it is so much less effective than our publishers want us to believe it is. Its great for keeping up with readers but its not a cure all to pr or marketing plans by a long shot. Sorry if I sound pissy - but I'm just so tired of publishers telling authors that social media is all that matters anymore. A Facebook post only gets seen by about 20% of the people who follow the page. Twitter is even less... there are way more very active soc media whose books are not selling well than the other way around.

  14. Hank--Ha--absolutely! Seriously, though, I've thought about a virtual assistant. I've heard some great things from folks who use them.

    Great point about the mindfulness--in everything, really. It helps eliminate wasted time in so many areas.

    MJ Rose--Yes, it's really impossible to quantify how successful individual tweets, status updates, etc., on social media are for promo. I think that's why having a presence/platform is important. It means we're accesssible and that our name comes up quickly on Google searches...but it doesn't mean we have to spend all day building that platform.

  15. Write first, ugh, you caught me this morning! LOL! This is fantastic advice. I'm off to put some of it to work right now. :)

  16. Thanks for the tips, Elizabeth! You mentioned the timer recently on your blog, and it's been a gift from heaven for me.

    As a westerner, I sometimes find the online conversations -- like this one -- well underway before I see them, so I sometimes check in early anyway. But you -- and my deadline -- are inspiring me to change my ways!

  17. Great tips, Elizabeth. I use a timer all the time to keep me out of email and the blog and other time sinks.

    You're like the tenth person who's said how cool Pinterest is. I'll have to try it. After I turn in my book.

  18. Critique Sisters--We all have mornings like that! I do set my alarm for 4:50 a.m. so I can reduce the chances that something will come up and keep me from my pages. :) But sometimes..even then...(one morning I woke up to find that the dog had gotten into the trashcan overnight...)

    Leslie--I found that I felt so much less *panicked* when I wrote first. When you've got one deadline after another, there's this sort of guilty burden on you! But when I'm done with my goal (or very close to it) for the day, my whole outlook changes.

    Hallie--Ha! Yes, that's a best practice, for sure. Pinterest is *perfect* if you set it up and just leave it alone. But I run into time-management issues when I spend more than the minimum amount of time there.

  19. Good tips, Elizabeth.
    I have shied away from Pinterest because Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and two blogs already eat up most of my day.
    I'm not sure of the value of any of them, except that I know my fans like keeping up to date with what I'm doing.
    But they certainly are addictive...

  20. Elizabeth, I ALWAYS learn from you.

    Thanks, Ladies, for getting this knowledgable author to post.


  21. Rhys--I think you're being very smart. There's definitely a breaking point where we just can't take on anything else, social media-wise.

    Journaling Woman--Thanks so much! And thanks for coming by. :)

  22. I'm working on that now! I have to write in the evening but I'm now slotting two hours to do that no matter what.
    I do plan posts in advance and have some planned all the way into July. Never thought about going back and re-posting an old one though.
    And I've wisely stayed away from Pinterest. Don't need any more distractions right now!

  23. Alex--I think you do an amazing job (for those of you who don't know Alex, he has a huge online presence, has a couple of books out, and has a day job.) You're right about dedicating time to write.

  24. Elizabeth, I discovered the Online Stopwatch through your blog and I like it better than swiping the kitchen egg timer. Thanks.

  25. Excellent tips, Elizabeth. I think this is something most authors struggle with in the e-age. Anything that helps us get back to our writing is a good thing!

  26. Thank you, Elizabeth, for coming on JRW and giving us suggestions/guidelines for social media. I've learned a lot from the links you've Tweeted.

    I think I need to structure my social media usage, to come up with a plan and a schedule. Seems like there's always some "fire to put out" or a news topic related to my writing I have to follow, especially lately.

    The result is that I suspect I need to take drastic measures, like disconnecting for a matter of weeks. Letting my Google Page Rank and Klout scores fly low to the ground. Ack.

    I probably shouldn't have posted this in such a public venue as JRW. At least I didn't do it on Facebook. =:-o

  27. Darlene--So glad it helps! It's made a huge difference for me, in terms of productivity.

    Anne--Right. Because if we don't write the books, there's no reason for the great platform!

  28. Rhonda--You know, I think posting goals in a public place is a great idea! Talk about accountability. :) But seriously, I've gone on "blogcations" and Twitter-cations, too. I don't go away so much on Twitter anymore, but I've scheduled it out more than a week in advance before (on SocialOomph.)

  29. Unintended consequences: I used to use an apple timer--I mean, a kitchen timer in the shape of an apple--to keep track of my minutes.

    Then one day as I was writing The Other Woman, I thought--hey! What if... And now that apple timer is immortalized as the thing the wacky obsessive stalker uses to keep them on time. (Not a spoiler, I promise...)

    YOu never know!

  30. Great post, great tips! Thank you—great timing :)

  31. What great tips! I love the idea of an online timer. I just bookmarked the page. Thanks again!

  32. Hank--I can never find timers that are that cute, somehow.

    A character who uses a timer while it!

    What-ifs rock!

    Rochelle--Thanks for coming by. :)

    J. Hall-Swadley--Hope it will help you out!

  33. Thanks for tips Elizabeth!

    I'm a big advocate of writing first.

  34. Elizabeth, I don't even want to know what time you go to bed in order to get up at 4:50. I'm afraid I wouldn't be much use that early...

    MJ Rose--everyone's looking for the next brilliant marketing coup, even the publishers. It's a lot of pressure, isn't it?

    Lynn in Texas, love that you came over today from my Pinterest post--it justifies time spent there:)

  35. Jan--Me too. It's a great feeling to have it out of the way, isn't it (not that writing *should* feel like a chore, but...)

    Lucy--I'm usually asleep at 10 p.m. :)

  36. Elizabeth, your tips are realistic and inspiring. Thank you. Every good writer needs solid time management to stay on track.

    Currently, I'm hooked on my kitchen timer, but it's not ideal for early AM writing. Shhh! Don't want to wake the kids too early.

    So, I have to use old-fashioned discipline until the family wakes up. But, I'll check out the online timer. I assume it provides a visual pop-up which would be great.

    Oh, and I like the Pinterest idea, too. When I get a chance, I like researching Pinterest marketing ideas and yours is a keeper.'s time to get back to writing. Thanks again.

  37. Unknown--Oh, believe me, I know! Mornings and kids...sigh. Everything changes for me when we hit the summer schedule (but I still manage to squeeze it in first most of the time!)

    I've been surprised that Pinterest has been as effective as it has. I put in probably 2 hours getting my boards set up...then I've pretty much left it alone. Seems to be working out well!

  38. Love the idea of a timer, Elizabeth! It's SO easy to get caught up and involved with social media and lose total track of what I should have been doing! :)

  39. Jemi--It's easy to lose a whole day, isn't it?

  40. Love the online timer, Elizabeth! Thanks!

    Hank, the apple timer that made it into your book is perfect! Don't you love it when everyday life sneaks into the WIP?

    I'm late on JRW today because I wrote first and all day before getting online. *Buffs her fingernails on her shirtsleeve*

  41. Linda--Woo-hoo! It's a terrific feeling, isn't it? Hope the timer helps you out. :)

  42. Nice points there. Actually this is the biggest issue with maximum number of people who use social media. They are so much addicted that they forget everything else. Although its just like meeting your friends and then going back home. One should keep a real watch on it. Nice tips here.

  43. Thanks, Tom. I think social media is especially addicting for writers because we're more at home interacting by *writing* (status updates, tweets, blog comments) than we are interacting in person. So we develop these relationships online and lose track of time when we're checking into those apps. Timers really help!