This post update from ex-literary agent Nathan Bransford came into my mailbox today, and I found myself relating to everything he said.
Lately, I’ve been growing tired of giving my attention to the outside world — irritated at being hounded by people and chased for things, pressured to respond at a “polite” speed (anything longer than three working days is considered rude).
I would have my phone in front of me all the time so that I see messages as soon as they come in, and reply almost instantaneously.
And as much as I enjoyed interacting with people on social media and chiming in in group chats, I was feeling burned out from being constantly plugged in. From responding to every ping and shrill of a notification. From checking Facebook and Instagram for updates or when I’m bored and need some distraction.
So I took a much needed retreat from social media. It’s been three weeks and counting that I haven’t posted anything on Facebook or Instagram, and I’ve barely scrolled through either. (Yes, I’m aware that this post itself is an update.)
Instead, I read — and ticked a few books off the reading list faster than I had in the past few months.
I wrote. I scribbled feverishly in my notebook, completed draft 8 of NO ROOM IN NEVERLAND, and rewrote its query letter and synopsis.
I let my mind wander while commuting instead of mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or watching yet another animal video or Insta story.
I pondered about story structure and brainstormed ideas for my novels.
I discovered new music, revisited old favourites.
I stepped into a different, quieter, calmer head space, and regained a piece of myself.
There are so many articles and videos out there about the need to unplug. The need to distance ourselves from the fray, to take a step back from the virtual persona we’ve carved for ourselves so that we can find our true selves again, to reserve a part of ourselves instead of putting every inane thought out there.
I always nodded along to those articles, secretly marvelling at the sheer willpower it must have taken those people to set aside their phones for a while and take a moment for themselves.
But when it comes down to doing it, when you get to the point where you feel weary from being so connected, from having to respond to every urgent email and message, it actually doesn’t feel like such a feat to unplug. The world feels quieter, the storm inside my head calmer, and my thoughts are able to float to the surface like flotsam.
When I’m able to choose when I wish to engage, I feel like I’m more in control. Instead of being pulled in all directions, I start to prioritise the things that require more urgent attention.
And instead of reaching for my phone when I’m in the train or when I’m waiting in line, I pull out a book. (Right now, I’m binge-reading all of Marie Lu’s books in preparation for her Meet-the-Author session in November, which I’m moderating!!!)
Instead of scrolling through my newsfeed on the bus, I look out the window or people-watch.
Instead of burying my face in my phone, I close my eyes and listen to some music.
And all that white noise dies down.
I still check my emails as soon as I turn on my phone every morning. I still text friends and participate in group chats. I still visit Instagram to see what my favourite photojournalists have been up to (check out this guy‘s snapshots).
But only when I’m ready to.
It wasn’t too long ago when I didn’t have Instagram or became active on Facebook. I can remember how much more space my thoughts had to grow into story ideas, how much more time I spent collecting ideas by getting inspired by stories, film, and the world around me in general.
I didn’t worry about missing out on anything, on whether other people were living “better” lives, doing fun stuff without me, or whether I should be worried about my penchant for solitude. I was fully present, and it’s those moments that I look back on wistfully now.
I’m not saying we should all start unplugging. Far be it from me to tell you what to do — if you feel more fulfilled being virtually engaged, you do you. I’m just saying I don’t want to give away all of my time to replying emails on the go, or keep seeking external validation or “hollow instant gratification”, or feel anxious and stressed and guilty about not replying within the “polite” response period.
You may call this withdrawing, and I don’t know if this is the hermit in me taking over. But I do know that I’m liking the peace and quiet for a while. I think I’ll stay here for a little longer.