Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Facebook: Time-wasting guilty pleasure, or writer’s oasis?

Do you ever sneak onto Facebook, guilty that the tiny amount of time you linger there might have been better spent composing haikus or writing postcards?

I’m here to tell you that such guilt is unnecessary if you can view Facebook as a potential writer’s resource. Not only can you use FB without guilt, you can even feel justified in using it on a regular basis.

I’m not saying that you should go on and spend hours each day taking every FB quiz or playing every FB game that comes along. (Although, occasionally, you'll need to know such valuable information as your Gilligan's Island character.)

There are several uses I’ve found for Facebook. The first, and the most compelling for me is:

Facebook as an electronic diary

A few weeks ago, I was feeling glum that I hadn’t written a journal entry in months, not even in the pocket-size calendar I’d bought to record the occasional minutiae of daily life. (I always miss this stuff when I don’t write it down, months down the road. I find it comforting, in retrospect, to see what I was doing or thinking on a given day. Such info is also handy for writers who want to write about a real and particular day in the past.)

Then I realized I’ve been keeping an ongoing, electronic journal on FB through postings on the status line (aka the “What’s on your mind?” box). Of course, some of the time, I’ve attempted to be clever, but, more often, I’ve written down what I’m doing, much as I would in a regular journal, although, of course, more succinctly. Status lines, when taken as a cumulative whole, can reflect natural and cyclical patterns, from hot, humid days to snowed-in January afternoons.

And keeping a FB-based electronic journal doesn't require a lot of time. Most days, I go in, do my two minutes in FB to update my status and to see who/what else pops up on my Home page, and then I go off.

Here are some recent entries/comments. I’m posting them here mostly to show that none of these is especially profound. If I tried to be profound, I’d never post anything:

likes this cool, cloud-covered, humid morning.
August 14 at 9:08am

watched as a long black snake slowly slithered down the window ledge this morning.
July 30 at 4:44pm

lingering by the window, waiting for the sudden red buds on her hibiscus to bloom at any moment.
July 23 at 10:04am

is re-reading the Collected Stories of John Cheever, looking for a happy ending.
July 14 at 12:44pm

is going to D-Day beaches today
June 28

saw the sun for five minutes this morning. Oh well, at least I'm saving money on sunscreen.
May 6 at 11:24am

is watching the clouds roll by (the weather is changing here every five minutes)
April 3 at 2:04pm

spent the afternoon cleaning dead growth out of the herb garden in 70 degree weather—just 4 days after sledding in the backyard
March 7 at 7:35pm

Helpful hint:
If you decide to do this, you might want to download/keep your status lines every 2-3 months. In attempting to go back five months, I had to scroll down through screen after screen, and click on "Older Posts" at the bottom of the page. As the updates got older, FB became less cooperative, often not uploading the older posts the first one or two times I clicked on it.

1. Gather up all your status lines from the last six months. Copy into a word processing program. Put in page breaks between months. Add other things to each page, whether from a paper calendar, an email or a paper journal, trying to arrange by date. Print and put in a notebook marked "Journal."

2. Gather up your status lines from 2-3 computer screens. Copy them into a word processing program. Add only a sentence between each and try to compose the opening page of a short story, or a poem.

NEXT POST: Facebook profile pages as fodder for fiction

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