Recently a writer I know talked about not getting sucked into an online argument with a stranger, “because your girl doesn’t work for free.” I was nodding in agreement.

I cut way, way back on Internet arguments and rants a few years ago. I felt like the habit could make anger or bitterness my default setting, and I didn’t want that. I didn’t see a lot of minds being changed, anyway, so I doubted whether it was really worth it. Internet arguments seemed to yield a truly miserable return on investment.

But every week, millions of writers and other creative people are working for free.

They’re putting in hours of careful thought for online arguments and lectures.




In online communities, sometimes you’ll see a truly epic argument thread. (Once I witnessed one in a “private” Facebook group, and soon after, sections of it were printed verbatim in an article in a major magazine.)

In these threads, one person posts something, and another person disagrees. Before long, some people are posting walls of text that could pass for op ed columns, while others are posting snappy insults and collecting verbal high fives for their wit.

Dozens of people may be involved in the thread. If they were getting paid, it would represent hundreds of dollars’ worth of work.

Now sometimes with these epic threads, the original poster becomes embarrassed or depressed by the whole thing and deletes their post. People get furious when this happens. The fruits of their labor have been destroyed.

The truth is, though, their intelligence and talent were already being wasted. They can’t sell a Facebook thread. They can’t list it on a c.v. They were wasting precious time without changing anyone’s opinion on anything.

I do occasionally use social media for a soapbox, speaking out on issues that matter to me. Sometimes I’ll share advice about taking positive action. I just try to limit the time I spend on the Internet arguing or going on at length about my opinion.

Internet rants are about the least effective way to go about making the world a better place. On Facebook, many of us are only yelling to like-minded people plus that one guy from high school and a couple of incalcitrant relatives. I’d rather focus that energy on my creative work.

Internet rants do have obvious advantages over other actions. We get the instant gratification of responses and a feeling of superiority, all without getting up off the couch. But if we indulge in them regularly, they can be more of a time suck than if we volunteered somewhere a couple of times a week–or even once a week.




My father-in-law, a man I loved very much, died a week and a half ago. He never ranted on the Internet. He took meals to the poor, canvassed neighborhoods making sure people were registered to vote, attended demonstrations about health care, and petitioned state senators about immigrants’ rights. He was involved in interfaith groups set on taking care of the community and the world.

Almost no one is as active as he was in helping others, but I think one pan of lasagna for a community kitchen or one blood donation is worth about twenty angry rants, and it actually takes less time.

Not everyone is able to get out of the house and do things, but even in that case, I think sharing compassion and encouragement online may be more helpful to the world than berating those we disagree with. There are so many people out there who desperately need more kindness. This takes a lot less time, because people aren’t going to argue with you.

A few years back, in an online writing community I no longer participate in (I’ve been in so many), a woman posted a long tirade in response to something I’d said. I already knew better than to get into it with her. Another woman in the group sent me a private message to say that this person was always laying into someone.

“She always complains about not getting enough writing done,” she wrote me. “But I think if you added up all her complaints online, she probably writes about 30K words a week.”

Writers, I’m sure you’ve noticed, to your dismay, that you’ve only got so many hours in a day. Your creativity or mental focus may have daily limits, as well.

Don’t let fighting cut into your word count. Be true to your dreams. You didn’t start the year thinking, “This will be the year I’ll spend a total of 67 hours bickering on the Internet.” You were meant for bigger and better things than that.


Writers: Don't Use Up Your Word Count on Internet Rants #how to finish a novel #how to get more writing done #facebook addiction #writers and internet drama #how to get more writing done