First, I will speak as a writer . . .
I know I’m not alone when I say I’ve done it. I started out thinking, “I’ll just pop onto Facebook for a few minutes before I hit the WIP.” Then one post leads to another, which leads to an article, which leads to another, and before I know it, I’m locked in an ideological battle with a troll, gnashing away at each other’s perceptions of reality, while anxiety savages me like a rag doll in the mouth of a pit bull. Half my day is gone, and I’m on the phone the other half saying, “You won’t believe what this idiot said! . . .” . . . Anxiety 10, Me and WIP 0.
As writers, we are anxiety-driven on the best of days.
Even if we aren’t in the throes of our own internal angst, we are seeking to provoke anxiety in others. We do everything we can to infuse our works with conflict and tension. Why? Because we all want to write that story that has people screaming at the characters and staying up all night turning pages. We know the power of anxiety.
If our readers are anxious, they are ours.
Now, I will speak as a writer who has worked daily for a decade with a forty-year combat and intelligence veteran who is a senior member of the intelligence community . . .
Writers aren’t the only people who know the great, pervasive psychological power of anxiety. Anxiety opens the door to subversion. Anxiety opens the door to control.
Journalists know the power of anxiety. Businessmen know the power of anxiety. Politicians know the power of anxiety. Big Media is Big Business, and Big Business is inextricably intertwined with Big Politics. Put it all together in the big picture, and we see Big Media, Big Business, and Big Politics wed to each other in their motives to keep us anxious and, therefore, keep us coming back.
It’s no secret that the days of Walter Cronkite are over.
Virtually extinct is the journalist who puts out dry facts, devoid of their own voice, and leaves it to others to spin, comment, and opine. In fact, journalists are now celebrities, with their voices and opinions being the spearhead of their drive to build audiences. Like all good writers and storytellers, they hold their audiences with tension and conflict. They create and maintain anxiety to keep people coming back for more. We can't look away.
But who are the players behind the journalists? Surely they just want to make money by bringing us the truth, right?
Well . . . Umm . . . No.
Many of us think of media in terms of “American” media or “Western” media. That may have been true at one time, but now “American” and “Western” media outlets have international owners, many of whom are not American or even Western.
For example, the primary shareholder of Class A stock in The New York Times Company is Mexican billionaire tycoon Carlos Slim. Saudi Prince Alwaleed was a co-owner of 21st Century Fox until he sold his stake to an unidentified buyer last month. Foreign billionaire felon George Soros has his fingers in over thirty mainstream media pies. And CNN? It’s founder, Ted Turner, also founded Russia’s Channel 6. Media is a global enterprise with no loyalty or interest in any single country. This global enterprise generates revenue by generating anxiety in our society to serve the goals and objectives of players both domestic and foreign.
Social media, with no obligation or pretense of being unbiased, is also rife with foreign influence.
Saudi’s Alwaleed holds a 35% interest in Twitter. Teams of professional trolls from Russia, Iran, North Korea, China, and countless other countries daily work the internet, manipulating information fed to the West for their own agendas. And proving nationality is no indicator of loyalties, we also have the recent confessions of Mark Zuckerberg that he sold ad space on Facebook to Russia for the purpose of influencing last year’s American election. Social media is a mosh pit, where we who enter are slammed with anxieties, both real and invented, for ultimate purposes that we are not in a position to know.
What does all of this add up to?
Media is a battleground. Messages are the weapons. Our anxiety is the prize.
He who holds our anxieties, holds us.
How do we protect ourselves from psychologically aggressive media?
As writers, we can’t avoid the need for a platform any more than we can avoid the need for coffee. So how do we win the Anxiety War and protect ourselves from those who would manipulate us through our fears?
When it comes to wars, I ask a warrior. According to my writing partner, warrior Jay Holmes, the best mental defense is compartmentalization. That is the art of leaving the battle on the battlefield.
Three Elements of Compartmentalization
We must decide and commit up front to leaving the battle on the battlefield. This decision happens before we ever enter the arena.
For an author, this can be a moment to pause and think before we open our computers.
- Why are we going online?
Remember the writer’s goals of an online platform—to build audience, to network, and to sell books. If we are on social media for other purposes, we can generally find better uses for our time.
- What will we post, and where?
Have a plan for a tweet, a Facebook status, an Instagram, or a blog post before logging onto the platform. Stick to that plan.
- How long do we have to post and interact with others?
Set a timer and/or state our time limit to a friend who will check us if we stray behind anxiety lines. Honor that limit religiously.
- How can we avoid Anxiety Bombs while we are online?
- Unfriend trolls. --- We owe trolls nothing.
- Discreetly unfollow friends who batter us with their ideals. --- It’s a positive thing when people disagree with us for thoughtful reasons, but when people club us over the head with their own anxieties in the form of post after post of their opinions and beliefs, it creates anxiety for us. We have no obligation to subject ourselves to that, and there is no productive reason to do so.
- Either avoid headlines, or commit to digging past the headlines. --- Headlines are the Hellfire Missiles of the Media Battleground. They explode their Anxiety Bombs across social media, going viral because people react without ever understanding the essence of the stories. To avoid this, commit to reading before retweeting and giving equal, open-minded time to opposing opinions.
- Have a Transition Ritual
Warriors have rituals that help them transition from the battlefield back to home. For example, when Holmes travels home from an overseas mission, he schedules in a few hours in a city with a first class art museum, where he immerses himself in high concepts and beauty. It anchors him to the home world and helps wash away the anxieties of the battlefield.
For a writer leaving the battleground of media behind, this ritual can take almost any form as long as it helps transition the mind from the anxieties of media to the business of the day.
- Log off and read a good book for fifteen minutes.
Reading focuses our minds away from media anxieties so that when we put down our books, we can choose what we will think about next.
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” ~ Blaise Pascal
Sit in a room alone, and focus on breathing, banishing all other thoughts for a few minutes. Let the mind relax and refocus.
- Do a few yoga poses.
As writers, this has the dual benefit of stretching our bodies while focusing our minds so that we don’t get sore sitting at our desks.
- Walk the dog.
Hard to beat the power of a walk outside for refocusing our energy. Our dogs will thank us, too.
- Wash your hands.
This was a ritual I used myself when I was a hospice volunteer. After I visited my patients, I washed my hands as my symbolic way of saying to my mind and soul that I had done all I could do that day, and I needed to focus on my own life again.
Which brings us to . . .
- Have a Life
It’s impossible to transition from battlefield mode to normal life mode if we have no life outside of social media. Social media friends and colleagues are priceless, but nothing replaces face time. No matter what our platform, we still need our work, our families, our pets, our IRL friends, and our homes if we are to derive any deep satisfaction from life and give us a refuge from those who would battle for our anxieties.
Sometimes, compartmentalization is not enough to tame our anxieties and allow us to make each day productive. One reason for that is because anxiety is an addiction. Like drugs or alcohol, immersion in our anxieties can take over our lives and leave us craving for more.
For those of us who find ourselves in an addictive relationship with anxiety, there are numerous apps and programs that allow us to schedule tweets, statuses, blog posts, etc., in advance so that we don’t have to log on every day. We can also hire others to handle our social media platforms altogether. Many authors find these tools to be an effective way to minimize the power of anxiety to eat away at their time and their sanity.
We do not need to be cannon fodder in the Anxiety War to accomplish our own goals as writers building platforms. If we armor ourselves and use our weapons, we can protect ourselves from the unseen enemies who would use our anxieties against us for their own purposes. We will be able to keep manufactured anxiety where it belongs . . . On the pages of our books.
What are your weapons in the war to dominate your anxieties? What tools do you use to keep your anxieties in check?
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Jay Holmes is a veteran field operative and a senior member of the intelligence community. His writing partner, Piper Bayard, is the public face of their partnership.
To follow Bayard & Holmes, sign up for the Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing, or find them at their site, Bayard & Holmes. You may contact them in blog comments at their site, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Bayard & Holmes, or by email at BH@bayardandholmes.com.