To tweet, or to write?

Posted on Aug 21, 2015 | 0 comments

twitter-to-dump-third-party-image-hosts-from-apps-report-692a5ff817Twitter. I love it, and I fear it.

I thought about this paradox today while listening to a storytelling podcast. The speaker, a former Las Vegas card counter, described how he spent a year sitting hollow-eyed at his computer playing online poker, pressing keys to play cards and staring at the screen, dreaming of a big payoff … and frittering away $50,000.

The image that came to my mind, unbidden: me, sitting at the computer, pressing keys to craft tweets and staring at the screen, dreaming of “favorites” and retweets … and frittering away my life.

Or all my writing time, anyway.

Which hasn’t actually happened. Not really, anyway. Go ahead: check my tweets. They are sporadic, occasionally lame, and rarely re-tweeted.

And I’m not a Twitter scold. Promise! I love social media. But the image represented a very real fear.

I joined Twitter for two reasons. First, because I’d been told it was a great way to build a readership for your books, and second, so that I could stalk my teenage daughter.

Number One turned out to be wrong, at least for me. Oh, I’m sure it’s a great way to build your readership once you have one, but it’s no way to get started. Two was more fruitful, although the dance of lurking, learning, appreciating and pretending not to notice has been a complicated one.

I stayed on Twitter for a third, unanticipated reason: it’s a great place to connect with other writers.

It makes sense that writers are on Twitter, right? A tweet is a story, in its pithiest form. A successful tweet requires craft, and it’s finished (and published!) oh so much more quickly than a novel or story.

Not to mention that we writers labor alone, and when we go out into the world, our friends don’t really get what happens in our self-selected isolation booths. On Twitter, we can quickly find other writers who totally understand what we do.

So we congregate on Twitter. My recent involvement in a contest called Pitch Wars has brought this front-of-mind, as both the contestants (aspiring writers) and judges (published writers and publishing professionals) have formed a huge, uber-supportive and crazily active Twitter community.

All this community plays a very important role. Because our work is so invisible, and for most of us so unappreciated (I suspect even popular authors feel unappreciated when they’re between book releases) that we’re sometimes at risk of bitterness and depression. Twitter can give us a critical shoring-up, as well as an instant appreciative audience. Not to mention access to publishing tips, writing advice and sheer inspiration.

And it’s friendly! Writers get enough rejection when we put our work out into the world. On Twitter, we’re super-nice to each other (unless the other happens to be Jonathan Franzen, then all bets are off.)

It’s that appreciative audience thing that represents the danger for me. Because the hit of adrenaline you get from having your words liked and retweeted by complete strangers is addictive. It’s tempting to spend way too much time crafting those 140 characters of wit. You can find yourself approaching each new thought with the question: “How can I tweet this?”

It’s very performative. And it’s a trap. Because faves and RTs are flattering and encouraging, but they don’t bring us any closer to those cherished goals: finishing the next book. Making it good. Getting it published. Writing another.

So I carefully monitor myself, and try to walk the line: engage with Twitter. Embrace the community. Try out your observational wit once in a while. But resist the temptation to perform too often.

Because a boatload of RTs is nice. But a completed manuscript is better.

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