Thursday, 27 May 2010

TwitterFEST and well, Twitter.

As suggested, I waited until 1.59pm yesterday before giving the kids the one hour of TV I limit them to when we're home. Then I grabbed my coffee and parked in front of the monitor for some serious tweeting.

The topic was how is Twitter helping writers? and I have a lot to say.

You see, I was tentative when I first signed up (it's my Twitter-birthday on Tuesday, woot). I'm not generally too tech-savvy and always worry I won't be able to figure things out. Including (read especially) the simple things. Being married to a computer-nerd has done nothing to help in this regard either, as when something goes wrong, I call out and he fixes it (because men like to fix things).

I recall a conversation I had with a friend ages before I signed up, where she insisted Twitter was the new facebook, or even better than facebook. Twitter was going to make facebook obsolete. Redundant. She couldn't understand why anyone would not want to be on there. Her feelings haven't changed much, as she's responsible for the inclusion of TwitterFEST in this year's EWF program.

Joining in a TwitterFEST discussion can feel awkward. I mean, what do you say first? Something of your own, reply to something someone else said, answer a question, maybe even retweet? Tweeps were doing any and all of these things, and my opener was to share something a friend (who I meet through Twitter, but is now also an IRL friend) once said to me. She likes Twitter because, by laughing with editors and publishers about things like what damage their cats had caused while home alone for five minutes, she was able to take them off their pedestals and imagine them as real people. It made them approachable and gave her confidence to take the next steps as a writer she needed to take (of course I said all this in just 140 characters yesterday).

Others agreed. A lot of tweeps also like the way Twitter encourages them to write in new ways, new styles that suit the medium. Like Twitter novels and Twitterfiction (which will be covered in an NMIT Professional Writing and Editing unit next semester). Some tweeps talked about works that were the result of collaborations formed through Twitter, some no doubt with tweeps who've not met IRL. And of course many like the way writing to a 140 character limit helped them refine their own writing.

Of course Twitter is a great platform for networking and hence, developing a potential audience. Although many writers don't seem to 'get' how this works (not the ones in yesterday's TwitterFEST). To use Twitter like this, you can't just log on and tweet details of your latest blog post, upcoming events/appearances/performances and/or the next title you're about to release. Sure, friends and family members who'll be interested in these things are going to take note. But no-one else. If you want other followers to care, you'll have to engage with them. In discussion. In conversation. In reports of what their cat did to the shower curtain while they ducked out for a litre of milk. Whatever. It doesn't matter what you engage in, and once the initial excitement of the 24/7 party that is Twitter has died off a little, be sure to set yourself some limits if you don't want it to eat away all your spare time. And make sure every update isn't a whinge.

But Twitter has meant more to me than any or even all of these things in the time I've been here. By this time last year, I'd spent five or so years trying to talk myself into writing non-fiction. I'd had a reasonable number of short stories published in various journals and my own collection released, I'd taken on poetry, I'd taught creative writing in a TAFE environment and after enough essays to earn me two degrees, you'd think I'd be able to do it in my sleep.

And so I'd try to convince myself every few months when it bugged me that it wasn't something I did. It bugged me that I lacked confidence and unlike my efforts when I sit to write fiction, every time I'd start something, I'd slam it down within half an hour, go make another cup of coffee and hide my 'effort' where it wouldn't remind me of my failings while I got on with something else.

But thanks to Twitter, I'm over it. Twitter helped in several ways.

For one, I use Twitter (and this blog at times) to keep me accountable. With Twitter, it can all happen so quickly. I can tweet that I'm going to write something before my brain works out what I'm saying and then I'm committed. I have to write it. Often this happens in an informal way, like I might say I'm going to spend 2 hours in the library writing. But once, maybe more, but once was enough, I told an editor of a parenting magazine that I was going to write a piece for her magazine.

A few weeks went by before I felt enough pressure to actually do it, but eventually I knew I had to write something. So I did.

When I sent it to her, she loved it so much she asked if she could forward it to the national publication. Who pay. To cut a long story short, they accepted it and the next morning I wrote another piece and now there'll be no stopping me. Sure, by this time I'd also been writing a few other bits of non-fiction with some success, but Twitter definitely played a major role.

There are other ways I find Twitter to be helpful for my writing too. It can help me work out what I should focus my writing on at various times, give me feedback on what parenting issues might be worth an article, and I'm part of a new writing group that formed through Twitter. Which was exactly what I needed to make me write more fiction, after non-fiction started to take up my few writing moments.

How has Twitter helped you?
What's stopping you signing up?


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this thoughtful and comprehensive account. I also enjoyed yesterday's Twitterfest discussion - it's already inspired me to begin one collaborative writing project. More to come? x

Benjamin Solah said...

The biggest thing I got out of twitter was connecting with writers in Melbourne that I've met in real life and am able to communicate with via blogs and at events.

Tiggy Johnson said...

Thanks for dropping in. Yes, I'm fairly sure yesterday's dicsussion inspired at least one collaboration, as well as many other projects.

I love the IRL meetings that come from Twitter too. They develop an energy of their own that cannot be explained to anyone not really on twitter or the like. And of course I've (already) remembered a heap of things I forgot to say in the post... perhaps there'll have to be a part 2 down the track.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid that I am one who uses facebook and twitter to merely splash out my blog updates. In my defence, I do not go seeking 'friends' in FB or twitter, this would be too intrusive when I don't actually connect in this media. I found that I got so caught up in the discussions that I didn't have time to write. I was seriously connected in a strangely disconnected way, I used to use a firefox extension that would record every facebook and twitter message so that I wouldn't miss anything, it was not unusual to walk away, come back an hour later and have 600 messages flashing at me. I needed help! I had to pull right back. I deactivated FB and deleted twitter, I have only recently reopened them.
Now I merely float around, annoying people via blogs as this is the perfect pace for me.

mountain-ash said...

I think if Twitter has increased face to face interaction in anyway, that's great.

Hmmm...why haven't I signed up? I think Mark's on to something - I'd be a bit obsessive with it.

But also, I don't believe I am witty enough to use twitter in an entertaining way, and also, I doubt people would be truly interested in my day to day ramblings!

Tiggy Johnson said...

Thanks for being so honest, Mark, and yes it does sound like you needed help ;) I started out a little that way too, but I learned to curb my time-wasting to a resonable degree and am mostly happy with the balance I've struck now. Perhaps now you know what to expect you might try again sometime, with better results?

Ash, you're right about the face to face interaction increase being great. Although there really is an excellent community of writers on Twitter, so it can be great for those who don't necessarily live close to where it's all happening.

I'm sure you'd have plenty of witty stuff to churn out :) especially snippets of things that happen at school. When all else fails, it's always nice to let the world know when you're forunate enough to be eating cake :)

Melissa Watts said...

I love using Twitter to keep me motivated. My workmates don't have an interest in writing so twitter lets me engage with people who share this interest. Then when I read about their success I get motivated to get home and write. It probably plays on my competative nature and ego.

Tiggy Johnson said...

I think that's a great way to use twitter, Melissa. Anything that motivates you to write is worth holding on to. And there is definitely a great writing community on there. Cheers.