Twitter for Writers – Friend or Foe?

March 10, 2011
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As writers we know how hard it can be to stay in the writing flow and not succumb to the eighth deadly sin,  procrastination. But with people now hanging out on Facebook and Twitter for up to six hours a day and the average user creating 90 pieces of content a month, it can be hard to stay in the writing zone and out of tempting hyperspace.

We are repeatedly told the importance of social networking in preparation for a publishing contract. Publishers want as much free publicity as possible and having followers on your blog, Facebook profile and Twitter account shows that you are able to interact online and already have an (albeit small) audience ready to read your work. Many serious writers know this already.  Margaret Atwood has almost 134,000 followers and the Brazilian author Paul Coelho, has 1,157,000.

But these are two big household names and for the rest of us trying to get published, get noticed or simply put our writing out there isn’t social networking simply a distraction from writing? It’s so easy to follow a link and end up reading an interesting article from The Guardian about the new top twelve British novelists.   (That was me recently and if you want to read more then click here ) Ha, see how easy it is!

Too quickly it can become a distraction and soon you could be wondering why you left your character drinking coffee that tastes like coppers in a 24 hour café on Brighton seafront. The connections that were there half an hour ago can be erased when we become distracted, lose momentum and freefall into fanciful social networking.

Treat it like a work colleague not a best friend

I’m no expert on social networking and up until last week when I gave my novel to its first reader (I’m awaiting feedback, but that’s another blog post entirely) it just felt like a distraction from my writing. But now I’ve got some time to submerge myself in the world of Twitter for www.bethewriteryoudreamofbeing.com and my other profiles. I’ve read some interesting articles about the best way to tweet, gain followers and generally become popular among peers.

Before using EFT, I struggled with what to write, who would listen and how much to share, but one tip that stuck with me is to: treat the time spent online as if you are in a virtual office. Which led me to think about how we interact in an office.

You wouldn’t spend all day chatting to a work colleague in the same way you talk to a friend over a glass of wine. The conversation does not need to be constant and should be entered in when you:

  1. have something meaningful (or funny) to say
  2. it’s work related and
  3. it will help the other person in some way with their own tasks.

This simple tip has helped me manoeuvre away from spending hours on Twitter, following links and running out of time for my other projects. I’m still trying to build this habit – as you can see we only have a handful of followers for @bewriteon – but interacting with other writers, reading their blogs and joining in events such as the 10K day is building up a support network of other writers and has helped my own writing practice.

Finding the support of other writers: 10K writing day

This website holds two 10K writing days every month where writers can check in at various points of the day for international support and even to flaunt a high word count. It’s not a ‘serious’ event but is one example of the links you can follow on Twitter and end up finding a technique that could help your own writing.

Whether this 10K day is going to work for you depends on the type of writer you are, the genre you are working in and the stage of writing you are at. Ros and I have different views on this as when she is working within the poetry genre, a daily word count of 300 words is pretty impressive.  Even working on prose, her usual daily word target is 800-1000.    I, however, tend to write a huge amount quite quickly and edit heavily afterwards.

I also have a sales background and a profound love of targets so striving to hit a big number works well for me. On the January 10K day, I jumped out of bed and put on my favourite writing T-Shirt which has the slogan, ‘be careful or you’ll end up in my next novel’ written across it. I had also stocked the cupboards with high energy snacks (i.e. cake and chocolate). This approach paid off as I managed two SEO articles and edited three chapters of my novel which came to over 9000 words in nine hours.

Personally I loved the interaction with other writers who are also pushing word counts and posting supportive updates on their coffee breaks. When you throw EFT into the mix and tap for inspiration throughout the day, it clears your mind and gets you into the inspirational flow.

By joining Twitter and being focussed in your approach to find tips, opinions, and techniques you can soon build up a support network of other writers. This can be invaluable when searching for ideas for new blog posts, agency submission letters, competition deadlines and even when you just need some cheerleading from other writers. It is after all a solitary world that we writers live in and sometimes a quick connection can boost morale.

Free web-based software that can help you organise your mind

Still struggling to see how you can make Twitter your friend rather than foe? Try this free software and brain dump EVERYTHING on the first page. Then prioritise it doing what is called a Daily Target Praxis, catch ideas on the fly through the  Dream Catcher, store tasks for later in your Mental Lock Box and set short, mid and long term focus points so that you can measure yourself against your goals.

I’ve even put things like ‘do washing up’ or ‘pay cheques in’ as often when I’m writing they buzz into my head and distract me. When you sign up to the site, they will send you A LOT of emails about their products but I send these to the spam filter and just use the free software available.

Simpleology.com helps you identify ‘time leeches’ and ultimately pinpoint where you are spending (or wasting) your precious writing time. Are you someone who has to check the live feed on Facebook every five minutes? Would you be better to allocate two 30 minute slots per day to post or read information? By exploring your own relationship with social networking you can discover new ways to make it work for you.

Focus

By becoming focussed in your approach to Twitter both in time and content research it can become a valuable friend who helps you with new writing techniques. Being honest and sharing witty updates rather than dry business chat can create an organic growth of followers and the precious list that publishers are after. Admittedly I’m still a beginner but by taking a focussed approach I can see how this social network can become my friend.   Not a best friend you understand, more a work colleague.

Facebook users, please comment here!

3 Responses to Twitter for Writers – Friend or Foe?

  1. @fearofwriting
    March 17, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    First, I just have to say how precious the image is that you paired with this post. The cat being tempted by the birdie. I’m still smiling about how perfect that is for your topic. And how much it added humor to a topic that can be fraught with guilt.

    I loved your sensible approach. I do think we all need (and even deserve) a time of blow-out on social media. It can be so much fun, and we all need more fun in this modern world of pressure and disconnect. Plus, I think at the core we’re all desperate for true connection, no matter how much of it we seem to get from having ready access to cell phones, the Internet and self-expression platforms such as blogs. I think this hunger for love, friendship and connection is the reason (or one of them) why people get so addicted.

    Nevertheless, if we want to make headway with our lives, we need to learn to control it (with maybe the occasional blow-out to satisfy the craving). I’m going to bookmark your post for when I next need my own wise reminder.

    Kate, thank you for featuring the 10K Day in your discussion of online tools for writers. I was so pleased you found us and you’ve definitely added your own fun touches to the events you’ve attended so far.

    I just want to add one extra thought about the word count, which is that I see the 10K format being just as valid for someone whose high output is 300 words (such as a poet). At the heart of it, the 10K Day is about setting aside a whole day for your writing dreams, and about the buddy system where we’re not doing it alone.

    I sometimes purposely don’t post my word count if my writing day is more about other goals. For me, whenever I’ve focused solely on productivity (in any area of my life) I soon find my pain!

    I loved the sound of your tips for online tools. And now I must be off to follow those links. But will try my best to use self-discipline.

    ~ Milli

    Reply
  2. March 18, 2011 at 10:05 pm

    As a one week veteran of Twitter, I take your post seriously! I kept Twitter at arms length a long time and suddenly just decided to take the plunge. Having a pal to assist me in the process, I was able to get up to speed fairly quickly, as opposed to wading in there all alone and figuring it out.

    From the first day I started to feel a bit of tension about doing it right, the posting, the following, the etiquette,etc. And then I started feeling a tension at watching periodically throughout the day the tons of tweets going by. I have felt nervous about doing any tweets and have done very few, although I’m not afraid to RT.

    My biggest concern is how I can get sucked in and follow leads all over the web from one great post after another. I had to just stop and curb my interest or I’d never get anything else done.

    I really like your advice to treat it like an work colleague. That is an excellent analogy.

    I did my first 10K day last November and I wrote just over 10K words. This made me very proud, but my arms were aching and I decided I would go to those days and enjoy the buddy system plus the complete day set aside for writing, but that I wouldn’t worry anymore if I did 10K words. Since then I’ve started building a little network through blog comments and now Twitter.

    I’m just as likely to gorge on something as I am to ignore it. I’m trying to get to the happy medium of taking baby steps to join in so I don’t burn myself out. I like to stay in the joy of things I’m doing.

    Thanks so much for an insightful and helpful post. The free software site looks interesting.

    Reply
  3. Victoria Rollison
    April 28, 2011 at 11:39 am

    Great post! I used to get distracted easily when I was writing because I was stopping to fact check on the internet. To combat this, I turned the wireless off on my laptop. Then I put my iPhone in another room and I got on with writing! Pretty basic advice but it works for me! I cracked 11,000 words in one afternoon using this strategy. In the zone.

    Reply

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