[I read this short post about my experience with Twitter at the National Writers Union reading and open mic on Monday, December 21.]
In January of 2011 I started a Twitter account, intending to focus on digital publishing, the future of books and libraries, and how ongoing changes in publishing affect readers and writers. During the nearly five years that have elapsed since then I have learned to enjoy what some call microblogging and others call a waste of time.
Twitter is an acquired taste and also requires a certain amount of self-control. Though less extreme than Anthony Weiner with his TwitPic scandal, Joyce Carol Oates has tweeted herself into accusations of insensitivity, anti-Muslim bias, and worse. (An example of one of her controversial tweets: Still can’t comprehend why the Danish zoo killed the beautiful young healthy giraffe. Yes, they had “reasons”–so did Nazi doctors.) In 2014 Michelle Dean at Gawker advised Oates to delete her Twitter account, saying “You fundamentally misunderstand the medium. …[y]our habit of treating your Twitter feed as a means of publicly working out half-baked thoughts makes you look terribly foolish. Even: stupid.”
With this in mind, I mostly confine myself to tweeting links to and comments on online content about digital publishing, but I do tweet what I’m reading under #FridayReads and occasionally tweet something that I later worry might make me look foolish. On Thanksgiving, for example, I tweeted my vegan holiday menu (first menu tweet ever! Honest!) in which I also misspelled tempeh (though I already knew it’s not spelled like ASU’s home town). But of course my Digital Gloss account, with its mere 420 followers, didn’t make Gawker’s list of “The Worst Tweets of 2015.”
In a book called Build Your Author Platform: the New Rules, co-authored by National Writers Union member Mike McCallister, the authors recommend having your own website or blog and using a variety of social media, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter. Twitter, they say, “… can be tremendous fun… Your job is to (a) Find interesting people interested in things you’re interested in; (b) Share content and engage conversation.” That’s what a lot of writers try to do, and I think many of them succeed at using Twitter very well. Examples include Margaret Atwood, Sherman Alexie, and Cory Doctorow, all of whom I follow.
Twitter’s not hard to use -– there’s enough information on the Twitter Help Center to get you started. But if you’re not yet using Twitter and you’d like some good advice, check out Jane Friedman’s site. In December she featured guest posts by Kirsten Oliphant on “Engaging Audiences through Twitter in 15 Minutes a Day” and by Chris Jane on “Overcoming My Fear of Twitter.” In the latter post Chris Jane says “…if you aren’t actively present and engaging online, in that world, you—your books, your businesses, your blog entries, your thoughts—simply don’t exist.” While I’m not sure that’s entirely true, it is helpful to have an interactive and dynamic way to announce your projects and link to your blogposts. Twitter can certainly provide that for you.
If you need more enticements to become part of the Twitterverse, note that Huffington Post recently called Twitter “The Hottest Self-publishing Platform,” noting that authors are turning to Twitter to publish and distribute stories. Just as one example, R.L. Stine, author of the Goosebumps series, recently tweeted a short story, and each of its composite tweets got hundreds of re-tweets. Bear in mind that tweets, each no more than 140 characters or around 28 words, can be archived on sites like Storify so that the entire piece will continue to be available to readers.
Poetry also finds a home on Twitter. In fact, as a recent article by Huma Qureshi at the Guardian reports, the “Instapoet” movement, consisting of a group of young poets who have thousands upon thousands of followers across Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter, has produced three of the top 10 bestselling poetry books in the US at present. A quick search on Twitter under #instapoetry leads to more results than I cared to read — not all of which are the best quality — and I don’t see as many well-published poets from previous generations on Twitter. But you could change all that…
As Mike McCallister says, “…[I]f you’re one of the folks who doesn’t get the appeal of the little blue bird, you’re probably looking at it with the wrong lens. Twitter is a gigantic cocktail party with millions of people all talking at the same time. Some engage in conversation. Some are promoting something. (Don’t be one of those). Still others seek to explain what’s going on in front of them.” And, I’d like to add, you don’t always have to be tweeting. Sometimes you can just sit back and watch the Twitterstream go by, amazed by its diversity and creative energy.