Yes. That read “utility.” As in “usefulness,” “efficacy,” “propensity for helpful assistance.” Not “distraction.” Not “time-waster.” Not “great big sucking black hole of energy and productivity.”
That might seem to be a bold statement. After all, is there any group of artists more known for having difficulties actually sitting down and doing the work? Witness “writer’s block” — as if it’s something that gets thrown into our path by some mysterious third party — as if we ourselves bear no responsibility for it whatsoever. (But on that point, I digress. Another time, another post.)
And is there anything more known for distraction-creation and procrastination-enabling than Twitter? It’s sort of the very definition of a time-suck, bombarding the writer with all that ubiquitous “content” (a word I’m coming to hate more and more, every day) from a kazillion different sources, complete with links to even more distraction providers.
So, how can Twitter help writers stay productive and do the work?
1. Following Agents and Editors For Valuable Input
When you follow literary agents and editors who are willing to share some valuable tips and advice on how to get your manuscript noticed and appreciated by the gatekeepers, you win big time. That’s a huge advantage over the competition — you know, all those other writers out there, not on Twitter, not receiving those golden nuggets, whose manuscripts are also cluttering those agents’ desks.
Agents and Editors on Twitter:
- Janet Reid: http://twitter.com/Janet_Reid
- Lauren MacLeod: http://twitter.com/BostonBookGirl
- Colleen Lindsay: http://twitter.com/ColleenLindsay
- Jenny Rappaport: http://twitter.com/jennyrae
- Nathan Bransford: http://twitter.com/NathanBransford
- Paulo Coelho: http://twitter.com/paulocoelho
- Kevin Smokler: http://twitter.com/Weegee
- BoSacks: http://twitter.com/BoSacks
- Maud Newton: http://twitter.com/MaudNewton
- Ron Hogan: http://twitter.com/RonHogan
- Lit Park: http://twitter.com/LitPark
- MJ Rose: http://twitter.com/MJRose
- Jason Boog: http://twitter.com/jasonboog
- Lee Goldberg: http://twitter.com/LeeGoldberg
- Mignon Fogarty: http://twitter.com/GrammarGirl
- Sarah Weinman: http://twitter.com/sarahw
- Maria Schneider: http://twitter.com/mariaschneider
- Chris Webb, John Wiley & Sons: http://twitter.com/chriswebb
- Grand Central Pub: http://twitter.com/GrandCentralPub
- Penguin Books: http://twitter.com/PenguinBooks
- Bantam Dell: http://twitter.com/bantamdell
- Dzanc Books: http://twitter.com/DzancBooks
- Graywolf Press: http://twitter.com/GraywolfPress
- Softskull Press: http://twitter.com/softskull
Twitter’s at its best when you use it to foster networking relationships, no matter what your business is. If your business is writing, though, you really need to work on building those relationships with other writers, as well as industry professionals. Your fellow writers are one of the best sources of wisdom on overcoming the struggles we all face on the road to success and that first three-book deal, not to mention personal introductions to their own literary agents.
But don’t go into any Twitter relationship — or, heck, any relationship on- or offline for that matter — with the mindset of “What’s in it for me?” That ought to go without saying, so of course, it needs to be said twice: Nobody enjoys being used. Work on building real friendships, based on mutual interests and give-and-take that’s balanced.
Finding Writers on Twitter:
How do you find writers on Twitter? Simple: Go to Twibes.com and join a Twibe. The “writers” twibe as of this writing has over 1500 members, and there are a good number of more specific groups that have sprung up built around geography or genre. Join one or more, or create your own.
3. Engage in Writing Chats to Keep Yourself Accountable
This is probably my favorite aspect to making Twitter useful. Here’s a fabulously handy schedule for several well-known Twitter writing chats courtesy InkyGirl (@InkyElbows). The principle is pretty simple: using a certain hashtag (the # symbol followed by a short word or series of characters describing a topic), a group of tweeps engage in a group chat about a particular topic. Some are scheduled for certain days; others are ongoing. The InkyGirl post has a pretty succinct explanation of this.
Finally, use technology to help you keep all this straight. Use your lists feature to sort out writers from editors from agents. Then use a dedicated column or window in your Twitter client (and please tell me you’re not still using the native Twitter web interface) to keep the chats permanently displayed. This helps you keep up with the conversations.
Conclusion: Twitter Helps – But You Still Have to Write
Twitter can be helpful for writers. But — and here’s the big caveat — you still have to go do the work. If you find yourself writing — or tweeting — about writing, instead of actually writing, then it’s time to turn off the client, disconnect the internet access and get your head back in your work.