Recently there have been a few articles and blogposts about the use of Twitter by writers. As someone who uses it regularly, but only really in the last six months, I’ve been reflecting on how I use it, what I feel I’ve gained from it, and what its downsides are. Yesterday I was telling a couple of business-y friends how useful Twitter can be – and fun – and they both looked at me as if I was talking about running down the local high street naked (not that that would necessarily be useful, of course!). ‘We don’t get it!’ They chimed. Fair enough.
The main thing I’ve found of value is the way it’s enabled me to make contact with a range of people all around the world. Of course other forms of social media also facilitate this, but I find Twitter the most user-friendly. It’s great to be able to tweet a person whose talk, book, TV programme I’ve enjoyed or am looking forward to. It’s fun to make the acquaintance of people with the similar interests. I’ve found out about local author and writing events, informative writing blogs and fantastic new (new-to-me, and new-new) authors. In addition I’m able to keep abreast of developments and issues in psychology and neuroscience (which, despite giving up teaching, still remain a great passion of mine).
‘Launching’ myself on Twitter a year ago was a bit weird. I typed my first tweet and pressed the button with trepidation. I felt like ‘the new kid on the block’. Albeit one of millions of new kids every day! An imposter, even. I read articles on Twitter protocol and etiquette to try and reduce the likelihood of faux pas commission. I wrote and re-wrote my ‘biog’ section goodness how many times. ‘Writing a crime novel’ it said. You and lots of other people, the cynical voice in my head said! (In fact, any concerns I had about making this statement on Twitter only mirrored those I already had so by the time I wrote it I was actually ready to ‘put it out there’)
On one level it feels a bit strange tweeting people who are ‘famous’, authors whose books I love and people who could potentially become my agent, publisher or editor! But in real life and on Twitter I tend to relate to others first and foremost as human beings, and am naturally friendly. And I don’t really ‘do’ star struck. I also happen to have a slightly cheeky nature which can be useful for breaking the ice … but can get me into trouble too. (I’m good at apologising and am genuinely mortified if I ever offend!) It’s been awesome to get in contact with other people who, like me, are writing books and hoping to get them published, and it’s genuinely inspiring and delightful to see authors getting agents and being offered publishing contracts.
I still find the public nature of Twitter a bit confusing. Reading someone else’s tweets makes me feel a bit like I’m spying on them, or reading their diary. But they are in the public domain. People also have heated debates on Twitter and sometimes it’s like witnessing a row in the pub. And then there are the people who rant a lot and seem to think that Twitter is their very own, personal, individual, very loud, loudspeaker. Another issue is that of ‘butting in’ on existing conversations. Sometimes they’re just so fascinating, aren’t they? However, it’s not really any different from butting into a conversation at the bus stop. But, hey, I do that sometimes too …
Regarding self-promotion on Twitter, my view is that everyone uses it to some extent for that – and what’s wrong with that? However, the folk who only tweet about their books, and their 5* reviews, and their special offers, they aren’t for me. The same with the serial RT-ers: to go onto my timeline and see nothing but other people’s RTs (and always book promos) is annoying, but I’ve discovered that you can turn these off. Hurrah! I enjoy following people who are genuinely humorous and interesting, and who reveal a bit of themselves and what their life is like. People who are human. I like to find out when their book is being published, and if it’s on special offer. I find it reassuring to know that they also struggle with sections of their books, have days when they don’t get dressed properly or leave the house, and eat strange food sometimes. I have also discovered that, as in real life, people’s idea of etiquette differs. Some people thank you for RTs, some don’t; some people take offence if you ask for an RT, others do it willingly; some people ask for information and don’t say thanks when you supply it. Some people return your ‘follow’ without a ‘hello’ or any social lubrication, just a link to their book/website/blog/Facebook page. Nice. But, hey, there’s always the ‘unfollow’ button. And on the whole I’ve found people to be absolutely loverly.
One perplexing aspect of Twitter is its speed. On my phone the Twitter and Tweetdeck apps only supply a few hours’ feed. Consequently, it’s easy to miss interesting or useful tweets but you can always check the tweet feed of individuals (although this still makes me feel a bit like a stalker!). I am getting used to using Twitter and it is a constantly evolving medium. Sometimes I’m not in the mood, sometimes I love it. As someone who’s writing their second novel, it’s made a huge difference to my life, largely via an increased sense of connection with other writerly folk.
Vicky Newham © 2013