Ask anyone who’s been using twitter for longer than a few months and they’ll likely tell you – “it’s a big distraction.” And it’s not just the disenchanted Twitter users who say this, I’ve heard a number of constant “tweeters” make this admission while they continue to tweet daily.
Now, ask anyone who’s ever tried to sit down and seriously “become a writer” what they do not want and you’ll often get a one-word answer: “distractions.”
So why would I recommend using Twitter to new writers? Glad you asked.
1) Research: One way to use Twitter is to focus on aggregating information from sources you personally select. For example, if you are writing a novel in which one of your characters is a young athlete who’s suddenly thrust into the spotlight you could follow: @DatDudeBP (Cincinnatti Reds infielder, Brandon Phillips), @heathbell21 (San Diego Padres pitcher, Heath Bell), and numerous other young pro athletes. Here you’re given their thoughts about practice, their words just before and after a game, their jokes, and their rants. You’d get a sense of their movements throughout a season, and you’d see who else they “follow” on Twitter. All of this info is perfect for character development – you could build an entire psychological profile if you wanted to go that far!
For non-fiction writers Twitter is also a great place to research the movers and shakers of a given topic. For instance, let’s imagine you are writing a book on marriage. On Twitter you could follow@garyLthomas (author of Sacred Marriage), @DrGaryChapman (author of The Five Love Languages), and many others. In just a week or two of following this group you’d have numerous quotables to use in your manuscript from well-known experts on marriage, you’d be pointed to websites or books they recommend, and you’d get a sense of where each leader stands on the numerous issues within a marriage (discipline, sex, money, divorce, in-laws, etc.) without necessarily having to read each person’s published material.
So what niche are you writing in? Who could you follow on Twitter?
2) Platform building: Twitter is one of many ways writers can strengthen their platforms. A large Twitter following usually occurs when the person tweeting is either a) famous, or b) has interesting things to say about a given topic.
Since most of us aren’t famous, I’m going to talk about (b) having interesting things to say about a given topic. First, notice the caveat in the previous sentence – about a given topic. I’m speaking about “niche” here. The web thrives on niches. There are websites for every niche from pro sand castle sculptors to Lego artists. These people thrive online because their niche is established (sand or Legos, respectively), not because they are an artist of anything and everything. So, back to Twitter, if you are a short story writer then tweet things that only a short story writer would tweet. I.e. “Just suffered a twisted ankle. 800 word account forthcoming for sure.” Or “Is it possible to write a tragedy in 2,000 words or less? Only one way to find out…”
See what I mean? Granted, those might not be terribly interesting (they are just examples after all) but I hope you see the point. The short story writer tweeting like this will attract followers who are interested in short stories. Those are the people who will follow the writer with interest, and will likely turn into readers when the writer is published.
But how do I avoid distraction, then?
My recommendation: time management. The folks at Twitter want you online all the time, tweeting via your phone wherever you go and filling the web with noise. It’s how they stay in business, I get it, but that’s not what I recommend for writers.
If you decide to use Twitter for research then I suggest having a designated time in which you check your Twitter account. Maybe you’d check it twice a week, for 15 minutes during your lunch. In that time you take notes about whatever your topic is, gleaning from the endless stream of tweets what you can, and be done with it. Or perhaps if you’re writing on something every day you’d check it more often, daily, or two or three times a day. Whatever it is, the point is to pick a time, use the time, and then get off of Twitter and start writing.
If you’re interested in platform building on Twitter then I suggest picking a couple of times every day during which you’ll put out at least one or two interesting Tweets. By limiting the amount that you Tweet, and by focusing on tweeting truly interesting content you’re more likely to be re-tweeted (the ultimate brand-building goal of an avid tweeters) and you’re more likely to acquire and retain followers.
Twitter can be a great tool for writers, but tools work best when they’re used correctly. You’ll avoid Twitter fatigue (“twit-tigue”) if you know why you want to use it, and then pick a plan forhow you’re going to use it.
– Andrew, @ALRstories