Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Cautionary Twitter Tale

Getting on Twitter was one of the best things I've done as a writer. At the same time, it was also one of the worst. Allow me to elaborate.

After I finished with the initial draft of my first novel, a writer friend of mine suggested getting on twitter and following a select number of agents. He said they often provided links to helpful articles and tweeted about trends that any writer should be aware of. At first I didn't want to bother with it. I didn't need another online distraction or profile to update. I was told that if I got on Twitter, I really should post at least once a day.

I'm very careful not to sign on for things I don't intend to finish, so I was hesitant to jump on the Twitter bandwagon. Signing up would mean posting each day, checking in, reading other peoples' posts - time that I'd rather spend writing. But eventually, when I had a few hours of down time, I took the plunge.

In the subsequent days, I was amazed by how fast everything moved. All of a sudden, people began following me. I followed back. More people followed. I followed back. I began thinking up clever one-liners throughout the day and rushing to my laptop to post them. Every time I checked in and there were no new followers, I was disappointed.

My friend was right to recommend following certain agents. All of a sudden, I had links to articles on word count, grammar, book publishing trends, writing query letters, mistakes to avoid in the first pages of your book, and so on. The list went on and on. Soon, I would find whole hours passing without my notice as I clicked on link after link and drank up the information like one dying of thirst.

But I have young kids and my writing time is limited. I would find my children getting off the school bus before I'd even cracked open my WIP and I would be disappointed that I hadn't gotten more done.

The first time I saw a link to a writing contest, things went from bad to worse. I rushed through my edits and polished up my query letter. I agonized over my 35-word taglines and twitter pitches. I entered my first contest, feeling certain that those judging it would fall to pieces over my cleverness and invite me at once to participate.When that didn't happen, I convinced myself that I'd been the first on their waiting list and they'd had a bitter debate over accepting me. Certainly next time I would be chosen.

Through the course of the contests, I became friends with many other writers who were all slogging through the querying stage like I was. We commiserated with each other, offered encouragement, and sometimes critiqued each others' loglines.

Then I began seeing posts titled along the lines of: I got an agent!!!!!! and The blog post I've been dying to write. When I clicked on the links, dozens of gifs did happy dances while the author shared his or her success story with the world. I was happy for my new friends, feeling that my own success story was just around the corner.

But when the rejection letters continued to pile up in my inbox, I began to lose heart. Every new success story shared on Twitter was another reminder that I was not good enough. After spending several months on multiple revisions and several more months on querying, I finally shelved my first novel. I'd heard this was fairly common and that most writers needed a "practice novel" under their belt before they could do their best work. But it was still disheartening. 

For some reason, when I began work on my second novel, getting on Twitter only made me feel depressed. More contests came and went. More success stories were shared. More hopeful writers with polished manuscripts, waiting for their turn at success. Seeing these posts just made me realize how far I had to go before I had another polished manuscript. Sure, I'd gleaned some really helpful information from the articles I'd read and critique rounds I'd entered with my first novel. I felt I knew what I'd done wrong and had a better shot at getting it right the second time around. But every time I got on Twitter, I left feeling extremely discouraged and overwhelmed.

So I stopped logging on.

I've been away for a while now, working on my second novel, and I feel like my head has cleared a bit. Enough to see Twitter for what it is, and temper my expectations accordingly. There are a lot of REALLY good reasons to be on Twitter and to check in often. But one should always go in knowing what to expect. Here are some things to be aware of:

1. Being on Twitter can encourage you to submit too early, hastily pulling together your manuscript in time for a contest. Please, please, please, avoid the temptation to do this. The worst mistake a writer can make is submitting before the work is ready. A novel needs to be vetted three, four, or five plus times. You need feedback from outside, impartial sources who aren't afraid to tell you that something stinks. Your ms needs to be ripped apart and put back together several times before you even consider submitting it or entering it into a contest. And, I have also learned, there will always be another contest.

2. Trolling twitter can lead to discouragement. Learning that agents aren't requesting what you're writing, or reading the polished first pages of other writers' novels and comparing them to your own initial draft can make the discrepancy between your own work and that of those nabbing agents seem insurmountable.

3. Twitter can be a FANTASTIC resource for writers. Where else can you eavesdrop on the conversations of agents, published authors, and newly agented writers? It's a great place to learn the ropes before jumping in and pick up some hints on what is currently working and what isn't. It's a place to make friends and find critique partners. Plus, links to articles, essays, and blog posts on thousands of subjects relevant to writers are abundant.

4. Your true colors come out when you read posts of other writers landing a book deal or signing with an agent. Jealousy battles with benevolence, and cuts you wide open so you can see clearly your flaws. Knowing yourself is a good thing. Just be prepared to make some changes if needed.

5. Twitter can be a huge time waster, enticing you to click on link after link until you find yourself perusing Pinterest with no clue how you got there. Usually, your free time is better spent writing. Rather than checking in with Twitter at the beginning of the time you've set aside for writing, check in at end, when you only have fifteen minutes left before another obligation will force you away from the computer.

It takes self-discipline and self-awareness to enjoy the benefits of Twitter without the complications, but if you can use it for the resource that it is without letting it distract or discourage you, there are a lot of perks to be had. So jump in, the Twater's warm.