It’s taken me almost an hour to write this post, and it’s all Twitter’s fault.
OK. Obviously, it’s not social media’s fault that I can’t focus. Not entirely. We’re all responsible for adapting to the various challenges we face in our lives, and learning to remain productive despite how easy it is to get lost in a Twitter thread is just one of those things that either happens eventually … or it doesn’t.
The topic of online social platforms gets a little frustrating when you look at it through a professional lens. “Writer Twitter” is quite the place to be. It’s also a place many writers feel they “need” to be — despite the fact that Twitter is, in some ways, dangerous when you’re prone to distraction.
How do you stay connected and fend off feelings of loneliness and isolation when the very outlet that could save you could also hold you back from achieving your goals?
Twitter isn’t a requirement for writing success. There are these things called “absolutes,” and many writers like to use them when giving advice to the less experienced. Twitter is a great, valuable networking tool for many people. But if you don’t have one — people are going to tell me I’m wrong about this and I 100% don’t care — you don’t have to feel pressured to get one.
Do people who have platforms to promote their work and express their thoughts have certain advantages over those who don’t? In some ways, sure. But honestly, there’s always going to be someone who has a seemingly unfair advantage over you in whatever you’re trying to accomplish. Just because one writer has Twitter and the other doesn’t doesn’t necessarily mean one will succeed and the other won’t.
Here’s the truth: There are just some people who can’t handle distractions like Twitter if tasks like writing are already hard enough to focus on. At least not in the beginning. If you’re one of those people, hey — that’s okay. Focusing is hard. Every year that goes by, it seems like there’s yet another “thing” someone has invented to create another distraction for writers. Sometimes they disguise these things as “tools.” They’re not. Not really.
If things like Twitter just aren’t going to work for you, don’t get one just because someone says you have to (unless someone in charge of getting your book published is actually asking you to get one — I don’t think that’s usually how things work, but hey). In the end, your chances of success are going to be much greater if you spend all your time writing and trying to get things published than if you spend several hours a night on social media. Prioritize.
If you’re going to use it, use it for the right reasons. For writers specifically, Twitter can offer a handful of different benefits some find essential to their future success. It’s a great place to interact with writers who inspire and motivate you, as well as writers who are facing the same roadblocks as you are. It’s also a great place to put yourself out there and let the world know you’re out here writing your heart out.
But it’s possible to take things to the extreme — and many writers do. In their quest to build a personal brand that attracts more potential readers and (maybe) drives sales to their books or clicks to their blogs, many writers end up hurting their own chances of success because they’re just in it for the follows.
- Don’t use Twitter only to promote your own work. It looks self-serving, and simply asking people to read your stuff isn’t very persuasive. I regularly unfollow accounts who post links to their published work five times a day but nothing else. It’s disruptive, and not in a good way.
- Don’t limit yourself to posting only about writing. Many people will follow you on Twitter to keep up with what you’re working on, but there are many more who follow writers to get a better feel for who they are “outside” their work. I love, for example, Delilah Dawson’s writing advice threads. I also love her posts about her dog. Give your personal brand some personality.
- Don’t get too anxious for more followers. As with posting on a blog or interacting with people pretty much anywhere online, audiences grow when they’re given valuable things to follow and subscribe to. There are writers out there doing amazing things with only a few hundred followers. It’s not about the number, it’s about the people behind that number that you’re offering value to.
It’s possible to stay connected without getting distracted. There are filters within the platform itself that can help you stay up-to-date on what’s going on in your “niche” without having to sift through an often cluttered news feed to see what’s most valuable to you.
If you create a list that only includes authors whose posts inspire you to run back to your desk and keep writing, then you can easily go to Twitter, scroll through the posts only from those authors, and sign off again without getting sucked into, well, everything else.
Easier said than done, sure. But I’m just offering possible solutions here. Maybe they work for you, maybe they don’t.
You really have to approach Twitter knowing exactly what you want to get out of it. You can even create different accounts that cater to different interests and switch between them if that helps. When you’re going there just to catch up on all the goings-on in the writing world, you can use your writing-exclusive account and avoid all the extra clutter that might come from somewhere else.
In the end, though, it’s all about remembering that any tools you use to stay connected and promote yourself are supplementary to the work you’re doing outside of them. Your biggest priority is still and will always be your actual writing. Think of it this way: If you never write anything, you’ll never have anything to promote or talk about on Twitter anyway, right?
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.
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