How to Use Facebook as a Useful Writing Prompt

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Every once in awhile, there are days we need a little extra help.

As we’ve pointed out more than a few times here, writing isn’t as much of a solo activity as you might think. When you get stuck, and need something to get you started up again, it’s honestly not very likely you’re going to be able to do it on your own. You’re going to need someone else to push you.

Someone else, or an entire social network. Facebook, to be exact.

Here’s how to use FB to jumpstart your writing when your progress has come to a halt.

Don’t just follow news sites; explore the comments (carefully)

We say carefully because, well, comments sections can turn into deep, dark black holes if you don’t proceed with caution. Sometimes it’s not even the news stories themselves, but every Facebook commenter’s unsolicited opinions about them, that can generate a string of fresh ideas in the back of your mind.

See what’s out there. What are people’s biggest hangups about everyday life? How to people respond to this or that stereotypical person being talked about in the media or on a user-generated content site? Comments sections, especially on Facebook, are an excellent way to gain a better understanding of how people behave, and if nothing else, you might get another quirky character sketch out of it for later use.

Just don’t go overboard. When you feel yourself getting sucked in, run away. Fast.

Join a writing group or follow pages like this one

Especially during WriMos, writing groups and writing-related pages on Facebook are filled with questions, observations and even writing prompts themselves. Not only can you find potential writing “partners” to word war or sprint with, but also, when you’re running low on ideas and need something to get you going, it’s hard not to find a post that will give you exactly what you need when you need it.

You can even reach out to these communities and say, “Hey, I’m feeling a little blocked right now. Anyone have a random prompt that can at least get me going?” You might be surprised at how many fellow writers are willing to jump in to help someone in creative need. Sometimes just a few hundred words of bouncing off of a stranger’s prompt can motivate you to go right back to your current project and start working on it again.

Start your own Facebook RP

Roleplay writing communities are everywhere on the Internet, and they’re great for writing practice and meeting fellow writers. You don’t have to make a commitment to one of these communities to practice in a similar style, however. If you’re running low on ideas, a simple Facebook status might, or might not, be able to spark a few new ones.

Post a status along the lines of, “Can you continue this story?” followed by a paragraph of fiction. Many of your FB friends will probably scroll right past it, but some of them might actually join in and write a paragraph in succession to yours. You can either wait and see if anyone else adds onto theirs or “answer” back. It’s fun, it’s informal and you might even make someone else’s day a little better in the process, too.

As long as you don’t spend too much time on it, Facebook can be a worthwhile place to find the inspiration that’s gone missing. Even if you don’t log on very often, give it a try. If it doesn’t work for you, at least you’ll be able to take a short break from writing in the process. But it’s worth a shot.

Think social media is too much of a writing distraction for you? Check out this post to weigh the pros and cons of writing and SM.

Image courtesy of eweek.com.

Is Social Media Helping or Hurting Your Progress?

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At this point, it’s basically impossible not to be involved with some type of social media. Social media, after all, doesn’t just include social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Okay, so we’re going to have to get into more detailed explanations here in a second. This isn’t a social media blog, but social media does influence everything we do—including what, when, how, where and why we write.

Don’t believe us? What’s the first thing you do when you wake up? Do you immediately pick up a book? Drag yourself downstairs to make coffee? Search for your running shoes?

A lot of us probably use our phones as alarms now. Which means, even without intending to, the first thing you might do when you wake up is check your phone. First to switch off your alarm, and then … what did you miss on Twitter after you went to sleep?

It’s great to connect with people online, especially if you’re virtually meeting up with other writers. But is your writing thriving, or suffering, because of it?

Social media vs. social networking

Okay, so maybe you’re one of the few who don’t check your Facebook notifications very often, are mostly silent on Twitter and can’t stand Pinterest or Tumblr. But do you receive any enewsletters via email? Visit any websites? Watch videos online?

If you do, you’re still interacting with social media, which is, according to Social Media Today, forms of online communication through which people “share ideas, information, personal messages, and other content.”

Yes. By reading this post, you are using social media. Boom.

In contrast, social networking is all about relationships. We create profiles on social networks in order to connect with other people, whether they’re friends, potential employers or just random people we have things in common with. Facebook and Twitter are social networks, where you might share an update or article (or a blog post you like, wink wink).

We use social media to learn new things and share our ideas. We use social networks to engage and go deeper. Which can be a great thing for aspiring writers. Right?

When does it help? 

Social media and social networking should always be used two ways: to talk and to listen. There’s plenty of strategy involved here, but we’ll get an expert on here to walk you through that (still promising). Browsing through taglines, article titles and just random posts from random people can inspire new ideas you may have never thought of otherwise.

It’s never a bad idea to promote your work and your accomplishments (in moderation), such as keeping your followers updated on your writing progress or announcing a new story that’s just been published somewhere.

You can also use it to connect with other writers and cheer them on when they’re hard at work on the other side of their latest tweet. Discussions with writers always somehow end up taking a turn for the awesome, especially if you’re the one to start one. 

When does it hurt? 

Honestly? When you spend too much time on it, use it incorrectly or use it for the wrong reasons. The first one is a no-brainer: the more time you spend mindlessly scrolling through your feeds, the less time you actually spend writing your own content, whether that be a blog post, chapter in your book or an article for some fancy magazine (go you!).

There are ways to use social media wrong, and using it for the wrong reasons is one of those ways. Yes, you should promote your work and be proud of your accomplishments … to a point. Don’t brag. Don’t make it all about you, all the time. No one wants to follow someone like that. Remember, you have to engage with other people, and approaching someone else only to talk about yourself is the same online as it would be at a dinner party. Awkward.

And for the love of God. #Stop. #Doing. #This. #In. #Every. #Single. #Post. You want to have a good reputation on social media. You don’t have to be an expert. But you need to at least try to act like you know what you’re doing.

How to find balance

It’s normal, probably even healthy, to spend a little time communicating with other people online. In some cases, it’s the only way you can catch up with friends and family who don’t live close. Checking out various forms of social media and hanging out on social networks can be great for generating new ideas, but it can also be distracting, and, if used improperly, damaging.

Always keep your end goal in mind. If your goal is to get published someday, treat your social media interactions the same way you would if you were interacting with an editor or agent. Keep your work and the work of your friends and colleagues at the center of your promotions, not yourself. Brand, but do it wisely. Be confident, but don’t be a snob.

We dare you to share this post on social media today. Share it with a fellow writer. Everyone’s presence online matters, and if you want to build a solid online portfolio to showcase your work, that includes your social networking profiles, too. There’s no way to escape it. Welcome to 2015!

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Why Twitter is the Best #WritingCoach

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And it’s not just because it’s free.

What can you say in 140 characters or less? A lot, actually, if you know at least a little bit about what you’re doing. Some writers will argue that the more words you can cram into a piece, the better that piece is. I don’t necessarily agree. You probably don’t, either, if you’ve ever written something that had a 500-word or one-page limit and realized you couldn’t fit every adjective and colorful phrase you wanted into a pesky yet necessary word or page restriction.

You won’t have much of an audience if you don’t learn how to say what you mean as efficiently (a.k.a., quickly) as you can. Thank goodness for social media and its ability to teach us how to shorten what we say so our followers don’t just scroll right past our posts. Here are a few examples of how Twitter in particular can help you become a #betterwriter, right now.

Use as few words as possible.

It’s like when I write out directions to a recipe – a sentence can still make sense even with fewer words inside. I’m not to keen on using the phrase “word vomit,” but think about what happens when you get super excited about an idea and can’t type as fast as your spontaneous mental rush. You’re naturally going to type out whatever comes to mind, which is 100 percent normal when drafting an original work. That’s why we go back later and engage in my favorite literary activity of all: editing.

It’s less work for everyone later if you start out using as few words as you can to get your main point across. Tweeting is a wonderful way to practice this, since you have a limited amount of space to say what you want (not to mention adding a link, tagging 500 of your friends and squeezing in as many #hashtags as your character limit allows). Facebook lets you go on and on, but Twitter stops you before you’ve said too much. Quite literally.

Learn the power of active voice.

Starting your sentences with a verb – something the #GrammarNaziUniverse calls “active voice” – will help you eliminate many of those extra words you’ll automatically find yourself tempted to throw into your posts, statuses, novels, whatever you’re working on at the moment. Prepositions are great, but not in excess, sort of like chocolate chip cookies. Okay, maybe not. I could eat plenty of those and never get sick of them. Personally.

Moving onto my next point. Apparently my brain is #hungry. I wouldn’t want to give you a bad example of point number three…

Captivate your audience from the first word.

There’s nothing that bothers me more about a piece of writing than having to skim through multiple layers of imagery and sensation to find a thesis. It isn’t that I don’t support these beautiful qualities of writing – it is an art, however, one that takes millions of words and sometimes years of practice to improve. There is a way to incorporate those stylistic attributes without drowning your reader in an ocean full of mental pictures.

Start with your main point and branch out from there, but do it in a way that will catch someone’s attention (or even catch them off-guard). Don’t just stick with the cliche “attention-getting questions.” Did you know we’re getting sick of them by now? Use that creative (and sometimes scary) literary brain of yours. Don’t fear it; embrace it. Especially if you want someone else to embrace, and pass on (retweet) what you’re saying.

Since we’re talking about Twitter, have you followed me? Do so here. And don’t judge me for the plug. Social media is where this all began. Never underestimate the things it can teach you.

Love&hugs, Meg<3