Get Out There And Do NOT Tweet! by Johanna Harness

11 May

I want writers to refrain from tweeting until they can stand it no longer. The conversation becomes too engaging, the discussion too creative and delightful. There seems a very real possibility that remaining silent may cause an author’s brain cells to implode. Repressed words bounce around so rapidly, the writer’s hair may catch fire from the friction.  Hands begin to tremble. Knees shake. Then, only then: go ahead, writers.  Tweet.

When I started exploring Twitter, I did so anonymously. I had a protected account and I tweeted silly things, like messages to my husband sitting across the room. I took time to see how tweeting worked and what I could expect from it.

While I felt overwhelmed with learning the meanings of @ and # and #ff and the rest, I was not in the public view.

I’m not convinced telling writers to tweet is a good idea, especially while they’re new to the platform. I can’t imagine how anyone could understand Twitter by jumping in and tweeting right away.  It’s like telling someone to enter a conversation by barging into a group of strangers and talking loudly.

Much better?  I encourage everyone to join Twitter to listen.

I started out following reporters.  I’d see someone tweet about the cab ride to a press conference and then I’d turn on the television and catch sight of that person behind the reporter with the big hair—and yeah, big hair, just like she said—how could she even see?  I started seeing familiar bits of the world through other points of view.

And the writer in me danced.

You see what I’m seeing, right?  Access to the world from so many points of view?  It’s a candy store for writers.  I started following so many people, studying how they talked, what they found important, how they reasoned.

I followed reporters who were all at the same events together, comparing what each thought worth mentioning and how they interpreted the same things.

At some point it occurred to me that I’d spent a lot of time doing this weird little internship with reporters and suddenly the world of reporting felt a lot more accessible to me.  Not only could I write a fairly believable character based on these people, but I could actually see my own path more clearly if reporting were something I wanted to do.

Yes. That’s when the lightbulb quit flickering and started really burning a hole through my brain. The next day, I deleted my personal, anonymous account and started an account with my real name.   That day, I did not follow all the same reporters I’d been following for months.  That day I started following novelists.

I still did not tweet.  I followed.  I listened.

Thirsty to drink up the experiences of other writers, I followed a lot of people.  When they followed back, it surprised me. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would be interested in me. Still, I floated along, reading and absorbing, without tweeting much.

When I finally started tweeting, it was not because I needed an author platform.  It was not to “put myself out there.” It was not to publicize a blog post or a short story or a publication. I started tweeting because a conversation intrigued me and I had something I was dying to contribute. If I didn’t respond, I thought my overstimulated brain cells would self-combust.  That’s the moment everyone should start tweeting. As I started contributing, other writers welcomed me and I started making friends.

When it finally came time to send out queries for my novel, the process did not feel foreign. Writing mentors encouraged me and dared me to be brave.  I’d followed others’ progress through the same process and I knew what to expect.  When I had questions, friends provided answers.

When I started my own hashtag on Twitter, my goal was simple: help writers find each other. it pained me that so many of the writers I followed did not know each other. #FollowFriday wasn’t enough. We needed a community of writers talking to each other on a daily basis. Even more? We needed a community of working writers.

I’d watched professional reporters supporting each other and becoming mentors for people they didn’t even know (people like me!) and they did this through sharing their work. This is important, so I’ll say it again. They shared the work of reporting. They weren’t all tweeting links to their most recent articles on whatever news sites.  They tweeted their experiences as they worked.

Most successful authors say there’s very little to describe about their writing days.  They sit and they write.  This is true, I’m sure, on the grand level of looking back, but the details of those days?  Magic.

On Twitter we see those details.  When writers discuss their works in progress, we see despair on the bad days, euphoria on the good days, and all things in between. We see the work of writing: the endless revisions, the courage to face rejections, the inspiration derived from interaction with an editor or a beta reader. We see words evolve to e-book or print or both. These are real writers, not the polished images of muses who dream an entire series and channel words through fingers the next morning.

These are working writers.  They’re tough. And smart. And witty.  And engaging. When I check into the #amwriting community every morning, I chat with colleagues until the caffeine finally pings a response from my brain. Then I turn to my own writing in a virtual office filled to the brim with this crazy, amazing, creative energy.

Yes, in the end we do promote each other, but not because we’ve found some great Twitter marketing scheme. We promote each other because we’ve watched these wonderful books and stories grow from nothing. We’ve beta-read and critiqued for each other. We’ve shared tears and happiness.  We promote because we believe in the work and we believe in each other.

That’s why I tweet. That’s how a little hashtag grew into a community that includes more than 2000 writers tweeting each week–and many more who email to say they read without tweeting–just like I did with reporters! That’s how I ended up with more than 28,000 followers without trying to market myself to anyone.

So if you’re a writer, I don’t encourage you to tweet–not until you’re ready.  Get out there and listen. The tweeting will follow.


Posted by on May 11, 2011 in twitter, writers, writing


Tags: , , , ,

33 responses to “Get Out There And Do NOT Tweet! by Johanna Harness

  1. Linda Angér, The Write Concept

    May 11, 2011 at 5:25 AM

    Bravo, Johanna!

  2. Anne E. Johnson

    May 11, 2011 at 6:58 AM

    Thanks for this very interesting post. I see what you’re saying, and watching Twitter go by for a while is a really wise idea. But I would add: don’t be afraid to jump in! Just think before you Tweet, and remember that you’re in public.

    I have found that, even though I’m new in fiction-writing, I’m getting taken seriously on Twitter by sounding serious about my work and respectful and curious about others’ work. I think about everything I Tweet (or post on FB or my blog) and how it will look to publishers, agents, and successful writers. I’d say that takes practice, so it’s important to put your toe in there and practice looking professional, not just watch others do it.
    Thanks again!

    • Janis McCurry

      May 11, 2011 at 7:21 AM

      Great blog, Johanna.

      Anne, my boss always said, “Don’t write down anything you don’t want to show up in the daily newspaper.” LOL. Sound advice with tweeting as well.

      • johannaharness

        May 11, 2011 at 7:37 AM

        Thanks, Janis!

        Thankfully there’s still plenty of room to enjoy life and have fun in a public forum too! 🙂

    • johannaharness

      May 11, 2011 at 7:33 AM

      Very true, Anne. I use that same public rule even when I think I’m in a private forum. Words can be quoted and lifted out of context so easily. On Twitter, I also try to think how a tweet looks when it stands alone. Tweets are not always read in the context of the original conversation.

      You also make a good point about not being afraid to jump in, but I think that fear evaporates considerably if writers give themselves time to know their surroundings. Most people pushed into Twitter react like they’re being forced out in front of a crowd with a microphone, like they’re expected to be witty and smart and delightful from day one. That’s too much pressure. It’s much easier to begin tweeting by commenting on the tweets of others and entering conversations.

  3. Jim Breslin

    May 11, 2011 at 7:23 AM

    Great post Johanna! I’ve learned so much about writing and publishing through listening in to the conversations on Twitter. My timeline enables me to check the pulse of the publishing world every day. I think it’s invaluable for those writers seeking a DIY MFA!

    • johannaharness

      May 11, 2011 at 7:40 AM

      Exactly, Jim! I know a lot of people worry about those who lurk, but I’m a big fan of the avid lurker. I lurk in a lot of circles and publishing is one of the big ones.

      I taught college courses for ten years and often the students who said nothing turned in the most insightful, engaging papers. Silence is not the same as passivity.

  4. Kristina

    May 11, 2011 at 7:46 AM

    I love the advice to hold back until you just can’t stand it anymore. Very sage advice from a very sage lady indeed.

    • johannaharness

      May 12, 2011 at 7:20 PM

      Thanks, Kristina! Somehow I thought you’d like that bit. 🙂

  5. Clarissa Southwick

    May 11, 2011 at 7:50 AM

    You are a twitter goddess and we are lucky to have you blogging here 🙂 Thanks for another great post. 🙂

  6. Meredith Conner

    May 11, 2011 at 8:42 AM

    Fabulous post Johanna! I hadn’t thought of Twitter as a learning tool – what a great resource! I’m going to share this post on Twitter right now!

    • johannaharness

      May 12, 2011 at 7:22 PM

      Amazing how much there is to learn through eavesdropping on great conversations. 😉

  7. John Ross Barnes

    May 11, 2011 at 9:09 AM

    Great Post, Johanna!

    I can’t remember how I stumbled onto or got stumbled onto by the people I interact with, but I’m sure it involved watching & “listening” & then venturing in. Thank you for being a big help, & great encouragement in that.


    • johannaharness

      May 12, 2011 at 7:24 PM

      You’re welcome, John! I remember getting to know you in just this way. I was talking with the morning crowd and you jumped in with great insight. I’m so glad you did!

  8. Liz Fredericks

    May 11, 2011 at 9:10 AM

    Johanna, you’ve given us another wonderful blog. Thank you for sharing your experience on twitter. I know that you’re well-versed in other forms of social media and I’m looking forward to learning more from you.

    • johannaharness

      May 12, 2011 at 7:25 PM

      Thank you, Liz. Twitter is really my first love with social media. Other people who tweet teach me about the rest. How long before you post your first youtube video? 😉

  9. maryvine

    May 11, 2011 at 3:16 PM

    Wow. I have a twitter account but don’t use it. Sounds like I need to for many reasons.

    • johannaharness

      May 12, 2011 at 7:32 PM

      I’m especially intrigued by getting to know people on a bit-by-bit basis. A little reading every day makes a real difference.

  10. lynn mapp

    May 11, 2011 at 7:36 PM

    Johanna, I do not tweet. I have a hard time keeping up with my e-mail, but you’ve made me think. Tweeting may be something for me to consider. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  11. Carley Ash

    May 11, 2011 at 7:38 PM

    Thanks Johanna. You’re the reason I can tweet today. Thanks for all your help

    • johannaharness

      May 12, 2011 at 7:34 PM

      Thanks, Carley! You’re picking up tweeting really well!

  12. Amy

    May 11, 2011 at 7:41 PM

    Johanna, this is a marvelous post. I don’t tweet at all (I can barely figure out how to exist on Twitter, to be honest…), but it strikes me that the advice you give here is relevant to so many other things about writing and art. The idea of creative community, and how to build it, and why to participate it in–because you’re truly engaged and moved by it. The idea of publishing–how it’s probably not something you should be trying for unless you’re doing it because you simply can’t stand not to be part of a wider conversation with other people. In other words, how to engage with other artists/the world in an authentic way–because you simply can’t stand not to do so, or because you absolutely have something to contribute, rather than because you think it’s going to further your marketing plan for yourself. Fabulous.

    • johannaharness

      May 12, 2011 at 7:36 PM

      Great insight, Amy! I feel the same way. The content comes first.

  13. jayel kaye

    May 13, 2011 at 5:48 AM

    As always, johanna, you have a knack for hitting things spot on. great post.

  14. Bonnie Cranmer

    May 18, 2011 at 7:31 AM

    so wish you could have given this as a presentation to the writers I spoke to at a recent writer’s conference, explains importance of conversation and Twitter value so well, Thank You!!!

    • Johanna Harness

      January 15, 2012 at 7:11 AM

      That would have been great fun, Bonnie! I love talking to writers about Twitter. 🙂

  15. JC Rosen

    January 15, 2012 at 6:43 AM

    So true, so very true, Johanna. Reading Twitter for a while before jumping in and tweeting helps the critical mind see what’s just noise being tweeted and what’s being tweeted with genuine need to communicate behind it. Responding to the latter is what begins a conversation. Get a bunch of working writers conversing on Twitter and you get different techniques exposed. I always learn something, even if it’s just to open my mind to a possibility. Thanks for this, Johanna.

    Take care,

    • Johanna Harness

      January 15, 2012 at 7:13 AM

      Thanks, JC! There can be a lot of noise, but the critical mind filters it out really well. What’s left is wonderful. Thanks so much for the comment.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: