Category Archives: Social Media

Writers’ Homecoming: Participating in Wordsmith Studio’s 3rd Anniversary Blog Hop

Persistence. Stole some writing time in an empty science lab while at a school today. With a limping keyboard no less. What is community? The coffee brought to me by a neighbor.

Persistence. Stole some writing time in an empty science lab while at a school today. With a limping keyboard no less. What is community? The coffee brought to me by a neighbor.

If you’re a regular reader here, you may know how much I value my writing community. I am way overdue sharing some of the great interactions I’ve had with new writing friends at writers’ conferences and workshops over the winter, but today is all about jumping in to participate in a Writers’ Homecoming Blog Hop to celebrate the 3 year anniversary of my fabulous group of writing friends, Wordsmith Studio.

What is Wordsmith Studio?

10634351_10100112304388454_1141723537_nWordsmith Studio came together 3 years ago on the heels of one of the best challenges I’ve ever seen online: poet Robert Lee Brewer’s April Platform Building Challenge. Every day for 30 days, each of us learned about how to make the most out of a different social media tool in building platform (that is, readership and genuine connection). We learned not just how to blog, but how to create authentic interaction with readers and other writers. How to participate in comments on others’ posts and encourage comments on your own, to create authentic dialogue. Likewise, how to understand the formats of Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and more to, again, create authentic connection through each of those venues.

Since then, the group has created a formal affiliation. We have a website with weekly posts and member bios. We have a Facebook page with numerous smaller offshoots (there’s an events page for this month’s anniversary activities, and subgroups — my favorite is the Goals group, where we trade our monthly goals and cheerlead each other through successes and pitfalls). Wordsmith Studio is on Twitter, hosting 2 weekly chat sessions (#wschat), as well as other periodic activities, like wordsprints or live events. These are where I participate most, but we have members who are more active in other venues, like Google+ or Pinterest.

The group is formal enough to have a process for joining, and is administered by a 6-member Advisory Group (I am one of the 6 members; we each serve for 2 years).

We have been glad to add in new members over the years, whose writing interests have broadened us well beyond our initial platform building challenge. Our group has seen several book releases, through traditional and self-publishing routes. Our writers share expertise on drafting, revision, conferences, querying, signing contracts, readings, publication, promotion… and blogging, photography, graphic arts, crafts, fine arts, music and much more.

That said, we are above all supportive of each other. We have diehard founding members who have been active the whole 3 years, and many more who we have seen come and go as other life’s priorities take them away and bring them back to us again. Someone is always apologizing for having been absent, but we’re just glad to see them again and to catch up on what they’ve been working on.

Which is what our “homecoming” theme is about, this month.

What is Homecoming? And What is the Blog Hop?

We celebrate each anniversary with events that help us rekindle any skills we want to work on and renew any connections that have drifted apart over the past year. We get to know each other’s work and current goals again… And we get to know new members, who may wonder how to get involved (it’s easy — just jump in).

As part of our Homecoming events, I agreed to lead the kickoff of our group’s first official blog hop. To participate, read the instructions here at the Wordsmith Studio site.  Or use the Linky Tool at the bottom of the post.

Worry you missed it? The Homecoming Blog Hop takes place every Wednesday this month. Look for a kickoff post each Wednesday, then you can participate anytime through that Sunday.

My Homecoming Interview

Running manHere are my answers to this week’s optional interview questions:

1) Are you a WSSer (a member of Wordsmith)? I already answered this one above: yes, I’m a founding member of Wordsmith Studio. I really value some great friends I’ve made through the group… and really miss a few members who are no longer active!

2) What medium/genre do you work in? I make a living writing nonfiction (freelance writer/editor, and a teacher), but my focus is fiction. I occasionally write short stories (have a had a few published, a couple awards — small fry), but spend most of my time on novels. I work toward literary fiction, and am also inspired by the intensity of young adult and the intrigue of mysteries, and that kind of energy seeps into my work.

3) What’s the name of your current project (ok multitaskers, give us your main one)?  I am working on a novel called Never Said (it was nicknamed Wake elsewhere on the blog). It trines between the U.S., Ireland and the Middle East, with one couple’s love affair unraveling a tension of what it is to live “without war” in an era when war touches everything.

4) What is your favorite detail, sentence or other bit you’ve written lately? My main character was grabbed from behind as she dashed away down a street in a scene I wrote this week. At the time, her mind was unraveling, it was late at night, and the street was full of carousers, so you assume she’s being attacked. There is this awesome, immediate tension when she realizes it is actually the taciturn, armed man protecting her lover, who she does not realize followed her out into the night. I didn’t mean to write it that way, but the physicality of the scene managed to increase suspense and bridge an emotional storyline. All this year, writing has been like that. If you’ve read any of my prior posts on revising this novel, you know that there have been at least 2 drafts where I thought I was almost done… but each time, I am so grateful that I pushed myself further, knowing I did not yet fully understand the story. I feel the texture and layers in scenes now, in ways I did not in those earlier drafts. One of the biggest a-ha moments that steered me in the right direction was when I started to distance myself from the main character and let her get down and gritty, as I wrote about in Writing Character: Say the Things We Never Say.

My current challenge... or threat.

My current challenge… or threat.

5) Any obstacles or I-hate-this-chapter moments? I would roar like a T-rex to say this adequately: I hate that I work so slowly. I met with Ben Percy in January at Blue Flower Arts Conference and finally spilled out my frustration: I’ve had a novel almost done before, with agents who had asked to read a full… and never made it that last 10% to cross the finish line. His advice was to just set a 30 day deadline, break it into words/day and threaten that I’d have to eat a dirty sock if I don’t make it. I have legit excuses (just finished 3 classes for my masters, plus client work & am a single parent), but that’s not it. I write 10-40 hrs a week, even with that workload. And I write fast. So I don’t know if I am too much of a perfectionist, or just slow in fitting the whole thing together, but I am routinely irritable about wanting it done, now.

6) What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned lately from your writing?  Interestingly, as a ‘literary’ reader and writer, the biggest things I’ve learned lately have to do with plot structure, screenplays and suspense.

7) In what ways do you hope to grow in the next 6 months/year?  I’m moving on to stages of how to market. I’ve been drafting queries and gotten feedback from an agent. I want to have a full draft done soon, and then on to beta readers or I may find a private coach or mentor to work one-on-one. Then time to query.

8) In what ways do writing friends and communities help you do that? I am as much of an introvert as any writer, but I have learned more and grown more by interacting with other writers than I would have alone. It can be lonely work, so it’s powerful to be able to shout out, “I hit my word count goal for the day,” and have someone cheer you on. Time is always limited, but it’s worth stoking those friendships and building these communities, because you can’t wait for the day you wish you had a writing group or friend to share work with — it takes time to find people and build connections. While I talk about Wordsmith here, some of the writers in my network are people I first met in Poets & Writers’ Speakeasy forum 10 or more years ago. It’s worth the time it takes.

How About You?

Please do click through to the Wordsmith Studio 3rd Anniversary Homecoming Blog Hop. Jump in and connect — write your own answers to the questions above or otherwise let us know what you are working on. You do not have to be a Wordsmith member to participate. Here are some options:

  • From 4/8-4/12, you can join this week’s Blog Hop using the linky tool.
  • If you are reading this later, just share the link to your post in the comments beneath the kickoff post.
  • There will be new blog hops each Wednesday this month. Follow Wordsmith Studio or me to see links when those posts go live.
  • To find out about more Wordsmith Studio activities, follow the group website, Twitter or Facebook using any of the links above (you can ask to join the group via the Facebook site – mention you heard about it here).

Linky Tool for the Blog Hop

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Filed under My Work in Progress, Relentless Wake, Social Media, Writing Life, Writing Process & Routine, Writing Prompt

Motivated to Write: 12 Tools to Get Writing, Now

Day One - Begin

The bottom line with all writing advice is you have to get started. Write first thing in the morning, while coffee brews. Block out time to write on your calendar. Set word-count goals or write in 3o minute sprints. The bottom line on all of these is: get started.

While lots are taking time off to vacation this month, thousands of writers from all ranges in experience are committed to write every day in July or even the whole summer, to get this thing (whatever their writing project may be) done.

Whether you are a joiner, jumping in to share your daily accomplishments in a public forum, or are going it alone in classic writerly isolation, here are 12 online resources get you motivated to write every day.

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1.  Online Writing Forums & Challenges – motivation, camper-style

Camp-NaNoWriMo-2013-Lantern-Vertical-BannerThe most well-known forum at the moment is Camp NaNoWriMo, which began July 1. The July “camp” is an off-shoot of the Office of Letters and Light’s original project to “write a novel in 30 days” during National Novel Writing Month (November). NaNoWriMo gets writers going with site software for tracking daily word counts, counting down to reach a total wordcount goal. Traditionalists may balk at the thought, but the site attracts a full range of experienced and newbie writers who find the site’s ability to turn daily writing into a trackable accomplishment with peers cheering you on just plain fun. (Yes, NaNo has had lots of “real” books published.) NaNoWriMo is especially good motivator for a new project, but “rebels” (those who’ve already completed a novel draft, or are researching or…) abound, with rebel forums and guidelines for setting project-specific goals.

Teachers Write 2013 ButtonMore forums and daily challenges:

  • Teacher or Librarian? Teachers Write is a vibrant “writing camp” hosted by a slew of adult and young-adult authors, currently running (through summer) with daily prompts, Q & A with authors, community and feedback.
  • Is your writing goal to “build platform” (audience) for your writing? Robert Lee Brewer’s Platform Building Challenge from April 2012 is the most comprehensive resource I’ve seen for expanding competence in all social media formats. Click the link to go to day 1 – and check out Wordsmith Studio, an ongoing writers’ forum that arose from the challenge.
  • Blogger? If your goal is to post every day, join Liv, Laugh, Love’s July Bloggers’ Challenge which offers daily prompts and a Facebook forum to gain audience.
  • Poet? Try Our Lost Jungle’s February 2013 Chapbook Challenge for a month of inspiration to write daily poems and organize a chapbook.
  • Submitting for publication? Try Our Lost Jungle’s  May 2013 Submit-O-Rama with daily inspiration, goals and resources.

camp writingAm I participating in any of these forums? I used the 2012 Platform Challenge last year, I’m a Founding Member of Wordsmith Studios, I’ve participated in Teachers Write, and I’m a rebel at Camp Nano (find me here). For testimonial on how online interactions impacted the day’s writing, check out Tuesday Writes: Camping with Friends at NaNoWriMo.

2.  Use Good Prompts

Cynical about prompts? Not all prompts provoke insightful writing or help you advance the conflict of your story.

Of all the prompts I’ve ever encountered, I think literary agent & author Donald Maass rules. He occasionally tweets them from as a numbered list, as shown below. Follow him (@DonMaass) or his hashtag #21stCenturyTuesday for more. Below these tweets are links for more from Maass, as well as a recommended resource from Ann Hood.

More Maass prompts:

Another of my favorite books to prompt novel inspiration is Ann Hood’s Creating Character Emotions . Read about it here: Writing Character: Sometimes the Work is Messy.

3.  Time & Word Count Motivators

Lots of writers motivate themselves with daily milestones. Ann Hood has built a career by writing 2 hours every day. Others aim for a word count goal. Writers with a deadline set this by dividing the number of  needed words by the available writing days.  Others may aim for 1,000 or 2,000 words — adjusted to whatever their normal, productive word count would be.

  • Written? Kitten!  Just for fun, to feel a sense of accomplishment for, say, every 100 words you write, you have to click and check this out. Every time you type 100 words, you’re rewarded with a kitten. (I’d forgotten using it, once, until I was transferring text from an add-on doc to my WIP and found it ended with the sentence, “If I keep typing, any word now a kitten will appear.” Meow.)
  •   750 Words This site takes its inspiration from the practice of writing morning pages recommended in The Artist’s Way. The site keeps a bowling card style score for each day you write, with double points each time you hit 750 words (equivalent to 3 pages) per day. Unlike the Kitten, you have to provide your email address and log in.
  • Timed Writing. Finish reading this first. Then log off the internet when writing, to blog the temptation to surf during writing time. Some writers use more forceful options: check out Mashable’s 6 Apps That Block Online Distractions So You Can Get Work Done.
  • For more time-management strategies, go to the January Challenge, below.

4. Strategies for Getting Started – or Finished

In January, I hosted the January Challenge… Check out the strategies below for ways to manage competing priorities to accomplish your writing goals – from writing daily to applying to residencies or increasing submissions.

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What About You?

What writing goal are you working on this month? Are there resources or forums that help you stay motivated, or are they a distraction for you? (Despite this post, I find resources both “helpful” and “a distraction,” so balance between networking and hermitsville.)

Feel free to share goals, prompts or links to your own articles on similar themes in the comments.

And, best wishes with whatever your goals this month.

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Filed under January Challenge, Novel Writing, Social Media, Time Management for Writers, Writing Life, Writing Process & Routine, Writing Prompt

Friday Links 01.11.13

The second week of January means I began the week tying up last week’s semester and finished the week having started with a new group of writing students. It also means my sons are back in school, so I’ve had a few productive mornings writing before afternoon classes. Two great a-ha moments led to some great work, so I’m ending the week in a fabulous mood.

Writing mornings include reading, and here are some of the links I’ve found worth sharing!  If you have an article you think I (or my readers) should see, share the link in the comments.

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On Beginnings: Ann Hood

Ann had mentioned in May that she wrote an essay for Tin House outlining the dozen or so different ways she had identified that a writer can use to begin a story. Somewhere, on a fat, full legal pad, I have notes on all of them — but had been periodically checking Tin House for the full essay to post. Oh. Found it — ran in October — but it’s just a tease. Click through for this one piece on opening with dialogue. I’m pretty sure I’m going to want to buy the full collection of essays when it is published.

12 Letters That Didn’t Make the Alphabet

A title like that suggests lead-in to a Far-Side-esque joke about letters not up to snuff. No such gag. I dog-eared this article in fascination, as it shares the evolution that left certain letters out of our permanent alphabet, even as their sounds or symbols still linger. An interesting piece for all of us working with words.

Solving a First-World Blogging Problem

As we start a year evaluating our goals, accomplishments and maybe even worth as a writer, this is a fabulous post at Writer Unboxed by Jan O’Hara. Applying medical wisdom (“If the results won’t change your treatment plan, don’t do the test in the first place.”), she offers thought-provoking inspiration.

Inspiring Your Writing With Contemplative Practice

Just as many of us are beginning the new year with goals that have us wondering how to carve more writing hours (or discipline) out of our days, Patrick Ross (an instructor at The Writing Center in Bethesda, MD, and blogger at The Artist’s Road) shares Kurt Caswell’s advice for using contemplative activities to create healthy writing practice. Taken from a lecture at Vermont College of Fine Arts, this short piece is just enough to get you inspired — but not keep you from your morning’s writing!

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Filed under Friday Links, Inspiration, Novel Writing, Social Media

Friday Links 01.04.13

One of my great discoveries during 2012 was the wealth of insight I stumble across each week —  from the fabulous writers, editors, agents, journalists and more that I follow on Twitter, to some of the professional groups I participate in, to resources I come across in my work.

Fitting for the first Friday of the new year, I’m kicking off this new column — Friday Links — to share the best reading I’ve found each week, just in time for your weekend reading. I anticipate featuring anything from interviews with writers, advice on writing and publication, reading and publishing news… to issues on art, education or culture.

Welcome to Friday Links — and the new year!

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“Posthumous” Jeffrey Eugenides | The New Yorker

Adapted from a speech given to the 2012 Whiting Award winners, this fabulous essay from the New Yorker’s blog is identified in the magazine’s link as “Jeffrey Eugenides’ advice to young writers.”

Is That Kind of Like a French Pencil?

Perhaps I found kindred spirit in this interview — connecting over the voices of his 7th grade writers compared to my own middle grade writing students — but I loved The Literary Man’s interview with Andrew Slater, a writer and former soldier who has gone back to live in Iraq, teaching English and writing. The title was his answer to the question, What is your writing routine?

Rachelle Gardner: What Not to Blog About

Literary agent Rachelle Gardner has endeared herself to writers with the depth of her advice about all levels of the publication process, including best uses of social media. In this article, she offers the most important “no-nos” for a writer to avoid in protecting their professional persona.

Day of Week Affects Facebook Responsiveness

While on social media… here is an interesting analysis via MarketingVox. I’d heard analytics before about best days of the week to post to Twitter or Facebook — but this analyzes the level of interaction posts get for each day of the week by industry.  Holly Harrison (@hollharris; the “marketing broad” for litmag Paper Darts) cleverly observed that each industry’s target graph looks like a different origami animal. For those of us communicating in publishing, Sunday is a hotter day to hit than Monday.

And, celebrating the new year, some great New Year posts:

Stones in My Pockets: Resolve for 2013 by Gerry Wilson

Starting the New Year 60,000 Words Ahead by Laura Maylene Walter

In Which I Fail (Most of) My Resolutions… But End 2012 on a Good Note (Really) by Nova Ren Suma

The Yearly Reboot by Jeannine Bergers Everett

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Filed under Friday Links, Inspiration, Social Media, Writing Life

Twitter for Writers: Top People to Follow on Twitter (and Useful Hashtags)

I’ve posted before (Why Writers Should Use Twitter and Social Media for Writers: Twitter v Facebook) about the ways I’ve come to value Twitter.  I’ve gathered a list of the people and organizations I’ve found most interesting to follow on Twitter this year.

I recommend them based on interest, usefulness and activity level on Twitter.  That is important to say, since, for example, the lit-mag and writer lists clearly leave off many magazines and writers I love.

The list is partially annotated, and loosely categorized (nearly all of those listed might fit in more than one category) and includes some related hashtags.  Also, there are links to my lists within Twitter, to find more writers, magazines and more.

I hope it is useful to you, and would be interested to hear  your own recommendations in the comments — better yet, look me up!  Elissa Field on Twitter: @elissafield.

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(Some agent specialties are listed, although I follow many agents outside my genre, based on the information shared in their tweets.)

@RachelleGardner – an agent whose advice on everything from querying to income is thorough and honest.

@DonMaass – ubiquitous agent, Donald Maass

@SaraMegibow – a lovely agent at Nelson Literary Agency, who shares sample replies by posting #10queriesin10tweets (Thursdays)

@michellewitte – MG & YA lit

@sarahlapolla – associate at Curtis Brown

Michelle, Sarah and other agents share advice in open Q & A #askagent chat (Wed evenings)

@greyhausagency – represents romance and women’s lit, and shares sample replies with #GLAQueries

@NepheleTempest – CA lit agent, writer, reader

@QueryShark – a great resource, offering frank critiques of queries submitted by writers

(Note: you can find more than 30 agents and junior agents by checking my list of agents .)


@mpnye – Michael Nye is managing editor of Missouri Review, and author of Strategies Against Extinction

@HannahTinti – editor of One Story, author of The Good Thief and more

@robspill – Rob Spillman, Tin House editor

@MargotLivesey – editor of Ploughshares, author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy (on my reading list) and other novels

Also, check out my list of editors, and publishers.

Literary Magazines:

@parisreview – The Paris Review

@GrantaMag – Granta

@_conjunctions – Conjunctions

@Missouri_Review – Missouri Review

@haydensferryrev – Haydens Ferry Review

@mcsweeneys – Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly

@NERweb – New England Review

@asfmag – American Short Fiction

@TheReviewReview – a review of literary magazines

@Tin_House – Tin House

@PaperDarts  – Paper Darts

@onestorymag – One Story

(In addition, here is a listing of 70+ literary mags I follow.)


@NathanEnglander – his Ministry of Special Cases (2008) was one my best-reads last year

@meganmayhewbergman – has been featured in BASS and has a great short story collection out (2011). Her tweets about writing and life on a New England farm with tiny daughters and vet-husband are elegantly genuine.

@Benjamin_Percy – a great writer, on my list of great workshop leaders as well

@alexanderchee – author of Edinburgh (2002), with new novel coming

@alanheathcock -award winning author of highly charged collection, VOLT (2011)

@CherylStrayed – author of the memoir Wild

@tayari – Tayari Jones, author of Silver Sparrow and more

@SalmanRushdie – does he need introduction?

@Shteyngart – most enjoy his tweets in exchange w others, like Rushdie

@novaren – the writer of YA novel, Imaginary Girls, and more

@katemessner – a children’s writer and TED2012 speaker, who hosted TeachWrite! camp this summer

@alexizentner – author of Touch and The Lobster Kings (coming 2013)

@unitedirishman – Irish ex-pat writing crime noir (his The Cold Cold Ground is on my reading list), whose blog is fierce with wit and intelligence

I will read anything this witty writer posts:

@mat_johnson – author of the novel Pym, whose twitter profile reads, “Because it amuses me to say so.”

@emmastraub – author (on my summer reading list: Other People We Married (2012)), bookseller, @RookieMag  staffwriter, with a lovely wit.

(I follow many more writers than this, so check my list of writers.)


@Duotrope – a powerful writers’ resource listing 3,500 publications, with submission tracker — posts updates about publication reading periods, etc.

@newpages – tweets updated info on litmags, booksellers and more for writers, editors and readers.

@GrubWriters – Grub Street center for creative writing in Boston, hosts the MUSE conference in May (hastag #MUSE2012, or -2012

@poetswritersinc – Poets & Writers magazine – the only “how to” magazine I’ve ever liked for writers

@galleycat – “first word for news in the publishing industry” from Mediabistro

@PublishersLunch – tweets for Publishers Weekly

@BTMargins – Beyond the Margins literary blog

@janefriedman – has been an editor, current role changing, she posts frequently on all aspects of publishing and promoting literature


@JonathanGunson – a writer, sharing publishing, writing & emedia advice

@ErikaDreifus – author of The Quiet Americans, collects and shares useful information for writers

Teaching & Teaching Writing:

@writingproject – National Writing Project

@edutopia – “what works in education” – the George Lucas educational foundation

@RWTnow – Read Write Think. org

@nytimeslearning – New York Times Learning Network

Social Media or PR:

@robertleebrewer – a poet whose blog My Name is Not Bob is generous with advice on social media and more

@kmullett – Kevin Mullett – a developer/designer tech guy, not PR, who just… well, seems to get all those things folks have questions about

@wordwhacker – Linda Bernstein – writer, editor, blogger, posting about all this and social media and parenting

Look for Kevin and Linda on SM & tech chats using hashtags including: #pinchat #toolschat #tocc (tools of change)

Indie Booksellers:

@TatteredCover – an indie in Denver, with great online content

@indiebound – use to locate your neighborhood indie bookseller online, or purchase books online from any indie in the network.

(Raid this list to find all the independent booksellers I follow. Find one near you to do your shopping.  Find one to order from.  Connect with these guys to build your reading tour when your book launches.)

News Sources:

My two favorite sources for news:

@nytimes – The New York Times

@guardian – The UK’s Guardian

Other sources I follow:

@reuters – Reuters top news

@the_irish_times – Irish Times

@washingtonpost – Washington Post

Book News & Reviews:

@nytimesbooks – New York Times Books

@nybooks – NY Review of Books

@latimesbooks – LA Times Books

@guardianbooks – Guardian Books

Online Curators:

@brainpicker – Maria Popova shares one brilliant thing found online

@FridayReads – use the hashtag #fridayreads to share what you are reading each week

More Hashtags and Chats I Follow:

#toc variations – Tools of Change discussions and conferences

#litchat – literary or book chats held several times each week – great to visit, or to add to your book release tour

#YAlit, #MGlit or #kidlit – chats about young adult, middle grade & children’s lit

#amwriting #writetip – for kindred spirits at work on writing

#WSchat (formerly #MNINB) – Used by Wordsmith Studio, a writers’ group formed by participants from Robert Lee Brewer’s April 2012 Platform Challenge

#educhat – matters related to teaching and education

Twitter trick: Have you ever wondered what a hashtag stood for and didn’t know how to look it up?  Try this:

(If you’re curious about a meaning and the tag is not listed on the tagdef site — as happened for me with #WTLconf12 — you can always tweet someone using the tag to ask them the meaning.)

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Feel free to add your suggestions or your own Twitter ID in the comments, and do look me up: @elissafield

Housekeeping takes time: if we are already connected on Twitter, check to see if I added you to the twitter list you would fit on by checking here. If not, private message me so I can add you.

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Filed under Reading, Seeking Publication, Social Media

Social Media for Writers: Twitter (vs. Facebook)

I was just responding on Facebook to writer Kathy Conde, who read my last post about Why Writers Should Use Twitter (and my 5 Top Tips). Kathy is a fabulous writer in Colorado .  We met through online forums, but she expressed her reluctance with Twitter as arising partly from the cryptic brevity of twitter-speak.

Not just hashtags, not poetic brevity.  Twitter is more like semaphores, is it not?  Like telegram days, when you paid by the word. “Not dead. Home soon.”

We rose up from being cavemen, right?  Grunted, “Talk gooder,” and invented grammar for clarity.  Spent centuries melding language from hundreds of cultures to achieve elegance and exactness in word and sentence and intonation. Wordsmiths from throughout the ages must be smacking foreheads in their graves over this ugly Twitter relapse in language skills.

On that we agree.  I shudder to type “r” as a verb when 140 characters doesn’t leave room for the “a” and “e.”

But here’s the thing. If I were a sentry on a Revolutionary hill who spotted troops advancing, I might later have written a letter to my mother with real words and exclamations to describe the experience — but, in the moment, I would have been pretty stoked to have signal fire on hand to warn the distant village.

What’s odd about that metaphor is part of why Twitter is actually more intimate than one would expect. All that sentry can do is light a fire. Yet imagine the people in the village, the moment they see the plumes of smoke. Instantly, they know what the signal fire means. They experience communication of the shared fear — internally getting all it implies.  They build their own fire to signal back, “We saw it.  Thanks,” and to relay the warning on to the town next distant.

The signal fire at work for writers: Writers (Cheryl Strayed, Meghan Mayhew Bergman, Rebecca Makkai, Saeed “Ferocious Jones”) post that they have a reading at a book store tonight. I’m not in their town, but I know immediately their mix of expectation and hope for an audience. I have followers in that town.  I retweet, lighting signal fire for the next village:  “Are you in Brooklyn/Minneapolis/Pittsburgh… ? Go see…”

Twitter does this, but accomplishes what the fire only wished it could. That sentry, now long in his grave, nods in envy, because his fire could signal only “danger.”  The citizens of London neighborhoods tweeting about riots last summer could name streets, buildings, the kinds of danger and, when details got longer than 140 characters, add a link.  The sentry could have linked a blog on the number of soldiers, if they were on foot or horseback, a map with the direction of approach.

The signal-fire-plus-link works for writers partly through the access it gives us to immense cross sections of useful reading.  One Sunday morning I stumbled across a post with a hashtag for a publishing industry “non”-conference held in NYC, with countless industry players tweeting streams of the current issues and thoughts in the industry live from the various panels and roundtables they attended. Another morning began with link to a lighthearted and candid New York Times feature sharing Nathan Englander’s plans for the day, from coffeehouse and dogwalking, through writing and editing, through evening dinner plans. My last two Mondays, morning writing was kicked off by inspiration from Twitter links. This week, it was an hour-long conversation between Michael Chabon and Andrew Sean Greer, recorded at the Aspen Institute’s Winter Words.  They became the conversation in the room, as I re-envisioned a scene for my Irish novel (random piece about the character’s difficulty to steady his key to open a lock), that I now love.

Of course, the signal-fire-plus-link also serves writers as a chance to reach readers, by sharing links to new work or blogs, or simply things that interest us.

The main reason I have come to prefer Twitter over Facebook in recent months comes partly because of Facebook’s constantly shifting respect for its users — I begin to doubt the company’s integrity in how it will use our information, and many of my friends have begun to shun it, which makes it less useful to me.  Beyond this, Twitter offers a different kind of access than FB.  The benefit of Facebook conversations is they are comparable to a chat you’d have with someone you know over coffee. In that sense, they are more full and extended. The benefit to exchanges on Twitter is you have access to anyone. Exchanges are more limited, like what you’d say passing someone in the hall or riding on an elevator or passing on the street, possibly handing off a paper to be read. But think about that “passing on the street” essence:  How often, passing a stranger on the street would they pause in their step to tell you about the fab article they just read?  On Twitter, they do.  And that’s the difference.  Like living in a friendly, small town — but populated by everyone you could hope to connect with, in any industry or area of interest.

I describe it as a warm environment, but key to that is the amount you participate. If you rarely post or connect, then exchanges will be as cold as that stranger reading the paper on the subway. As you become more engaged, those “on the street” exchanges seem more like the way people in small southern towns used to call out to each other, sitting on front porches, to trade news. The people on the street may still be strangers, but with the familiarity of people in your village.

A couple weeks ago, Nova Ren Suma (author of Imaginary Girls and other young adult fiction, whom I first discovered through a Twitter #YAlit chat) was one of dozens of people tweeting that she was going to see Hunger Games.  Only, I knew that her tweeting this news was different from the hundreds of others reporting on the movie’s premiere, because she was in her second week of a monthlong writer’s residency in a grassy-hilled retreat overlooking the distant Pacific, so it took the coincidence of an excursion into town for her to be able to see the movie. I’ve read enough updates by New England writer Meghan Mayhew Bergman about her children, her marriage to a country vet, and their countless dogs, cats, chickens and other animals, to feel it when she posted about the sadness she felt, watching their aging dog approach her up the drive.

That said, I completely get the blank cryptic feel Twitter has.

In my post the other day, I said it took me months (years?) to warm to Twitter. Even now, I don’t feel that connection every time I glance at the feed.  The reason I post an article like this is because all the new forms of media are continually evolving grey areas for all of us. I once loved Facebook, wrangling all my friends to join. Now, I use it less, while a few of those who once refused to join are the ones prodding me to get back to it. I was reluctant with Twitter, now I sing its praises, although maybe six months from now I’ll be posting what a time-drain it is and no one clicks my links anyway (grinning, to imagine). Oh, now friends, don’t let’s even mention Pinterest. I was complete skeptic there, but do you know the greatest linker to my blog these days?…

If you want to find me on any of these media forms, I do welcome connection.  In the comments, I’m sure we’d all love to hear what media has worked for you and which ones you avoid.

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Related Posts:

Why Writers Should Use Twitter & Top 5 Tips to Get Started

Twitter for Writers: My Top Recommended Users (& Useful Hashtags)


Filed under Social Media

Why Writers Should Use Twitter and Top 5 Tips to Get Started

The legacy of Cypress Gardens (

Some of the best articles I read each week are through fellow blogs, newsfeeds and links I find on Twitter (find me at elissafield).  That said, since Twitter has played such an important role in where I am getting and sharing this reading, it’s time I sound off on why I think Twitter is so valuable.

I bet many of you are still Twitter skeptics.  A year ago, I had 3 Twitter accounts and honestly… could not see the point. I used Facebook daily to communicate with friends around the world (literally). I set up a separate Facebook for writing, and had been connecting with writers at Poets & Writers’ Speakeasy since back when not all of us had email accounts (really).

But, man.  That Twitter just made no sense.

Last fall, between following a series of advice on how to use the thing and beginning to use it more regularly, something clicked.

I can say this: it’s like when my dad taught us to waterski as kids.  Those first hundred yards, as the rope between you and the boat goes taut and begins to drag you artlessly through the water, the skis and chunky ski jacket adding resistance so it seems impossible to imagine you could ever lift up and glide across the water, it was so tempting to let go and give up. Newbies do that, calling back to whomever goads them on, “It’s not working!” But keep those skis and body in the right position, lean back against the pull as the boat gains speed, and there it is: water rushing beneath lifts the skis and up you go.

Getting up on skis isn’t impossible, but it’s a matter of getting up on plane – letting the boat accumulate speed and overcoming resistance so you lift and skim across the water.

In this metaphor, Twitter isn’t gliding when you first sign up because you do not yet have the momentum of a community to lift you, and you are not yet actively using muscles to work with that lift, to engage in the community so that posting and reading feels as fluid as conversation.  Once you seek out that lift and engage yourself, you pull free of the resistance and glide.

Why bother?

Extending the metaphor, the reason I’d push people to make the effort with Twitter is that active tweeps (Twitter peeps) find it becomes their hottest source of information, just like waterskiers who come to dash, leaping, across wakes.

For one, Twitter has become my fastest and most reliable source of news. New York Times and Guardian UK post news alerts the moment news hits, before it’s compiled and released through other media. I read about London riots on tweets last year, before anyone knew of the first fires. Reporters at the front lines and witnesses on site post firsthand accounts, and the media post frequent updates, so I get a more complete and corrected picture than other media has time to serve.

But beyond news, I’ve gained a watercooler intimacy on issues throughout the publishing industry. Not only can you get periodic news from the magazines and publishers you admire, but can connect individually with their editors, as well as agents, book reviewers, independent booksellers, librarians, and writers, readers and educators, at all levels.

And, hey, we’re not all that serious all the time. Can I say how thrilled I was to trade tweets with Tom Colicchio as he live-tweeted through Top Chef, or to trade tweets with the Dowager Countess Maggie Smith?

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That said, here are my top tips for getting up on plane with Twitter:

5 Top Tips for Succeeding with Twitter.

1)  Identify yourself clearly. Establish your account in the name you use for writing, not a nickname. This is how people can find you. Take the time to write a bio statement for your profile, that lets people know who you are. Do you write? Say you’re a writer. Is it poetry? Fiction? Nonfiction? Add that. Most of us have a day-job, too, or we’re parents or have other interests that impact who we are as people and as writers. Note these simply, and unapologetically. If part of your schtick is that you’re funny, be funny. If not, don’t think you have to be. Just try to convey who you are. And, hey – you can modify it as often as you want, as your identity changes.

2) Get people linking to you.  The key to Twitter is to draw further connection, so make sure to include a link to you, in your profile. If you have multiple media sites (Facebook, Pinterest, a blog, Tumblr), assume people will only click one, so list the primary link that you want to draw traffic to.  For example, list your website or blogsite, and have links to Facebook or other media on those sites.  (Note: there is an option to create an page, which is a splashy bio app, but don’t do that unless you have no other sites, as it will actually be diverting traffic away from your site.)

3)  Find key people to follow. Search out friends and colleagues. Search out authors, magazines and editors you admire. Follow your favorite news media or other influencers. Okay, not bad. When I was at this point, I was still a Twitter skeptic. The change from skeptic to being on-plane came for me when I discovered lists of the most recommended people to follow on Twitter.  Here are three lists of people to follow.  The first list is my own, posted June 14, 2012, and the other two each offer a different emphasis in selecting people to follow.

4) Use hashtags. Seriously, I think it’s a stupid word. We’ll move past that. Definition: hashtags are words, letters or abbreviations, preceded by the pound symbol: #. Wow do they make posts look ugly. We’ll get past that. They work. I really began to jump wakes with Twitter when I began making connections with others by participating in conversations I discovered using hashtags.  How? Keep one image in mind: growing community in Twitter is like the growth of crabgrass — you want to branch sideways, to reach more than just the people in your sights.

  • Use them when you post: When you post without hashtags, only your “followers” see your post. What if you’re new and are only followed by your mom and the account you set up for your dog? You found this great article on McSweeneys that jumpstarted your writing Monday morning, and posted the link. You had a Zen moment and posted a wise mantra.  You shared news that you finally finished novel edits. Unfortunately, the dog can’t read (What’s up with that? Lives in a house full of books, all that time on his paws, and still can’t read.), and mom is a twitter skeptic, so no one read your brilliance. When you add the hashtag (#writing or #amwriting, for example), it includes your post in the feed for conversations on that topic. Someone halfway across the planet you have no other opportunity to connect with now sees and clicks your link. They now: a. get the brilliance no one else saw, b. follow you to experience more brilliance, and c. retweet you, so the 2 or 200 or 2000 people following them now also see your brilliance.
  • Use hashtags when you read.  These hashtags are trickier — they tend to be tags you see included in an interesting post by a key player you are following. Don’t know what a hashtag means? Click it and see what people are talking about. Major conferences and events will establish a hashtag — for example, Associated Writing Programs used #AWP2012 during the annual conference that attracted some 10,000 writing and education professionals.  I’ve used hashtags to read the livestream of reporters attending a press conference for an international event who were live-tweeting before they even sent news back to their news desk (yeah, wow), and the livestream of publishing movers and shakers live-tweeting from panel discussions they were attending at an “un-conference” on change in the industry, held in NYC one Sunday morning. In both cases, not only did I gain remarkable insights by reading, but retweeting the genius I was witnessing convinced others I was genius as well, and led to many of my followers.
  • Use hashtags to participate in live chats. For nearly any topic you could want, there are live chats held on twitter, which you find by using the chat’s hashtag. I write adult fiction, but teach middle grades and ended up making connections with several young adult fiction writers, publishers, agents and teachers by participating in #YAlit (young adult) and #MGlit (middle grade fiction) chats I stumbled on to. I’ve met writers discussing their writing process by participating in “book tour” chats at #litchat, and discussed trends in education with teachers on various edu-chats.
  • You will notice that people also use joke hashtags, which is a funny way to make a point, although will not develop into a conversation unless everyone uses the tag. #works #pointmade #fewerwords That’s one reason for doing it. You can add an emotion to the post without having to say it in a full sentence, which the 140 characters don’t allow.  In twitter, I could have made the joke above with the silly hashtag #dogdoesntread #whatsupwiththat.
  • To get started, try this list of 40 Twitter Hashtags for Writers.

5) Number one suggestion is going down as number 5: participate. Reply to tweets. Comment on articles you read. Retweet articles that are worthwhile. I can give more specific advice about each of these, but will keep it simple here, because it is absolutely important to get this message: be genuine. Twitter is not for blasting demands. You may want people to buy your book or read your blog or follow you, but expect these things to happen naturally because you establish yourself as a participating member in the community. If you tweet and retweet things that are of interest, people will be drawn to find out more about you. Yes, share alerts when you post a new blog or get a story published, but readers will “unfollow” tweeters who only post “buy my book” updates. Don’t: harass, stalk, turn into a megalomaniac or post that you ate cereal for breakfast. Do: send thank you messages when people follow you, reply with interest when you liked a post or link, retweet the things you found worthwhile. Be genuine. Be mannerly. Be funny if it’s in you. Be helpful. Share what you know.

Those are my top five.  Feel free to start by connecting with me and seeing who I follow.  Leave comments to let me know how it goes, or post questions I could address in the next post.

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Filed under Social Media, Writing Life