Writing and social media – the mysterious Twitter

Joe’s Post #113

twitterAh, Twitter. What a confusing creature you are to me.

I’ve had you explained to me a whole bunch of times, but your hashtags and retweets and quoted retweets and sorting out the good from the spam, well, it’s a lot to ask of me. To kind of quote the very wise Pooh bear, “I’m a bear of very little brain and this new tech stuff bothers me.”

But yes, I’m back to trying to understand and use Twitter. In theory, it should be a thing I love. Something quick to read. Nothing too taxing on my small brain. A few links. Even the odd picture. But no, it’s something I’m struggling with.

However, I’m taking on being a bit more active in the Twitter-verse.


I’m an idiot.

But also I want to understand it so I can increase our 5/5/5 social media presence. Even if I eventually don’t go the Twitter route, I still want to, you know, get it. I want to live in the year 2014 and not hide out in 1980 when the world was simple and rad.

So here are my challenges.

  • How to find interesting people to follow (and who’ll be interested in anything I have to say?). It’s tough to read through people’s bios and figure out if there’s a connection. Maybe that’s the wrong way to go. Maybe I need to just spam everyone.
  • brienneI don’t want this to occupy my whole time. I want this to be quick. Easy. I can’t forsake writing to be the king of Twitter. Or the court jester of Twitter. Maybe that would be my title in Game of Thrones. “Good morning, Brienne of Tarth, I am Joe of Twitter.” “Where is Twitter?” “It is nowhere and everywhere.” And then shakes her head and she stabs me with her sword.
  • I want to figure out a way to get people to read my blog via Twitter. I thought of putting ‘naked women’ in my titles but wouldn’t that just drive pervs to my feed? They’re not exactly my target audience, some of my posts to the contrary.
  • I don’t want to wake up feeling like I have to feed the beast every day. It’s a lot of work and guilt that I don’t need. But I do realize that the beast has to get fed, so I’ll kick up my game with posts.
  • I am old, and new things are tough for me to learn. Eating pie is easy. I’ve done it a ton before. But learning something new and all techie and complicated, yeah, not my favourite thing. I have to be able to overcome the inertia of doing the same-old-same-old and overcome the confusion and terror of learning something hard.

So, anyone know how to make this easier? I hear wine helps.

In other news, the journey to a new book begins, like Silk and Paula and Karalee have posted.

Here’s the new running update.

This week, call it week 1

Ordered and received a book I’m going to dissect to learn how to write my book. I won’t copy it, but I want to understand the beats and pacing better.

foylesOrdered and received Foyle’s War DVDs. I’ll be writing a story set in WW2 and I’ll be doing all kinds of research, but for me, seeing something, looking at the fine details, is the best thing I can do.

Outlines Done – 0

Pages written on New Book – 0

# of pies eaten – 1 (ok, one slice, but it was amazing)

# of new friends made on Twitter – 86

# of new friends I imagine will read my Twitter feeds – 86

# of new friends on Twitter who will likely read my posts – 3

# of times I thought about giving up writing and becoming a lion tamer – 3

Courses I’ve signed up for – 1 (wordpress)

Days to SiWC – 14



The 13th ingredient

Image source: Kulfoto.com

Image source: Kulfoto.com

Helga’s Post # 82:  A new milestone: Joe just posted his 100th, great post. No, it’s a fantastic post and his followers are lapping it up. A writer’s candid journey to be continued. It’s a break-out story and we are here to cheering you on, Joe.

Another milestone: The Surrey International Writers’ Conference just opened its doors to register for the October conference. For anyone who has never heard of it, SiWC takes place every October in British Columbia and has done so consistently for the last 22 years. In their own words, “It is the most comprehensive conference of its kind in Canada. SiWC offers writers in all genres — from beginners to experts — the opportunity both to hone their craft and to expose their work to the international literary marketplace.”

This is no small claim. Having attended five years of SiWC, I believe this is a rather modest claim. How can one argue with 22 years of consistently drawing anywhere from 500 to 700 or more writers, aspiring authors and published authors to meet for three days and celebrate the act of writing? It’s an amazingly successful conference, as evident from its presenters and keynote speakers of bestselling authors like Diana Gabaldon, Anne Perry, Elizabeth George, and that’s just scratching the surface. There have been hundreds of published authors in attendance over the years, generously offering practical advice to writers at all stages, sharing their successes, and yes, failures. Not to mention some of the most capable writing gurus in the English-speaking world. They have taught me the nuts and bolts of writing and then some. See Joe’s comprehensive and useful list of what it takes to create a good book. I believe he too has learned some of it from attending SiWC.

In case you think I have a vested interest, let me assure you, I do not. I may not even attend this year. But I owe the conference a great deal. I don’t think I would have persevered all these years as a writer if it had not been for SiWC. There is something special about sharing time and space with hundreds of kindred spirits soaking up all that sage advice. Especially when it comes from people whose names are household words for writers, names prominently displayed in bookstores around the world. Their books often translated into ten languages, or twenty, or more.

Sharing a late night drink at the bar with folks like that and hearing about how they started out is a real treat. Learning that they too got dozens or hundreds of rejection letters before an agent had the right instinct to take them on. And how they never lost confidence in their writing skills. How they carried on, regardless.

That’s inspiration. Like fertilizer to a garden. Like water to a parched landscape.

Like almost anything in life, there are downsides. To some. When a writer pitches his or her manuscript to a literary agent – which the conference offers free of charge – and does not get an invitation to submit it to the agency. I have seen writers crushed and in tears in the washroom after their 10-minute allotment for pitching that failed to produce the desired results. We all think our manuscript has merit and the world would be so much better off if our work gets published. How dare an agent, perhaps twenty or thirty years younger, to say, sorry, not for us. And upon further prompting, to hear, well, your characters are sort of cardboard, and furthermore, I would stop reading after the first paragraph (and not infrequently, after the first sentence!). And in any case, you haven’t been able to tell me in all but ten minutes what your book is about.

Harsh words indeed. Chastening words. But likely the most valuable feedback a writer can receive. Because let’s face it, literary agents don’t make a living by rejecting manuscripts. They do so finding the perfect ones, those that have a chance to attract readers and have them pining for the next book from that author. And if they decide to reject you, it’s most likely for solid reasons.

So this too is a benefit that SiWC is known for – the free pitches. Not for the faint of heart to be sure, or for writers whose egos are larger than their talent or quality of their written work. We are like any other professional in that regard. Some can take it and benefit from it, using feedback as a springboard to improve, while others will stop trying and give up because they didn’t hear what they wanted.

So, yes, feedback is what you get at the conference. Plenty of it, so be prepared. If you can’t take it or think you don’t need it, this may not be for you. But do consider its benefits. Think of feedback as a gift to help you take your product, your writing, to the next level, rather than letting it destroy your self-confidence. I recall from my professional working years that some people are simply unable to accept honest feedback. They are so mired in images of the high quality of their achievements that they are crushed when someone points out that they have a way to go yet. But that lofty self-image alone will not change mediocre or poor work into something superior. Conversely, those writers who listen and learn and are able to put their ego on the back burner have a much better chance to get published.

American film director and musician Fred Durst puts it succinctly: “To walk around with an ego is a bad thing. To have confidence in yourself is a great thing.”

That’s not to say that writers don’t thrive on positive feedback. They do, like everyone else. Often it depends on the way it’s given. Not everyone is equally gracious, and as Dale Carnegie reminds us, ‘Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self control to be understanding and forgiving.’

But we writers better grow a thick skin and learn to live with honest advice. If more than one agent, or your critique group tells you – politely or bluntly – that your story has no legs, and no one will care about your protagonist, we better listen up. Better to silence that monster, our ego, and start something fresh and new. After all, it’s just another story, one of thousands and more waiting to be told and written. Any time we want. As often as we want.

So here I am adding ingredient # 13 to Joe’s excellent post, ’12 Steps to creating a great book’:

Grow a thick skin and accept feedback as a gift. Be strong enough to keep your self-confidence but humble enough to listen to what you need to improve.

If you are anywhere in easy traveling distance to British Columbia, try to attend the Surrey conference in October. You might be surprised at how much you’ll take home with you. How much it will change you as a writer.

Will I attend this year again? I haven’t decided. I really would like to have a manuscript to pitch, and at this point I regret to say, I don’t. Not yet. But that’s still four months away. You never know.

Surrey Writer’s Con (to pee or not to pee)

Joe’s Post #64

How do you tell you’re at a great workshop? Well, let me tell you. When you are willing to cripple your prostate to stay.

That’s what the “Idol’ workshop was like. Jack Whyte, looking thin and frail but still belting out the written words in that beautiful baritone timbre of his, the agents listening and judging (quite gently I might add), and me soaking up every little bit of information.

You see, it was like being in their head for a moment. Forget what you read in books or on the internet or scribbled on the bathroom walls, agents are people, they read a different way than we do and while they long to find that next amazing manuscript, they will look for a way to put it down.

So let me give you some of the things I learned.

Beautiful writing doesn’t count for much. There has to be more. And this leads to one of the main themes. That first page, it needs to do more than one thing. There can’t just be observations (hello, Joe, that’s on you) or dialogue or clever descriptions or even just action. They needed that first page to have pacing and introduce the character and start the story and define location and something has to happen and movement and …

Ok, you don’t have to do EVERYTHING on the first page but there has to be more than one thing. The pages they loved wove in movement and action and dialogue while introducing the main character AND location.

Something I need to look at.

They all hated any story that started with someone waking up.

They all loved a story with VOICE.

They always wanted a reason to care.

They never want to see backstory in the first page, unless it’s in and out fast, like more of a hint of the backstory, but the moment you stop to tell us history, bam, they’d put it down.

Something has to happen. An odd thing to have to write but I know it’s easy to have characters thinking or describing or the author is setting the scene or whatever. Ask yourself. What is happening on page 1? Are they waiting? (Mine are!  Do I have enough tension? Movement? Action? Dialogue?).

But as I sat there, holding my bladder, wishing I was 6 again and could just grab my wienie and pinch it, I realized that if that next page wasn’t awesome, I wanted it gone! I didn’t want to waste a burst bladder on someone writing about what a grain silo looks like.

This went back to something I learned in the Oregon Writing Workshops. We had overnight to create an anthology. 80,000 words. It was 11 pm when we were allowed to start and we had to have it ready by 8 am. It meant we had to chose about 20-25 stories.

Being writers, we read the first story all the way through. And a lot of us, the second. It was midnight, now, and we had a stack, I kid you not, as high as Tyrion Lanister. Hundreds of stories. HUNDREDS! How the hell were we going to choose 20-25 stories? Do the math.
At 30 minutes a story, we could read 18 stories.

So we started to look at the first sentence, that first paragraph and if it was good enough, we put that story aside. Nothing personal. No mean intentions, but it could happen that quick.

Same here. It could happen that quick. An agent is dog tired from a long day, wants to look at a few queries and sample chapters. It’s your chance. But if that first page isn’t GREAT, isn’t amazing, doesn’t hold their attention, they will move on. Nothing personal. No mean intentions. It could be lovely writing. It could be the best that you’ve done. But does it ‘wow’? Cuz that is what we need to do.

On the first page!

However, the biggest lesson to learn here: it’s all subjective. Believe it. Two agents hated one of the submissions. Hated it. One asked to see the book. Go figure.

That is the thing that keeps me hoping against all odds. Forget the 200 rejections. Find that one.

Now, time to take a look at that first page again. What? I have three characters in separate rooms thinking? Seriously? How did that happen?