Recently, someone of substantial literary clout asked me a question I have been dreading for some time: ‘Can we expect to hear more from you on Twitter? It can be very useful for writers.’
Oh dear. I’d been sprung. I had to admit that I don’t really get what Twitter is for if one is not overthrowing a dictatorship or having a steamy affair with Liz Hurley. I’m just not into it. And before anyone starts banging on about a generation gap, wait for it ‘peeps’, I’m a member of Gen Y. (Just. Hand me my knitting needles and show me to a Smokey Dawson Easy Lift Recliner.) The more I think about it and the more I attempt to harness the useful forces of Twitter, the more I feel it is to the detriment of that delicate stage for my writing that lies between the first seeds of inspiration and the actual setting of words on a page – the thinking bit.
Don’t get me wrong I am abreast with the current publishing upheaval: the demise of traditional booksellers, the precarious position of print journals. (Then there are those who stand waiting for the novel to die so they can take their pickings of the estate like your second cousins at the deathbed of Great Aunt Nell – the ones who had already popped stickers with their name on all the good furniture.) I have read the articles that assert that if emerging writers are to ‘make it’ in this shiny new cyber age they must create and maintain a strong online profile. But it is my opinion that the process of tweeting steals from the process of writing, and writers can easily spend so much time building their online profile that they can’t get anything written.
Much of this ground has already been covered by Cate Kennedy on this very site (and more recently Jacinda at Meanjin). I agreed with much of what Kennedy in particular wrote on the subject – but it also now occurs to me that she has an advantage which I do not: she already has the attention of publishers. And it is no secret that the portion of those who bask in the warm glow of the attention of print publishers is shrinking. Add to this the fact that I found myself on a shortlist for a certain Fellowship, and have discovered that few of my ‘fellow’ shortlistees have Twitter accounts. Ah ha, my opportunity to strike! To gain a little advantage, perhaps, since publishers are so very concerned about this online profile bizzo.
So, after this recent prompting I attempted to revive the lifeless carcass of my Twitter account. The initial stages of this were quite enjoyable: I re-designed my profile page, a process which reminded me of that bit in Tony Hawk’s ProSkater II where one could design one’s own skater dude. (Take that, whipper snappers!) Then I filled in a few bits about myself in the bio. Then, I humbly attempted to formulate a tweet. Immediately I was met with the question, ‘Is it possible to Tweet humbly?’ The very premise of Twitter relies solely on one factor: that the 140 characters in one’s head are worthy of proclamation to the whole world. Or, in this case, my nine followers. (Hi guys!)
‘Ah, yes,’ you may say. ‘But you call yourself a writer. This itself depends on the fact that you believe you have precious thoughts in your head that deserve to be read by others.’
Well, yes. But the process of getting these thoughts onto a page is a long and tortured one. I am not Stephen Fry. I find it difficult to instantaneously think of pithy statements of 140 characters or less. I also don’t spend enough time on the netasphere to come across lots of interesting links. (This could be because I spend so much time thinking of new names for the internet.) And there are already people who do this so very well. (Hi Jeff!) But, just like those lucky few who find themselves in the background of a Channel Ten weather update, I felt I must make the most of this opportunity and at least attempt a few handstands.
So, what first? ‘Think, woman! Think!’ Nothing. No pithy statements leapt from my skull. Instead I spent half an hour looking for an article I could pop a link up to. (Thank you, New Yorker.) Half an hour I could have spent writing, or thinking about writing. For inspiration I thought I might see what other writer-folk were tweeting about. Maybe I could mix up the syntax and steal a few. (Already reduced to plagiarism after half an hour.) So I had a look for my favorite writers: Craig Silvey? Nothing. Sonya Hartnett? Nothing. Jonathan Safran Foer? David Sedaris? Reif Larsen? Nothing. Zadie Smith? Three tweets, six months ago. Annie Proulx? Nothing. (Maybe I spelt her name wrong.) What does this mean?!
And guess what happened while I was searching for these people? I got distracted by people who are on Twitter, following all sorts of fascinating links, yet only filling my head with more noise. Substantial noise, nonetheless, but still noise.
Perhaps it really does come down to a time thing. As the mother of a toddler, minutes of time to myself are very few. I have to maximise their productivity. I must wring out whatever time is left after eating and sleeping if I am to get any actual writing done. This isn’t to say that I don’t spend any time nosing about webblytown, of course I do. I just don’t feel compelled to broadcast my findings yet. Usually because someone with more clout than I already has done so. (Unless the said finding is a design for Robbie the Robot with built-in espresso machine. That was awesome.)
Nor is this post intended to take aim at those who enjoy a regular tweet and find it to be a productive use of their time. Rather, perhaps what I am saying is this: Twitter is another tool out there for writers. It doesn’t mean we all should use it. Just as some writers strap themselves to their chairs for eight hours a day and others only write sporadically between the hours of 11pm and 2am, some will surely find Twitter useful and some will not. Some may find that it keeps them engaged and thinking and reflecting and thus writing. Some, like myself, may find it makes them self-conscious and renders them mute, second-guessing every word they write.
Thus, for the moment I think I will stop trying to fake it. Unless I come across any more interesting robot designs.