Wednesday, 20 May 2015


I kept seeing mentions of Twitter, and how important it was for self-publishing. I'd always held back from Twitter. I'd assumed it was just full of self-absorbed people tweeting that they'd just had a sandwich or something. I'd also picked up the idea that it was somehow dangerously addictive. I confess I didn't try very hard to reconcile those two contradictory facts. It should have told me there was something more, there.

So I asked some good friends (John Rosauer, Ross Cartlidge, Peter Allworth) what they thought about it, and was quickly disabused. Technologically speaking, it filled a completely new niche in communications, providing a service that had never been achieved before: many-to-many communication. So different from TV, email or SMS (one-to-many) or phone (one-to-one), or even facebook. I still didn't 'get' it, but started reading up on it. I bought a few books that covered Twitter and writing or publishing: Get Your Book Published by Katherine Lapworth, The Business of Being Social by Michelle Carvill and David Taylor, and the ebook, Twitter for Writers by Rayne Hall (@RayneHall).

After futzing about for a while, starting and then stopping with each, and creating a Twitter account for myself, today I plunged in. Rayne's book was quite short, purely about Twitter for writers, and a very engaging read. Partway through I realised I really needed to go even further back to basics, and so I read up on it on Wikipedia. Gradually a picture was forming, and I plunged back into Rayne's book.

I think I've formed a correct (basic) picture of Twitter, and I'll see now if I can share what I've learned. As usual, as I learn more, I'll correct/update this post, later.

What it is:

I think in this case, a metaphor really helps. I picture Twitter as a river that flows past my door, a digital river. And the river is made up of flows from lots of little streams; lots of different tributaries. This river carries alls sorts of flotsam and jetsam, some of it bright and fun and distracting, some of it deep and meaningful and even heart-breaking. And it's all digital: you can pick up and keep any of the flotsam, and play with it and use it, and that piece of flotsam is still there in the river waiting for others to pick it up and use it or play with it, too. You literally can have your cake and eat it too. Of course, some of it you have to pay for, but lots of it is free.

Rayne wrote that who you choose to follow is crucial. To vary my metaphor slightly, the digital river that is Twitter, for which you've carved the channel that runs past your front door, is where you can sit and pan for gold. But the source of the gold that goes into 'your' river is the deluge of tweets of all the people you follow. So by choosing people who tweet stuff that's interesting to you, you're making sure that more nuggets of gold go into the water. It's also a good way, I think, to consider what you yourself should tweet. It seems obvious, but by tweeting what you think is interesting or useful, there's a better chance that you've produced a little nugget of gold yourself.

It's like a microcosm of the whole publishing field, which itself is a microcosm of the whole human endeavour. Every day, all across the world, human beings are creating something from nothing: ideas that never existed, brought into the real world by the power of thought (and hard work). Stories that never existed before, products and services that never existed before. Like almost-free solar lighting from water-filled plastic drink bottles silicon-rubbered into tin shanty roofs. (Seriously, how brilliant is that!) Every day, all across the world, more treasure is added to the world. More value is created; more wealth. And, I firmly believe, humans are even improving how much of this wealth is shared: how much flows out to people who need it. We're intrinsically community and group-oriented; apart from people whose brains are wired wrongly, our innate helpfulness only fails when we manage to convince ourselves that other humans are Other, outside our group, and don't count. Aren't really like us; maybe aren't even human. But the trend, over decades and centuries, and millennia, is clearly up.

Oops. What was I talking about, again? Ah, yes, Twitter.

So you have a tab open in your browser (or a mobile app) that just shows your Twitter feed. Your digital gold-panning river, with tweets flowing down the page and scrolling off into the past. Fed by just the twitter streams of the people you follow. You write your message in a bottle, throw it into Twitter, and it floats down from the source and into the rivers of all the people following you. So you can even have conversations: ask questions, get answers.

It's starting to become clear how it could become addictive, eh? Just today, from @SciFiFanReads, I suddenly see some cool-sounding books floating past, and click through to Amazon and See Inside. Now, the last thing I need is more good books to read – I have a coffee table (actually, three coffee tables), piled up with, at last count, 160 paperbacks I've eagerly bought and I'm waiting to make time to read. Suddenly, here I am with another 1,000 pages of hopefully-gripping stories to read. (In case anyone's interested, they're Feyland #1 by Anthea Sharp, Runes #1 by Ednah Walters, and Beautiful Demons #1 by Sarra Cannon.) And because they were on a kindle discount, today they were free! How could I resist? So the least I can do will be to write a review as I finish each.

So, yeah, Twitter is starting to look pretty addictive, as well as pretty useful. I suppose, as with any of life's other pleasures, the solution is simply to be disciplined, and to consciously limit the time you allow yourself with it.

Though right now I need to head off to get to a Sydney Writers Festival talk on Twitter (Telegrams to Twitter: The Changing Face of Communication), which starts at 6pm!

Oh! I should probably add, my own Twitter account is @LukeJKendall. See you by the riverbank! :-)

Just returned from the discussion ("From Telegrams to Twitter"). A good panel and an interesting night. I have more confidence that what I've written, above, is correct. The panel were cool - Adele Horin, Kerri Sackville, Phoebe Roth, Olga Horak, and Dan Grynberg). So too were the audience. I even got to ask my key question - how important is Twitter now, for publishing in general? There was a strong consensus that it's crucial nowadays. Afterwards, I also managed to ask Phoebe about my Twitter-as-a-river-metaphor, and she thought that, yes, it was very apt.

One of the topics touched on was how much "crap" there is out there online, although mixed in with a lot of really good stuff, too. Considering the title of the night's panel discussion, I thought it a little ironic that no one pointed out that that's exactly what Twitter does. Twitter is effectively a crowd-sourced solution to the tricky problem of finding "good stuff", when the definition of good stuff varies from person to person. I think it was probably because we were running out of time by that point.

On a silly personal note: the talk started at 6pm, but until 6pm most parking spots were one hour. I managed to genuinely impress a convivial group of Darlinghurst-ites as they chatted and drank outside the pub as they watched me park, directly in front of them (only about 10cm space both front and rear); and a kind lady from the audience gave me a helpful assist to make an equally-neat departure afterwards. Thank you to that kind soul!

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