“When every lie speaks the language of love,
It never held the meaning I was thinking of
And I lost the line between right or wrong,
I just want to find a place where I belong.”
(Beth Orton: Stolen Car)
So Twitter? What’s that all about then?
It’s almost a year since I delved into the world of Tweeting (yes I am always late to every party, if indeed I get there at all) and so I thought I’d mark the anniversary with a blog post about how the year has developed there as, believe it or not, Twitter and my writing journey are intrinsically linked, of that there is no escaping. So here is Part 1 of “My Twitter History”; an unlikely place for me to belong.
A couple of weeks ago I posted a story about Lily. Lily felt she as though she didn’t belong on the playground she wandered every playtime or, more specifically, she didn’t feel as though she belonged with the kids she shared the playground with. For a long time this is how Twitter seemed for me. It felt like that playground – a place where I’d never belong. Too full of cool people and celebrities for someone like me .
I’d avoided Twitter like the plague for all of the time I’d known about it (as I’d avoided Facebook until the middle of 2010). First off I didn’t like the name ‘Twitter’ or the terminology ‘tweeting’. “We’re not sodding birds” I’m sure are words which once came out of my mouth.
On one long motorway journey to a gig in London in 2012 my brother’s mate had even tried extolling its virtues to me:
“Oh you should get yourself on the Twitter Jo, it’s great. I hardly bother with Facebook anymore.”
(Yes we’d noticed.)
“But isn’t Twitter just a place where ordinary folk stalk celebrities and where celebrities tweet each other luvvie stuff?” I asked “It wouldn’t be for me. Besides you’re only allowed 140 characters aren’t you? What can you say in 140 characters.? Everyone knows I’m completely verbose, you’ve seen my FaceBook statuses…blah blah blah” (see this is me, Verbose. Twitter? Pah!)
“Tim Burgess is all over Twitter, you’d love it Joanne,” my brother chimed in.
Fast forward 6 months and I’m sitting in a school hall on a Teacher Training day listening to the dulcet Liverpudlian tones of the inspirational Sir John Jones. Sir John WHO? You say. Yes, well who indeed? As it turns out an ex head teacher who is now so in demand as an inspirational education speaker he’s flitting up and down the country motivating teachers across the land. It was from him speaking about technology and the fast moving pace of our lives and how just because we are middle aged or older, doesn’t mean we should be left behind that I started to take the idea of Twitter seriously. He spoke about social media, and Twitter in particular, and as I had done with Facebook 3 years previously I thought: “If you can’t beat ’em, join em” and that very evening I hyper-jumped into the Twitterverse.
Okay hyper-jumped might be a slight exaggeration. I had absolutely no clue what I was doing, or even really why I was doing it. A good friend of mine said after I announced my leap into the unknown:
“Oh I use Twitter, but it’s still very hard to fathom. It seems to me to be the equivalent of getting in with a cool group of friends at school that only speak in spurts, hence me not really getting it.”
Yep, he summed it up quite nicely I thought. This is exactly as it felt. I had no idea what was going on. The first person I followed was Sir John then the school I work at (you know to keep up) and thirdly Tim Burgess. (naturally) A couple of friends followed me so I followed them back along with my brother and his mate and Stephen Fry (obviously, because who doesn’t follow the twitter king?). A handful of others followed these but other than checking up on the latest gigs and sounds from Tim, checking out some interesting Ted Talks, sharing jokes and music with a couple of friends, I couldn’t see the point. My friends and family were on Facebook already so my activity on Twitter was quite limited. And that’s how it stayed for a while.
Eventually, I followed a couple of writers, a couple of writers followed me and I followed them back. In those early days the writers who I followed were mainly of the type who retweet and share blog links about writing which, as it turned out, was exactly what I needed. At the time my first draft was out with some children but as I read more and more writer’s blogs I realised I had A LOT of serious work to do. These early writers I followed may not have been into the big social interaction but the information they shared was invaluable. I learned about self publishing and writing and reading and editing and well just about everything related to writing. Stuff I didn’t know yet should have known before I embarked on writing a novel.
It turned out from reading the blogs that the biggest piece of advice I could have was that if I was hoping to publish a book then I should, well…get myself an author blog and start blogging. this would serve apparently to set the ground work and “get myself out there.” Oh jeeze. I’d hated the word blogging even more than tweeting when I first heard it. I don’t know why, I can’t explain it. I’m still not particularly enamoured with the verb if I’m honest. It sounds as though you have some sort of nasal problem and can’t say blocking properly. Anyway, I’d first heard the term ‘blogging’ back in the way back of when, banded around as a great idea to try out with kids in school. However I.T is not my bag and blogging to me simply sounded like quite a pointless, narcissistic thing to partake in, given there was email and Facebook and MSN and Skype to communicate through. You know, not to mention texting and actually talking to other human beings. I couldn’t see the point. (There are times even now when I don’t see the point, like right now for instance. Why am I sat here on a Saturday afternoon, blogging about my journey into Twitter? I mean really who actually cares? – I’ll come back to that point later.)
So in June of last year, against all the voices of the past yelling at me, I decided to set up a blog. In actual fact it was another writer on Twitter who inspired and planted the seed in my brain for me to set up a blog along with a Facebook page but I’m not sure if he even realises it was he whose model I followed. Russell Sanderson (you can find him on Twitter at @sheddenizen) was one of the first writers I came across on Twitter. He’s one of the quieter writers I’ve come to know but he’s given me great pointers and advice, is very down to earth, none “schmoozy” as I like to say! He’s on quite a similar journey to myself as he is writing for the Middle Grade/Young Adult market too. So yes, Russell, if you’re reading I have you to thank for inspiring me to get off my backside and start a page and blog!
I knew I needed to have a focus for my blog rather than it being a myriad of ramblings (Ooops -fail) which is why it started life as a blog about the writing journey. Essentially that’s what it still is although it seems to be evolving slightly and I’m doing the thing I said I despised about blogging initially. It’s starting to become something of a platform for some of my more random musings – a place where I can write about anything I like really, sort of like an online diary. Whereas no one really read the blog when it started so it didn’t matter too much, now quite a few people do so I feel a bit strange and a bit of a let down sometimes sharing so much. But hey, no one’s forcing anyone to read. For me, blogging has become a good vehicle to practise my writing or share and receive feedback on what I write. Blogging also helps me to channel the never ending monologue stream that runs through my head. These are my primary reasons for blogging now. It’s not really about self promotion as I thought it would be at first or at least thought it should be. It’s a bonus if people do read and respond.
For a few months the blog got only a few hits, some by family and friends (though they don’t bother so much anymore) and some via WordPress itself. It didn’t worry me. I couldn’t believe even one person would want to read it, let alone the few regular hits I had each week or so.
But it was Twitter which started to bring people (I hate the term “traffic” as I see so many refer to people who visit blogs) to this page. Not because it was on my bio and not because I tweeted, saying “please visit my blog”. No, the blog grew as Twitter grew. It all seemed to happen quite suddenly around October time. I was starting to build up an increasingly larger following, which started, I realised later, simply because I had begun to become more active on Twitter. If you are active, you put yourself out there for people to interact with. If you sit there expecting people to come to you, well then it doesn’t happen. However my activity at that point was still limited to tweeting with a few friends and the odd # regarding TV programmes or issues in the news. I wasn’t brave enough to always tweet with people I didn’t know, but when I saw others did it, I slowly began to do the same. Soon a steady following began to grow. BUT and this is a big but… (no, I know I have a big butt, but I’m not talking about that right now) numbers bother me not one jot. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to have people feel they want to follow you, but I am not obsessed with if people follow me then un-follow me. I don’t care. I still don’t know why I started on Twitter but one thing is for sure, it was not to amass some huge cult following in the hope everyone would buy my book. As my novel is a children’s novel I wouldn’t expect any of the people who follow me on Twitter to buy it. I know my marketing and promotion strategy will have to be more robust and child centred than that. (But this advice goes to anyone who thinks tweeting about your book 24/7 is going to make people want to buy it. It’s not. Please stop. Okay. Public Service Announcement done.)
What has come out of Twitter for me (and if you ask most writers on there the same thing) it is the unexpected and wonderfully supportive, online community I have gradually uncovered. My own particular hub began first with Russell as I have already mentioned, a British writer who tweets with me not only about writing but also about wood burning stoves, Game of Thrones and generally cosy winter based themes! (whilst it’s still winter at least!) But one of the people I first properly interacted with on the other side of the Atlantic bought me to my current network of very wonderful friends. She sadly seems to have disappeared from Twitter and her blog, for which I am sad, because if it wasn’t for her I may not have discovered some of the most wonderful writer people to talk to online (more on them in Part 2) or have found the place where I finally feel a sense of belonging – something I’ve been searching for since the mid 1990’s.
My Twitter bio has not changed since I first wrote it a year ago except for one thing. I started with ‘Twitter Novice’ but it now starts with ‘Twitter Addict’. For an introvert who doesn’t feel comfortable with interaction in large groups but does crave social interaction, debate and chat, Twitter has been a revelation.
Thank you as ever for reading and sticking with me on this leg of my journey.
Next Week: A cast of 140 characters and how Twitter may well turn me into a recluse in: A Place Where I Belong (Part 2)