Monday, May 24, 2010

Life Lessons I've Learned from Twitter

For the longest time, I was one of those “I don’t understand the point of Twitter” people. It all seemed so pointless – the online equivalent of thousands of people congregating on a street corner and yelling "Hey! Hey! Hey!" and “Listen to me!”

But then my friend, the social media-savvy @QuiltinRedhead set me up with a Twitter account while I was visiting at her house. Suddenly, a whole new world opened up: a world where literary agents bemoaned getting sick & housebound while on a family vacation, where editors from respectable publishing houses confessed their weakness for cute baby animal pictures, and where struggling writers have exactly the same opportunity as literary luminaries.

I have her to thank for all the connections I have made. (I could also make a case for blaming her for the time I have wasted tweeting when I should be working.)

And I have Twitter to thank for several life lessons I have learned in the few months that I’ve been a tweetin’. For instance:

LESSON #1: You Can Never Have Too Many Friends

Some of my favorite Twitter voices are of a scathingly funny acquisitions editor in Chicago, a rabid “Chuck” fan in New Jersey, an aspiring writer in Sweden, and two relentlessly acerbic literary agents – one in New York, the other in London. I call these, and a good portion of the over 200 people I follow “friends.” I like to believe that if I met these folks in Real Life, we would, indeed, hit it off.

I choose to follow these people – quirks and all. Some are more talkative than others. Some rarely speak up. Some share intimate personal details: wardrobe malfunctions, bodily effluvia, childhood trauma… Some are unfailingly optimistic. Others are incorrigible pessimists.

These people allow me glimpses into their lives on a regular basis. Whenever I choose to check in, several of them are already there. Instead of a big, noisy streetcorner, it’s more like the student center in University: someone’s always hanging out, willing to talk. I can listen in to a multitude of conversations, introduce one interesting person to another, and contribute if I have something of note.

Those who stay on my follow list are those who are interesting and who have something relevant to say. I believe that I can never have too many people like that in my life.

LESSON #2: You Don’t Owe Nobody Nuthin’

I am not an auto-follower. If someone follows me, I find out who they are. I read their recent tweets. I visit their website. More often than not, I follow them back. (I’m a dyed-in-the-wool people watcher and love hearing what others have to say. LESSON #1 is one of my life’s governing principles.)

I don’t have to believe what someone else does in order to find that person interesting. I follow atheists, Jews, agnostics, and Christians, male & female, right- and left-wingers, gay & straight, published & unpublished.

However, I don’t automatically add a new follower to my list. In fact, I actively block people from following me if they appear to be spammers (1500 tweets, all on “How To Make $$ On Twitter In Just 5 Minutes a Day!”) or shameless self-promoters (1500 tweets all linking to a single website: theirs).

My time is mine. And I admit to a certain penchant for spending too much time as it is reading the tweets of people I actually like. I don’t want tweets from bots, spammers, or egotists clogging my Twitter stream. I don’t owe anyone a follow-back. Furthermore, if I follow someone and decide that I’m no longer interested in what they have to say, I don’t have to remain a follower. In Twitter, as in life, sometimes things are better if we just part ways and move on.

LESSON #3: Time Is Currency

I charge an hourly rate for my professional services. I am not inclined to alter that rate downward or (God forbid) to begin giving away my work for free.

Time is a finite commodity. Every day, I am given a specific amount and forced to spend it all. I cannot make more of it. I cannot save what I have not spent and bank it. I cannot have poor time decisions refunded or credited to my account.

Twitter, like all activities, takes time. It is up to me to determine how much of my time is well-spent interacting with my “tweeps.” It is also my responsibility to impose limits to the time I spend online so I remain both professionally productive and actively engaged in my Real Life.

LESSON #4: Everybody Thinks You’re Talking to Them

An incident last week in which an innocent tweet about one thing nearly lost me a client and – more importantly – a friend illustrated a significant thing about Twitter that had previously been lost to me: I must assume that every person who reads my tweets will think he or she is the subject of what I have to say.

Let’s say, for instance, that my beta reader takes me to task for a lack of detailed research in my historical novel. I might then post something like: If you’re going to write about the past, take the trouble to actually learn about the time period! Readers aren't idiots.

If, however, at the same time I am working with a writer who is also working on a historical, it stands to reason that this writer might read the angry words directed at my own shortcomings and think I was publicly flogging his work.

I have been guilty of this “they’re-talking-about-me” mentality, too. If I submit something to an agent I follow, who then tweets scathing comments about stupid writer mistakes on #queryfail, I sometimes have a moment of panic. Likewise, when an editor I follow tweets about discovering a wonderful new author, and I know that a manuscript of mine is in her slushpile, I want to sacrifice a chicken or dance naked on the lawn in the hopes that she’s talking about me.

The point (aside from dead poultry and a flagrant violation of our township’s lawn decoration ordinances) is that because of the nature of Twitter, the tweets we read can feel much more personal than feeds we get from other sources. I learned a great deal from my almost-disastrous encounter and have since altered the tone of several tweets for fear of inadvertently offending others who thought I was talking about them.

What about you? Have you caught the Twitter bug? If so, what has it taught you lately?

1 comment:

Linda said...

Amy, I absolutely love this: "Time is a finite commodity. Every day, I am given a specific amount and forced to spend it all. I cannot make more of it. I cannot save what I have not spent and bank it. I cannot have poor time decisions refunded or credited to my account."

Puts an old cliche, "time is money" in new perspective.