For TueNight.com by Cary Barbor
In his contribution to The Guardian's "Ten Rules for Writing Fiction," Jonathan Franzen listed this one: "It's doubtful that anyone with an Internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction." And sure -- who among us hasn't lost a few good hours to looking at the vacation pictures of someone you hardly remember from high school? You could have banged out a few pages in that time. Still, I have been surprised to find some very talented novelists who show up regularly in my Twitter feed.
They write that Twitter is something to be grateful for, rather than distracted by, because of what it brings across their desks: laughs, ideas for stories and essays, and good, quick chats with clever people. And I in turn am grateful for their tweets, which are nearly as interesting and funny as their fiction. I rounded up four of these authors and asked them their thoughts about Twitter.
Tweet I wish I hadn't written: I delete those! Usually after I realize I'm being too snarky. I try not to tweet when I'm in a bad mood.
Tweet that got a good reaction: I can't say I'm proud of it, but the tweet that got the biggest reaction was during the last Academy Awards. I tweeted something about wanting to punch host Seth MacFarlane in the nose. It was posted in a fit of annoyance, but received many RTs.
Tweet my readers wouldn't have thought I wrote: I'm not sure! I don't tend to think in those terms when I tweet. The more natural they are, the better. As a big reader of fiction, I love to follow authors whose books I read because it's like a peek behind the curtain. Though maybe some readers would be surprised how much I like to quote Kanye West and Ke$ha.
The nicest tweet I received from a reader: It's always a delight when followers say nice things about my books or post a photo when they find them in some far-flung locale. Once someone tweeted a photo of a passenger on the subway reading one of my books and that was a big thrill.
Disturbing, annoying, or unintentionally funny tweet from a reader: Since I write crime novels, sometimes readers will accuse me of giving them nightmares, though I take that as a compliment (and then apologize for the nightmares).
- David Grann: Writer at The New Yorker and author of The Lost City of Z and The Devil and Sherlock Holmes, because he finds the most unusual articles, stories and arcane tales on the web and posts them. Master curator! @DavidGrann
- Retronaut: A sort of time capsule feed with delicious obscurities from throughout history, like a 1931 photo of a slot machine selling warm sausages in Germany, or Greta Garbo at age ten. @theretronaut
- Joyce Carol Oates: She's one of my favorite writers and you never know what she's going to tweet (what she bought at the farmer's market, Breaking Bad observations, visiting the Galapagos). @JoyceCarolOates
Caroline Leavitt is the author of ten novels. Her latest, Is this Tomorrow, is a novel set in the 1950s that explores the disappearance of a 12-year-old boy and its ramifications. She tweets at @leavittnovelist.
Tweet I wish I hadn't written:In the heat of the election, I was so riled up that when Obama won, I tweeted, "The Republicans can just suck it!" I offended a lot of people, and I came to realize that I could have gotten my message across by "using my words" a little better.
Tweet that got a good reaction: I tweeted "I find the whole J. K. Rowling outing suspicious." A lot of people came forward to say that they did, too.
The nicest tweet I received from a reader: A guy tweeted that he saw me read and was so excited that he fainted. Later on, I realized he was sending the same tweet to every other writer I knew. Didn't matter. It was fun to get.
Disturbing, annoying, or unintentionally funny tweet from a reader: A guy asked me if I would read his manuscript. I politely said I was on deadline, and he tweeted that I was a "*&^% cow and a )(*&^!." I was shocked until another writer told me he stalks writers and does that all the time.
What I like about Twitter: It's as immediate as running into a friend on the street when you have to get to the dentist in ten minutes. You get to grab some chat. You get a reprieve from work. And also, if you need something fast, like people to interview for research, Twitter can help you find that info quickly!
Tweet I wish I hadn't written: I've definitely deleted tweets because they came out wrong or whatever, but I don't remember any of them. If you spend your time actively regretting tweets, you're probably doing something wrong Twitter-wise, and also I would suspect, life-wise.
Tweet that got a good reaction: I thought this one was pretty funny: "I'd quite like some biscuits, actually." - Cookie Monster's English cousin, Biscuit Monster
And this one got overlooked: "If you were serious about alliteration it would be, 'no shoes no shirt no sherbet' which would be fine because I wasn't going to order sherbet."
Tweet my readers wouldn't have thought I wrote: I think anyone who's followed me for more than a few minutes is used to a weird mixture of snark, emotionalism, jokes, swearing, self-consciousness, and links to articles from the London Review of Books, so I'm not sure what I could do that would be out of character at this point.
The nicest tweet I received from a reader: "That is the LEAST punchable author photo I've ever seen. Tip your photographer. Book ordered."
Disturbing, annoying, or unintentionally funny tweet from a reader: After my book got a nice review in the New York Times, someone I'd never heard of followed me and immediately tweeted something like, "Hey, psyched to see my pal @gabrielroth get this great review in the NYT -- way to go, buddy!" Weird move.
What I like about Twitter: It's writing that takes place in real-time; as such, it's a combination of writing and performance.
- LB: She's a grad student in biochemistry who's really into hip-hop and R&B, and she's probably the best straight-up tweeter in the world. @lil_mermaid
- Ruth Graham: She's a freelance writer who lives out in the boonies somewhere. She's thoughtful and funny and she posts great links. @publicroad
- Shane!!: I usually get sick of people who just tweet jokes all the time, but his shit is *deep*. @batsly
What I like about Twitter: When the planets align, Twitter can feel like the best dinner party ever. You've got banter, repartee, pissing matches, word games, bon mots. You can come and go whenever you like, and you get to decide what you eat. Some people see Twitter as the enemy of deep reading, but for me it's been a huge source of brilliant essays (new and old), novels, and poetry. Stuff I simply would not have discovered otherwise.
Tweets I (almost) wish I hadn't written: "Dreamt that Scribner called me into offices re: publishing my work, but when I arrived I had to don gold Speedos & swim in big fish tank." or "Incest is nicest, anagrammatically"
- "Something's wrong with my computer. It takes 40 minutes of fucking around on Twitter to open my manuscript file." This received the most faves and retweets of all.
- "Is traditional marketing the best way to spread this head cold?"
- "I heard carrots are good for the eyes, but I stuck one in and it didn't do shit."
The nicest tweet I received from a reader: From the phenomenal short-story writer Ben Loory (@benloory):
"Hey @antoinewilson my dad says your book is brilliant! He also asked how my little stories were going."
Cary Barbor is the host and producer of Books and Authors, a podcast that features candid conversations with today's leading writers. It's available on iTunes. She tweets at @Bksandauthors.
TueNight is a weekly online publication for women to share where they've been and explore where they want to go next. We are you, part two. www.tuenight.com
This post has been updated from a previously published version.