There seems to be an awful lot of hoo-hah about Twitter at the moment. I first set up my Twitter account a couple of years ago and quickly abandoned it, thinking it a twaddlesome alternative to text messages.
Well, I don't mind admitting, I was wrong. For those of you who have done a similar thing, try reading Joanna Young's recent post on why it's worth sticking with Twitter, over at Confident Writing.
I went back to my Twitter account when I launched Write for Your Life. Since then, I've come to understand Twitter's ability to provide access to all manner of people who are either writing, interested in writing or writing about writing.
Not all, but there are many creative writers who might consider a platform like Twitter to be counter-productive. They might also think it a place for journos, bloggers and beatniks, but not, in their fictional words, serious writers.
It's nonsense. All writing is serious, now more than ever before. Creative writers need to start taking the bull by the horns and realise that in today's world, there's more to writing than simply the act itself.
At the moment, Twitter is 'the thing'. How long that lasts is irrelevant. As a writer, you can harness its power right here, right now.
Meet other writers
This has to be the number one reason why you should use Twitter if you're a creative writer.
Writing can be a lonely process at times. There are plenty of writing groups, courses and spoken word events out there, but they can be hit and miss and don't suit everyone. However, all writers need support and advice at some point, and Twitter is an absolute goldmine.
Imagine a huge, and I mean truly massive, network of writers who share similar passions and interests, and are willing to share their wisdom and experience. Well, that's Twitter.
If you want to meet and share ideas with fellow writers who are going through the same highs and lows as you are, sign up now.
Make contacts in the publishing industry
Maria Schneider recently posted a list of good publishing industry people to follow on Twitter, over at Editor Unleashed. High Spot Inc also posted a directory of book trade folks who are using Twitter.
Together, these lists cover the full range of publishing types, from literary agents and publishers to libraries and print suppliers. These people are right there, on Twitter. They are online and directly engaging with writers, every single day.
Let me say that again.
Online, people in the publishing industry, including literary agents and publishing houses, are interacting with writers. An industry that for so many years has seemed closed off, is finally opening up. It has to. The world's gone digital and they're rushing to catch up.
Make the most if it. Get a Twitter account and follow people and organisations relevant to your writing. I'm not saying send a quick message to Bloomsbury saying, 'Wanna publish my novel?' and you'll end up with a six-figure book deal. Of course not.
What I'm saying is, through Twitter you finally have a chance to communicate and create a dialogue with the industry. Get involved. Chat to people. Watch trends. It's all happening and it's happening now. Like never before.
Promote and market your writing
Perhaps the main reason Twitter has taken off is because it provides a quick and dirty route to promoting your work, whatever that may be.
For example, as soon as I hit publish on this post, I'll Tweet my near-300 followers (woohoo!) and tell them about it. That's near-300 people who might decide to click on the link I give them and find themselves right here, on Write for Your Life. And if that's you, right now, may I welcome you with a quick, 'Cooeeee!'
But this is a blog I'm promoting, a format that relies on online marketing and social networking. How can a creative writer, whose work is (usually) in a very tangible and offline format, use Twitter to market their work?
Well, first, see my previous points on meeting writers and making contacts in the industry. These people and organisations are a good place to start if you want to tell relevant people that you've got a poetry collection coming out soon, or you've been signed by a literary agency.
But Twitter can also give you access to potential readers. You know, the general public. Particularly if your writing is in a specific genre or covers a certain subject.
For example, if you've written a novel that revolves around, I dunno, basketball, you can follow, chat with and mention your work to people who like to shoot the ol' hoops. Or if you write erotic fiction, say, Twitter can give you access to, well, people who read erotic fiction. It's that simple.
In an economic climate where writers are expected more and more to take on the responsibility of marketing their work, Twitter is an excellent tool for reaching out to your audience.
For more information on how to promote your writing on Twitter, I heartily recommend 'Using Twitter for Book Marketing', a post on Self-publishing Review.
Publish extracts of your writing
There are plenty of writers out there who are using Twitter as a publishing platform in itself. Sometimes it's for a bit of fun, such as Copyblogger's recent haiku competition, which ludicrously, I didn't win.
Competitions like this and other attempts at 140-character creativity tend to involve writing something from scratch. There are Twitter novels, Twitter poems and many other methods for using the Twitter format to create something new. Quite exciting, really.
But what if you want to publish an existing piece of writing that doesn't necessarily sit easily with the 140-character format?
Well, poems are made up of lines and stories are made up of sentences. If you occasionally throw in the odd choice quote from your writing, it can help you a) market you work, and b) express your personality as a writer. It doesn't matter if it's completely out of context, so long as it's, you know, thought-provoking.
Here's a potential tweet of mine:
From the start of my novel: Benny paints pictures with his eyes closed.
Again, I'm not saying that publishing extracts on Twitter will bring you fame and fortune, just that it can add to you experience as a writer.
Jude Calvert-Toulmin is a regular in the comments section on this blog. She's been tweeting extracts from her work and has even set up an entire Twitter account dedicated to her novel.
Create a virtual notepad
Finally, here's a suggestion for those writers who consider Twitter a social networking time drain and nothing more than a chance to waffle our lives away.
Truth is, if you have a Twitter account, you don't actually have to follow, be followed by, or communicate with anyone whatsoever. You have that option. It's in the settings.
And what would that leave you with? Well, it would leave you with a single web page that you can post short messages to from your desktop, web browser or mobile phone at any time of the day or night.
That's a virtual notepad, right there. A quick, easy-to-use space to store your thoughts and ideas.
Personally, I'm all for carrying an actual notepad, with pages and everything. But sometimes it simply isn't to hand and I need to find somewhere else to track my thoughts.
And really, that fits Twitter's remit perfectly.
Where do I start with Twitter?
Well, first of all, head over to the Twitter homepage and set up your account. Then, for more technical information about the ins and outs of using Twitter, Darren Rowse's TwiTip is a great place to go.
After that, start following people with similar interests and if you have a problem, ask your new found cyber-friends!
Share, share and share some more
So there we go, a few ways in which creative writers can use and benefit from Twitter. Over to you.
Has Twitter had an effect on your creative writing? Have you seen any novel (pun very much intended) ways that people have used Twitter to market or talk about their writing? Or is Twitter just a great big waste of time?