Tag Archives: twitter as writing coach

Holiday nano-practice for writers

Photo courtesy SXC.

It’s a week before Christmas.  We’re in the middle of Hanukkah. Yule, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve are just around the corner. If you’ve got a writing project (or projects) you’re trying to keep on track, it’s very easy to get distracted by holiday festivities and end up both frustrated at your lack of progress and sad that you couldn’t enjoy your holiday recreation fully because you were fretting about your writing in the back of your mind.

I’m just as guilty of giving into this tension and distraction as everyone else. However, I was lucky to recently come across a series of very helpful blog posts by my cyber-pal Christina Thompson, who is a trombonist, creativity coach, music teacher and author of a new book, Women Embracing Creativity.

Her 2008 “No Time To Practice?” (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4) series has a lot of good tips, broadly applicable to artists of every discipline, for maintaing a connection to our creative work. And it’s inspired me to write this short list of “nano-practice” tips for writers, who actually have more opportunity than most, I believe, to keep their skills sharp during holiday breaks.

So if you’re in the thick of your holiday preparations or celebrations right now, consider channeling your writing mojo into these activities …

1. Take your Twittering and status updates to a new level. I’ve blogged about using Twitter as a writing coach before, and in this age of social media, being able to say something rich and evocative in a few words is an even more valuable skill than ever before. The poetry of some people’s tweets or updates can make connecting with them far more than a perfunctory experience. What can you say in 140 characters or less that might move your personal network and express your feelings and observations succinctly?

2. Revive the art of correspondence. Many of us send paper or electronic greeting cards or annual family letters, but do we think about more than just providing a news report for friends and colleagues? My father used to write a family letter that placed our entire clan in a Renaissance era motif and made its readers howl with laughter. He was following in his mother’s footsteps, who played off her first name to create a yearly missive entitled “The Perils of Jewel and Pauline,” which mimicked the theme of a popular series of films during her youth.

It’s not necessary to summon literary greatness to get your Christmas cards or family letters out, but they are another place where your writing and editing skills can create a story that touches your audience and pleases your “sources,” who are those closest to you!

3. Catch up on your “craft” reading/listening. If you’re flying or riding in a car to your holiday destination, how about absorbing some good books relevant to non-fiction writing? I’m partial to Jack Hart’s A Writer’s Coach and Roy Peter Clark’s Writing Tools, but reading or listening to a well-written novel is also good for picking up tips on how to handle dialogue, expository passages and other writing challenges. Even if you’re only able to read a few chapters, or a few pages, you may pick up something valuable.

4. Practice one-sentence journaling. The point of journaling isn’t to meet a production quota! It’s to convey meaning in a form that will stick with you later. Early last year, I conducted an interesting interview on my creativity blog, Creative Liberty, with journaling instructor Quinn McDonald on this technique. Much like the more public tweet/status update suggestion, the length limitation on this sort of journaling encourages you to both writing something each day and choose your words very carefully.

5. Engage in intentional conversations. If you’re at a family holiday gathering and are surrounded by people, listen to them! Even if you have precious little common ground with your relatives, practicing the art of conversation sharpens your ear for dialogue and accurate quotations, allows you to understand your “subject” on a deeper level, and may improve your interviewing skills.

If you want to make use of your time with your loved ones to record some conversations for posterity, the StoryCorps program can help you get started. They have excellent interview guides, tips on managing audio recording devices and plenty of audio files on the site to hear other families reminiscing. The goal of this non-profit is to create a “nation of listeners” in 2010, and your little conversation could be a part of it, if you choose to be involved.

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Twitter as writing coach, part 2: The art of the retweet

twitter_logo

Last time I posted, we looked at Twitter’s power to shape our writing by studying Twitter poetry. Today, let’s consider what we can learn by studying what makes for compelling content on Twitter—in other words, what sort of posts get “retweeted” and spread from network to network.

Writing compelling content is something with which every writer—nonfiction or fiction—should be concerned. Even in story forms governed by the rules of journalism, where objectivity and even-handedness are highly valued, being able to package a story and make sure it finds the widest possible audience is an essential survival skill.

One of the most important guidelines in writing compellingly and getting retweeted on Twitter is to consider one’s network of followers. What do they need or want to know?

The good folks over at Cyberjournalist.net recently blogged about super-entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki’s rules for getting retweeted, and had this to say about Guy’s first rule, which is “ask the right question.”

There are pockets of Twitter users who want to bond with small group of people and learn the answer to the original Twitter question: ‘What are you doing?’ These are the folks that enjoy tweets that say, ‘My cat just rolled over’ and ‘The line at Starbucks is long.’

“The question you should answer if you want retweets is ‘What’s interesting?’ for your group of followers. For example, the story that Taiwanese scientists bred glow-in-the-dark pigs is a lot more interesting than what your cat is doing and therefore a lot more likely to get retweeted.”

Another Twitter lesson for writers from the retweet arena is that sharing begets sharing. Social media researcher Dan Zarrella, guest posting on Copyblogger, notes that 70 percent of retweets contain a hyperlink (often shaved down to size using http://tiny.cc or other services). If you’re linking to your own content, it’s a good idea to think about what sorts of writing get passed around online—Zarrella lists how-tos/instructional content, breaking news, warnings (about scams, etc.) and freebies or contests as links highly likely to get a retweet.

The lesson here, I think, is that people want to share useful stuff with those they care about and keep their friends out of trouble. When drafting our stories, no matter the venue, it’s a good idea to keep in mind that this is a huge piece of what drives information passed through online social networking.

The final rule we can draw from what gets retweeted on Twitter is that calls to action produce action. Zarrella, writing recently on his own blog about the 20 words and phrases that generate the most retweets, notes that the phrase “please retweet” appeared very frequently in posts that got retweeted. Other action verbs that appeared in highly retweeted posts included “help,” “follow,” and “check out.”

Obviously, a lot of journalistic non-fiction writing cannot directly order the reader to take action, although it can quote sources about the need for action, the urgency of a situation, etc. However, thinking what frame of mind you want to leave a reader with after digesting your story is still helpful. And for many “service” stories in trade or self-help oriented publications, issuing a clear call to action is part of the package—readers are looking to you to explain how something works, and then recommend ways to use the newfound knowledge.

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