In Defense of #NaNoWriMo? Kind of?

We’re a bit more than a week from November 1, which probably means a lot of things — it was my grandfather’s birthday, for one; he passed away a couple years ago, but he’d have turned 98 — but around the internet (and almost-equally among the event’s devotees, its haters and many of the utterly ambivalent), one of the most noticeable things has become that it signals the start of National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo. (I’m largely going to assume familiarity here; click over there to read up.)

As far as I can tell, Twitter and other social media was really first inundated with NaNoWriMo about four years ago — people enthusiastically updating everyone they knew on their word counts, plot structures, favorite lines, etc. Very quickly after that came the backlash — people who hated that other people were cluttering their feeds with this stuff (and understandably, I think), mocking it. Some of the backlash-type stuff is funny (see Fake NaNoWriMoTips), some is really not; much more isn’t meant to be, just (again, understandably) annoyed.

In my experience (and it’s a very limited, very skewed experience, probably not representative), the backlash very quickly quieted the…frontlash? We’ll go with frontlash. I’m sure there’s a lot of earnest NaNoWriMo tweeting still going ON out there, I just don’t see it in my own little corner of the internet, and haven’t for a couple years. People I know don’t really like feeling like they’re being mocked by people who for the other eleven months of the year are their friends.

I did NaNoWriMo three years ago. I didn’t publicize it, kept it fairly well hidden, actually — I just felt like doing it, and I did. What I got was 50,000 words (more like 55,000, I think) of…something. It wasn’t a novel, certainly (not that I was expecting it to be), just the very beginning of a story about something, with some good bits and some bad bits with a strong beginning and a super-weak ending and a whole lot of holes to be filled.

I was working 60-hour weeks, and had a spouse and a toddler; it probably took a year after that November 30 to get back to it at all, and when I did all I could make myself do was reread, clean up a bit around the edges (when what I needed was a bulldozer, and then twice as many words) and wonder where I’d intended to be going with some of it. My wife has read through most of it, and I sent a few pages of it to a friend for feedback who (as far as I can tell) never got around to it, and that’s it. Not that there mightn’t be some part of it that has some use to me, somehow, someday, but it’s pretty clearly not going to turn into the Great American Novel, or even a small-n novel. I “won,” per the rules of the site, but if the goal was to actually write a novel, there’s no avoiding the fact that I basically failed.

On the way, I confirmed a lot of things I thought or knew, a lot of them pretty valid criticisms of the whole NaNo idea. Whatever they may tell you, 50,000 words isn’t really a novel (unless you’re a genius like Jerzy Kosinski, and even then I assume you start by writing twice that many words and then cutting out the trash); you can’t write a novel in a month (unless you’re Stephen King, so no matter who you are you can’t write one I want to read); writing is incredibly hard, and not nearly everybody who thinks they can do it can do it. Most of the fiction written in November (and most months, but especially November), I’ve no doubt, is trash, valueless to anyone but the writer him- or herself.

So…I’m doing it again.

It’s weird. I know how much time it takes and how frustrating it can be and how much false advertising there is in it and how unlikely it is that anything of any measurable value will come out of my doing it. But I decided, a week or two ago, that I’m going to do it again. Because I have the beginnings of an idea that’s been nagging at me for months and I want to see if it’s anything. Because I love to write, and at least as much as that, as good and rewarding as my various excuses may be, I hate not writing, and yet I still seem to find time in my day for at least a few bad reasons not to do it. And sure, there’s no reason I couldn’t just kick my own ass and do the same sort of thing any old time of the year, but it’s almost November and it’s a good time for me, so why not do it when everyone else does? Why not show up some Sunday afternoon next month and spend a couple hours typing away with a bunch of other freaks? I can’t think of a reason.

So it occurred to me to rattle this out because the other night, a Facebook friend of mine — and a really smart, funny guy I respect a whole lot and with whom I seem to agree on almost everything else — put up a status complaining about NaNo. Not, as above, about the formerly-incessant public updates about it (though I suspect that’s at the root of it), but about the idea of doing it itself. And beyond my total inability to grasp why anyone would take issue with a little thing other people decide to do for themselves that couldn’t possibly affect him in any way, the “reasoning” for it just blew me away: in essence, if you were going to be a great writer, you’d be doing it already, and wouldn’t need that kind of jump-start, wouldn’t need a super-special month to focus on it.

And to me, that stance missed so many points at once, so completely, that it really cemented in my head why I wanted to do it. For just one thing, writing fiction isn’t like, say, athletics, where if you have the natural talent you go for it while you’re young, figuring that if it doesn’t work you’ve got the rest of your life to make something else of yourself, or just that (in a lot of cases, sadly) it’s all you’ve got. Writing pulls from other skills and experience, and those skills and that experience often add up to other careers with lower failure rates that demand a lot of your time. I’d love to win the lottery or for my schoolteacher wife to suddenly fall into a $500,000-a-year job, freeing me up to stay home and drop off and pick up the kids, and in between to write 5,000 words a day, every day, until I got good at it. I would. Turns out that’s not my life, though; turns out I’m a lawyer and a dad and that the rest of my life boils down to a couple exhausted hours at the end of the day, that I don’t love writing or feel a pull toward writing any less but that I love other things too, and they take turns bumping each other out of whatever scraps of those couple hours are reserved for leisurely things.

I’m probably not going to be a great novelist, and not even a novelist, and that’s so not the point; but hell, I wouldn’t be the first English major and full-time-working professional to publish his first novel in his mid-to-late thirties (or later), either. If it’s a thing I want to do with big chunks of my precious free time for a month — and right now, it really feels like it is — then why on earth not? Really, given all those time constraints, a thing like NaNo is perfect for me. Take all that energy that’s pulled in all those different directions and force myself to focus on this one thing for four weeks, or rather for those tiny little slivers of the day during those four weeks that belong more or less to me.

So, why not? I’m not a great fiction writer right now, and I don’t think I’ll suddenly become one next month, I think I probably won’t ever be one, and I know for sure that I won’t come out of November with anything like a novel that I started at the beginning of November, and that neither will anyone else. I am a good writer with a lot of thoughts, and with an urge just now to do something with that. So I’m going to sprint right into this, again, and hope that this time I come out of it still jogging.

And the great thing is — what happens if I don’t, if I fall flat on my face instead? My consolation prize is that I spent an hour or two each night for a while working out the creative parts of my brain, with nothing else to show for it. Oh no! Guess that’s just a risk I’ll have to take…

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Promisses No. 14: Don’t Be John Popper

Yesterday, through a fellow baseball writer friend my editor whatever a guy I know who is those things and is also into video games, I learned about this. It’s worth a read in a train-wreck sort of way, but basically: a managing editor of a gaming site and general Twitter funnyperson named Holly Green tweeted a joke at someone else that poked fun at John Popper, the lead singer of the band Blues Traveler (you’d remember and/or recognize “Run Around” and “Hook,” 1994). Frankly, the joke was probably in bad taste, not the kind of thing you should say about anyone, even when you’re clearly joking (as she very clearly was). I don’t know Ms. Green and have no way of knowing this, but if she’d thought the man himself was particularly likely to see it, I kind of doubt she’d have sent it.

Anyway, the man himself did see it, and he responded. And responded, and responded. That first link above tells that part of the story. It’s crazy. His tweets read like they were written by a nine-year-old, but it’s clear enough that he’s bullying her, borderline-stalking her, and threatening her with what would be an utterly frivolous defamation lawsuit. It just kept going. Many others got involved yesterday — mostly tweeting ridiculous things that mentioned his name (but didn’t tag his Twitter account, because there was clearly no need, he was going to see it anyway). Mine got me blocked by Popper, right after he tweeted this:

(As I went to get the link, I noticed that after we’d blocked each other he nonetheless found something else I said mentioning him and responded. That dude from Blues Traveler appears to have some time on his hands these days, is what I’m saying.)

(Also: it appears that all of his tweets have at least one winky face in them. It doesn’t make them any less creepy.)

Anyway, it’s a weird, weird thing, but the thing that sticks out most to me is the fact that John Popper, who is 46 years old and has won a Grammy and still tours and is on TV sometimes, searches his own name on Twitter and (at least sometimes) responds to whatever he finds there. This is a colossal waste of time for the most sedentary and unaccomplished of us. And John Popper, a guy you’ve heard of and whose mid-twenties singing voice you’re hearing in your head right this second, is out there doing it.

Sometimes, I’m really glad I have a stupidly common name. Not that anyone’s talking about me anyway, but even if they were and I wanted to, I wouldn’t be sure how to find it.

Googling oneself

Fridayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy.

Seven Hundred and Thirty-Two “Men” to Stay the F*** Away From

I had big plans for today (Wednesday). Really Big Plans, in fact. I still do have those plans, and I worked a little bit on them today, and will probably work a little bit more on them tonight. I’m excited about these plans, and hope they become a Thing That Happens, and that I can share with you soon.

But it turns out that tonight (Wednesday night) is not a night for Big Plans. Today (Wednesday) was a day of untimely deaths; of way too much hate, generally; of bizarrely crappy deniapologies; of incredibly blasé and casual celebrity racism; and of a bit of personal stress and discouragement (nothing major, but overall: oy, today). Tonight, then, is a night for family, and beer, and baseball, and possibly video games. There will be better days for Big Plans, and probably soon.

Instead, I want to talk for just a second about this. If you missed it, on Wednesday morning the internet very suddenly became aware of a Kickstarter project called “Above the Game: A Guide to Getting Awesome with Women,” through which a mouth-breathing and probably badly deluded little lump of diseased chipmunk feces named Ken Hoinsky sought $2,000 to finance his book doling out advice regarding how to successfully get women in bed. He ended up raising over $16,000.

It sounds innocent enough, if incredibly dumb; these “pick-up artists” lurk in creepy dark little places everywhere, and while stupid and probably not strictly harmless, they aren’t exactly Public Enemy No. 1. This is a lot worse than that, though. Hoinsky wisely wiped the existing segments of his book from the internet, but a wiser blogger/comedian named Casey Malone (who appears to also deserve credit for calling this to everyone’s attention in the first place) was able to archive some of his words. There are too many atrocious bits for me to pick big chunks to share here, but the gist of the worst bits were: first, always be “escalating,” making more and more intrusive physical contact with the woman you’re creeping on, and don’t stop until she shouts “NO” or pushes you away (and even then, maybe just take a break and try again later).

A bit later (all emphasis Hoinsky’s): “Physically pick her up and sit her on your lap. Don’t ask for permission. Be dominant. Force her to rebuff your advances.”

Later still: “Pull out your cock and put her hand on it. Remember, she is letting you do this because you have established yourself as a LEADER. Don’t ask for permission, GRAB HER HAND, and put it right on your dick.”

That’s sexual assault. All of it. It’s sick, and it’s quite reasonably very illegal. It’s a step-by-step manual for dehumanizing and sexually assaulting women, and it leads you right up to the doorstep of rape. It plainly violates Kickstarter’s guidelines, which bar offensive content (specifically listing hate speech, which I’d argue this is, as an example). Kickstarter must have received thousands of “reports” through its own website and thousands of tweets bringing this atrocity to its attention.

Kickstarter did nothing.

As I write this, Kickstarter’s twitter account hasn’t tweeted in more than 24 hours, and the company has allegedly directly refused comment to at least one media outlet. No action, nothing to justify its inaction. (Later update: they did eventually issue a kind of milquetoast statement. Malone has it, and a bit on why it was the wrong call, here.) It’s a disgrace all around. I was happy to participate in one Kickstarter project (both as a writer and a “backer”) a while ago, and this probably won’t keep me from using it again, but it’s terribly disappointing.

Think about this, though: there are 732 people (almost all men, of course) who backed this project. Now, I don’t actually believe Hoinsky has ever followed his own advice in any meaningful way — both (a) because the people who espouse this sort of nonsense tend overwhelmingly to be sniveling inarticulate lying dullards who aren’t actually capable of talking to or making eye contact with a woman and (b) because I have enough faith in humankind to think that these tactics would lead to arrest and incarceration at least as often as they’d “work” — but I could be wrong. Regardless, though, there are now seven hundred and thirty-two* cripplingly self-conscious, dim-witted little boys (of all ages) out there in the world who will be receiving Hoinsky’s book and reading his mental diarrhea.

Some of them are bound to try his tactics. I still don’t think they’ll “work,” by and large, but I wouldn’t want to be any of the women at whose expense they fail, either.

The thing is: the backers are listed right here, and though they’re not required to, the vast majority appear to provide their real names (first and last), their location, or both.

Kickstarter backers

I think if I were a woman who is likely to go out…anywhere, ever, I’d look through that list for guys near my area. If I found one, I’d find out as much as I could about him, through Facebook, Twitter, Google, whatever — and let’s face it, if he’s leaving his whole name on a Kickstarter for what is basically a criminal instruction manual, there’s likely to be a lot of info on him out there. And then I think I’d make sure all my friends knew everything about him that I now knew.

(Just for instance: one of them is Frank Galatis, who lives in Chisago City, Minnesota, not at all far from me. This is his Facebook page. This is his LinkedIn page, which identifies him as an owner of Fallout Shelter Arcade, a video gaming center for Battletech:Firestorm and Red Planet games (Facebook). If I were that kind of gamer, male or female, I’d probably avoid that place on account of one of the owners being like super creepy.)

These are 732 guys who may or may not themselves be the same sorts of loathsome puerile woman-hating fuckwits that Hoinsky is; they could also just be insecure, desperately lonely and shockingly gullible boys. But either way, they’re going to be unleashed on the world with this nonsense in their heads, and in that case, is the second possibility really that much better than the first?

* Roughly. A few of the backers identify themselves as women, weirdly enough, and not all of them actually pledged enough to get a copy of the book.

[Hey, there’s a follow-up now: In Which Kickstarter Rules the (Corporate) World]

Promisses No. 7: Being True to Yourself

Short! To the point! I forgot to do this last night!

This is pathetically short so I’ll chat a bit below the weekly necessity. Adapted from a suggestion by my baseball-writing partner and heterosexual lifemate Mike Bates.

Identity Theft

What else can I tell you? Hmm. I really liked this post by Amber about Angelina Jolie, and it goes right along with my recent theme of whining about dumb shit people do on Facebook. I’d always thought of Jolie as an obnoxious, utterly frivolous loon prior to this, and I have no idea whether what she did was smart or right or not and no idea how I could know (though it seemed pretty reasonable to me, and brave to come out with it). All I know is, she’s really rich and almost certainly consulted several really good doctors in making this really, really hard decision, and if you’re not a doctor and are judging her based on things like your own personal experience (“I have breasts and don’t have cancer!” was basically the sense I got) or a mistrust of the medical profession generally, you are a Part Of The Problem. Though I suppose it’s better than mourning Brad Pitt’s loss of her boobs.

I’m a big fan of those Damn You Autocorrect things (fake or not), so this made me laugh a lot more than it probably should’ve. You’ve gotta flip all the way to the end for the punchline (more like punch-in-the-gut-line! o-ho!), but I’m a bit sad to admit I chuckled through the whole thing.

Speaking of comedy, my wife and I are going to see Mary Mack tomorrow, and I’m awfully gosh-darned excited about that. She’s very Midwestern (northern Wisconsin, though Minnesota has managed to really claim that whole accent, so I’m comfortable calling her Minnesotan) and sings little folk-y songs and is funny. I imagine it’s an acquired taste, but I love her. Here she is solving the problem of gang violence! Enjoy your Friday.

The Internet, Sourcing Quotations, and Shouting Crazy Things on Street Corners

I love the internet. It will tell you anything.

It will tell you that Albert Einstein said this (or some version of it): “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

If you’re looking for some powerful, beautifully deep-voiced words about equal rights, the internet will give you this from Morgan Freeman: “I hate the word homophobia. It’s not a phobia. You are not scared. You are an asshole.”

It will point you to this encouraging gem from Marilyn Monroe: “To all the girls that think you’re fat because you’re not a size 0, you’re the beautiful one, it’s society who’s ugly.”

Or this lovely poem from Anais Nin: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud became more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Or this terrifying xenophobic diatribe by “comedian” Robin Williams.

Or this even more terrifying ornery-old-conservative-man screed called “I’m 83 and I’m Tired” by comedian Bill Cosby.

Or this well-ahead-of-its time thought (among many, many others) from Abraham Lincoln: “I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of a whole human being.”

It’s important to note here that I do love the internet, honestly, sincerely and deeply. It really will tell you just about anything, and much of it useful, if you know where to look. But the one thing the internet won’t tell you is the actual origin of any of those quotes above — not just who said it, but the book, speech, letter or so on in which it was said or written.

And that’s because none of those people actually said any of those things.

The “definition of insanity” quote made its first known appearance in a Narcotics Anonymous text in 1981, popularized two years later by author Rita Mae Brown. The little bit of common sense attributed to Morgan Freeman came from a parody Twitter account. The Marilyn quote has no known source, but she certainly didn’t say it; there was no size zero until after her death, and Marilyn (herself quite thin, actually) wasn’t really one for bucking trends, or for self-empowerment more generally. The Nin quote sure sounds like her and is kind of an amalgam of a lot of things Nin may have written or thought, but it was actually written for a 1979 college schedule. The Williams quote is from a much more likely-seeming source — a USENET posting that in a later reposting had a single real Williams “joke” appended to it. Of course Cosby didn’t write that nonsense whining about having to pay taxes (can you even imagine?) — that was a quite possibly insane retired Massachusetts state senator (Cosby is also nowhere near 83 years old). No one knows where the animal rights thing came from, but it’s not from Lincoln; I can find writings about the rights of animals dating back near Lincoln’s time, but the term “animal rights” as it’s used today doesn’t seem to really have been a thing before about 1975.

This is the kind of thing that will one day, inevitably, be the end of me. I see a quote that resonates with me (or angers me) and I immediately want to know the context. The identity of the speaker and the context within which it was said often mean as much as the quote itself. Did a surgeon say that, or one of our most accomplished female writers, or a madman in his anti-everything manifesto? Was he speaking to an eighth-grade religion class at an all-girls Catholic school, or at a USO stop in Afghanistan? Did she write it in the speech or thoughts of her novel’s clearly, fatally misapprehending protagonist, or in her own private journal? These things make a big difference. They can make the words mean drastically different things.

The internet (the faceless being that is made up of what must be all these hundreds of people who are apparently deciding to spend real time intentionally misattributing quotes) understands that who said what and when matter, too, but to the internet, that matters only because it gets more attention if it’s sexy. If it’s supposed to sound smart, it sounds better coming from Einstein. If it’d sound really cool in Morgan Freeman’s voice (and what wouldn’t?), then sure, go with that. If it’s about beauty or self-image, you want it to come from The One Classic Image of Beauty herself (or from this weird fictionalized, saintly version of Marilyn that the modern world has developed), and to be paired with one of her photos. If it’s deeply horrifying political nonsense, who better to hear it from than the smiling face of a normally frivolous funnyman? And so on.

It’s not just your friends on Facebook, either. You sometimes have to do real work to uncover the truth about these things. You can find these false quotes — even some of the most clearly false, silly-on-their-face ones — at what appear to be professional, legitimate places. Places like BrainyQuote (which, apparently, is neither) and Goodreads (a good site, for other things). It’s tempting to say “just take two seconds and Google this stuff, dammit,” and doing so would straighten you out very quickly on utter rot like the Williams and Cosby nutsorants, but even that can be awfully misleading on the more innocuous stuff. It’s just the entire internet that has or propagates this problem, or a big portion of the internet that’s often very hard to distinguish from the useful portion. It’s great, this internet thing is, but it’s badly broken too.

It’s like this: try to remember or imagine what life was like, in terms of the media to which one was exposed, in 1985. You had three television networks — not that they were producing consistently great stuff, but it was heavily filtered, lots of people taking lots of time deciding exactly what you should watch and how much of it. You had one newspaper, with a team of fact-checkers, or any of several similarly professionally checked and edited magazines. You could go to the movies or the theater. On the way to the movies or the theater or the newsstand, you might pass a street corner from which a certifiably insane gentleman might yell at you about Jesus through a megaphone or hand you a pamphlet about how the world is ending on Tuesday.

Now, though? Your whole world is that guy on the street corner. Thanks to the miracle of modern technology, those guys won. It’s all just shouting stuff now.

You can read whatever you want written by anyone; there’s no filter to check facts or reasonableness or, hell, just to make sure that what you’re about to see isn’t just something that should never be seen under any circumstances by anyone. It’d be incredibly easy and helpful, whenever you’re passing along an interesting quote, to find room for an extra three or five words below the attribution that give you a hint of the actual spatial and temporal source of that quote; on the internet, there’s no one there to make sure you do that, and absolutely no motivation to do it. If something sounds funnier coming from Betty White than the no-name comic who actually said it, then Betty White means more pageviews or shares or retweets, and so suddenly it’s Betty White’s quote. If something is so completely batshit crazy that people will only pay attention to it if you can dupe some poor gullible souls into believing somehow that Bill Cosby said it, than by God, that’s who said it.

The internet is a wonderful place, and for largely those reasons — the lack of filter and accountability and all-around final-frontier nature of it are what makes it all worthwhile and so endlessly fascinating. The world is better, lots better, than it was in 1985.

But, come on. Can’t we get some quotes with proper attribution, every now and then? Or a site (like Snopes but less focused on things that kind of, you know, matter) devoted entirely to sourcing or debunking widely-shared quotes? Do I have to be the one to do this? Because I will do it. And I will spend all my time on it, and yet the internet will slog on unabated, happily pretending that MLK disapproves of our celebrating getting Osama Bin Laden. And it will be the end of me.

Twitter for Writers (a Sort-of-Outsider’s Perspective) and Promisses No. 3: What to Do with Your Body Parts

Twitter_Logo_by_MegachixSo I started this blog as a way to get thoughts out of my head that weren’t strictly about baseball. It’s been slow going, largely because I have this whole life and everything, but I’m determined to get into it eventually.

The great thing, though, is that I have a very good friend who was already pretty well entrenched in this community of writers, which has allowed me to quickly meet some great folks. I look forward to reading Emmie Mears and Amber West‘s and Jenny Hansen‘s blogs as often as they’re updated, to name a few, and they’re each great people to interact with on Facebook and Twitter besides.

But the referenced great friend (whose name has been mentioned altogether too often around here as it is–not this time, dammit!) put up a post yesterday that got me thinking. The post itself is a collection of tips for authors on managing their social media lives along with their work and the like.

The post is very good. What it got me thinking about was certain trends I’d noticed in how people within that circle — we’ll call them “indie authors” (or “IAs”), which I think is the closest thing to an identifying characteristic they have — tend to use Twitter.

The typical IA’s Twitter experience appears to me to be like so (this doesn’t apply to any of the wonderful people named or not-quite-named above, and certainly isn’t true of everyone else by any stretch): he or she has something between 600 and 6,000 followers, and follows almost exactly that many. The vast, vast majority of IA’s tweets are scheduled auto-tweets and append a link to one of three categories of things: (1) to IA’s own most recent blog post; (2) to IA’s book; or (3) to the blog posts or books of people IA knows and is hoping will return the favor. The content of those tweets is the title of the book or article, a related hashtag or two, and the link — there’s nothing to suggest why IA recommends that you click on that particular link (or even that it’s actually recommended, when you think about it) — title, link, maybe hashtags, boom.  And most of the rest of IA’s tweets are curt thank-yous sent out to the other IAs who have recently promoted IA’s blog or book.

This is really weird to me. My 3.5 years of tweeting (I’m here) has mostly been in the tiny and insular world of baseball geeks, where we’re (those of us who write, which is most of us) pretty interested in promoting ourselves too. And there are probably some people who act more or less as the IA described above, but there’s a real conversation there, too, and one feels like these are real people typing things, not scheduled advertisements.

A few disclaimers. First, self-promotion (for authors, and for at least half or so of all other people on Twitter) is a pretty important thing, and promoting others can be a pretty important part of that; I’m not out to knock any of that. And I know a lot of IAs have thought a lot about their social media strategies and whatnot, and I’m sure there are things they’re doing that are very effective.

Which leads into the second disclaimer: I’m not actually that good at Twitter, and I’d never try to tell you there’s a right or wrong way to use it. I haven’t built up a huge number of followers, really. Most people who follow me are baseball fans, and yet I don’t actually tweet about baseball that often, which can’t be advisable. I sometimes get in silly angry fights on Twitter, which are probably literally the most useless things two or more humans can possibly do with themselves.

So I’m not an expert. I don’t think there’s a right way to do it, and if there is one, I certainly don’t know or abide by it. (If that’s what you’re interested in, Chuck Wendig, who is better at it than I am, wrote what I think is a really brilliant list of things to know.)

But I sure do have a lot of fun on Twitter, most of the time. And to my eyes, the typical IA’s way of doing things just doesn’t seem any fun or particularly effective. My sense is that most writers don’t really want to be on Twitter, but look at it as a thing they have to do. And it shows.

So with that in mind, and without wanting to tell anybody the right way do anything, here are some things I think are kind of screwy about the IA tweeting paradigm:

  1. You’re shouting into the void. You follow everyone who follows you, and (for the most part) only those who will follow you back. That means you’re all of you out for the same one thing: exposure. You tend to post much more than you read. So what are the odds that any of the people you follow, who are presumably doing the same things for the same reasons, are reading what you say?
  2. Relatedly: if you follow everyone, you’re following no one. It feels like the nice thing to do, following anyone who follows you, and the surest way to collect a respectable-looking number of followers. And there might be some people who can follow 4000 and still kind of keep up with some of them. I just can’t get my head around it. I’m currently following close to 600, and that’s just about my limit. I try to follow most people who have interesting things to say and seem interested in what I have to say (but certainly haven’t succeeded in getting them all), aiming for a sizable community without overcrowding the field.
    If I get a new follower with like 6000 followers who is also following about 6000, that’s almost a bit of a letdown, because it’s so unlikely that that person will ever see anything I have to say, it’s hard to imagine what the point is. I don’t mean to suggest that I don’t appreciate those people, just that I regret not being able to interact with them. And I don’t mean to say that one’s follower/followee ratio is important; I do think having a number of “followees” that you can plausibly, y’know, follow probably is.
  3. No one reads links unless you tell them why they should. That’s not literally true, of course. But linking your blog post with the title alone, unless it’s a great title, isn’t likely to do a ton for you, and linking others’ blog posts (and them linking yours) in a similarly impersonal way does even less. All else equal, I’d much rather have five people who have really read my stuff promoting it and telling people why the person thinks they should read it than have twenty people post a “[Title] [link] by @Bill_TPA [hashtags!]” type of tweet. That reads like spam to me, especially if you’re doing loads of them a day.
  4. Relatedly: personality is a good thing. Whatever else it might be for, finding people you like and who like to talk about things you like to talk about, and then actually talking to them, is probably the greatest, coolest thing anyone can do with Twitter. Drawing followers to you that really enjoy you — the personality you show rather than your potential as a marketing or sales tool for them — can only help them be more likely or engaging readers, customers, promoters and so forth.
  5. The utility of hashtags is pretty limited. They seem like a great idea, # signs in front of the important words to allow people who are interested in those words to go searching and find you. They can be very useful; most pertinent to the IA group, it seems that Kristen Lamb has had quite a lot of success starting conversations with her #MyWANA thing (though it’s sometimes overrun by opportunistic self-serving links, which is what tends to happen, and is part of why the next sentence is true). That’s an exception to the rule, and the rule is that hashtags kind of suck.
    Relatively few people will click on or run searches for, say, “#flowers” or “#mystery” or “#romance,” and most of the people who do probably aren’t going to be looking for tweets like yours. Those terms can all mean many different things in different contexts, so your hypothetical hashtag surfer would have to sort through a lot of crap to get to the specific type of item she’s looking for (which probably isn’t whatever your tweet was about anyway). Twitter isn’t a great place to fish for strangers who are looking for certain terms — and they can always search for those terms without the #, regardless. It seems to me that it’s much more effective to develop an audience that knows you, likes you and is eager to introduce you to an even wider audience…and that #peppering each #tweet with #jarring #hashtags is probably not likely to #encourage #that #kind #of #devotion among them. #hashtags

That’s it, those are my thoughts. I don’t know anything about anything, but I think a few things.

This is already too long (maybe some established IA can write a post on blogging for outsiders with a “Don’t write such dense rambling nonsense!” item), but I’ll leave you with my weekly Promisses image, which has no particular deep thought behind it this week but is really only a slightly creepy-old-uncle-ier version of the real thing:

Promisses No. 3