Why I’m Not On Twitter Yet

Last fall, when I sold my debut story collection to Grove/Atlantic, a smart friend whose book had just come out (and was doing extraordinarily well) wrote to encourage me to get on Twitter, stat. He said it was far and away the best place to meet book people and readers. He said: “Make sure you start well before the book’s release date so that you can build a following and people know you’re genuine and not just pushing your book.”

As of today, my book comes out in almost exactly nine months. March 5th, 2013—my son’s birthday, in fact. (How apt the book-pregnant metaphor, in my case!) Not a day goes by that I don’t have a slight moment of panic about Twitter. Will the book sell, if I’m not personally tweeting about it? Will people even know about the book? Will readers interpret the fact that I don’t tweet as snobbishness? Will they assume I hate Twitter, or that I’m technologically inept, and therefore (gulp) old, with nothing worthwhile to say to the next generation?

I worry about what not promoting myself via Twitter could mean for my career. I can’t remember anyone saying this outright, but somewhere along the way I’ve absorbed this fact: if your first book doesn’t sell, there likely won’t be a second. From a recent Salon piece: “…not to curate your brand, to collect followers and friends, is to limit one’s chances to have a career.”

But I haven’t signed up for Twitter yet. I think about it all the time. I feel a bit like Prufrock, circling the outskirts of the party, burdened by an overwhelming question: Do I dare?

I want to tell you why this is such a struggle for me. But if I open up to you, and show you the real tensions born of the ugliness of my addictive nature, the fierceness of my love for my kids, and the desperate desire to protect the quiet, slow space I need to keep writing new material, will you still read my book?

If you read it, and like what you read, will the fact that you can’t tag me in a tweet about it preclude your tweeting about it?

I’m not unaware of my hypocrisy here: I want you to tweet about my book; I don’t want to be on Twitter. Like the guy who wants everyone to have health insurance but doesn’t want the government to subsidize any of it; the eleventh hour employee who expects the same pay as the workers who’ve been at it since dawn.

Please understand: this isn’t a rally cry against Twitter, or social media in general. I’ve been on Facebook since 2008 and love it, probably too much. I (obviously) enjoy blogging. I maintain a website. I have plenty of writer friends for whom Twitter proves inspirational, informative, and just plain fun; who are able to work deeply and effectively while following, retweeting, and sending out Twitter updates of their own. I recognize and appreciate the ways social media forums have recalibrated the writer/reader relationship—the conversation now two-way and ongoing. A gift, to readers and to writers.

So I don’t want to talk about Twitter as a medium per se; I want to talk about my own fears of incompatibility with the medium. Given the exigencies of my personality, signing up for Twitter straight-up scares me.

I want to tell you why.

And then I want to hear what you have to say—because I’m open to persuasion.

*

I have an addictive and compulsive personality. I’m only beginning to come to terms with this fact. It manifests in different ways, some of them less harmful than others. I’ve been a nail biter my entire life. My left pinkie nail will never look normal again because of how badly I’ve treated it over the years. In public, I hide it beneath a Band-aid.

I used to be addicted to nasal spray. I broke the habit only by pretending to use it. The bottle was empty, but I went through the spraying motion anyhow. (It worked.)

I’ve struggled with other forms of addiction I can’t talk about here, habits that have hurt the people I love. And I struggle with Internet addiction. Once I’ve opened my email and/or Facebook, I can get lost in checking for the rest of the day, especially if I put a post up. Who “liked” it? Who commented? I once deactivated my account, but people worried. A friend called to make sure I hadn’t been killed in an accident, my family quietly deleting my account; others wrote to ask why I’d unfriended them.

Sometimes I ask my husband to change my Facebook login. Then I come up with some pressing reason I need to get on, and badger him to tell me the password.

If I send an email, especially one that involves writing, I’ll compulsively check for a response. No matter what I’m doing, if I hear the little ding, or see the red circle on the mail stamp, I’m compelled to check. People have said: You are so good about responding to emails—it’s almost always instantaneous! I want to say: it isn’t good. Not by a long shot.

John Cheever wrote in his journals that his goal was to make it to 11 a.m. without sneaking a drink. I already struggle—a daily battle—to avoid opening the laptop first thing each morning. But I find myself bargaining: “just one check, and then you’ll close it for the day and work.” Or I’ll come up with excuses: “You need to research this, you can’t keep writing until you’ve Googled xyz.” Or I’ll come up with little rewards for myself: “If you write for an hour, you can check email/Facebook.” And I’ll write dutifully, then check…and fall down the rabbit hole all over again.

Sometimes I catch myself thinking in status updates. I’ll see a hydrangea bush thick with blossoms, but instead of just enjoying it in solitude, I’ll go grab my camera so I can post the picture later.

The day this essay goes live, I’ll check for comments at least twice an hour.

Sitting here writing this, I’ve switched over to Facebook seven times.

*

Some days I have to get in my car and drive away from my laptop. I have an old-fashioned cell phone—calls and texts only—so that at least when I’m away from the computer, I’m off the grid.

You see where I’m headed. If I already struggle this way—if I lack the discipline to get my two pages a day in, if I’m losing this much creative energy to Facebook/blogs/email—I’m terrified of what joining Twitter will unleash.

And then there’s my family.

I have four children. Only other parents of teens will understand what a battle it is—daily, hourly—to get them to disconnect from their devices and be present. They move from screen to screen throughout the day, almost unconsciously, it seems. I tell my daughter: time to get off Facebook and do homework. She logs out, picks up her phone and checks for texts. Then she pulls out her iPad to start homework. (Her school—a progressive, college prep school in Chattanooga—requires students to own iPads. It’s completely paperless. No more books. No more bookstore. Don’t get me started.) First she fires up the music on iTunes or Pandora. She opens her Kindle app and starts reading. Right now it’s Brave New World. I walk away for ten minutes, come back – and she’s got her Tumblr open. Or she’s checking email. Or she’s back on Facebook.

Why aren’t you reading, I say. She switches back to the Kindle, still open behind the other pages.

And so it goes. My own struggle played out in front of me.

Hear me: I want my kids to know how to use technology responsibly; to develop at young ages the discipline I obviously lack. Technology is the future. I get it. I can’t take away their phones/computers/iPads because they must learn to navigate. I’d be doing them a grave disservice, if I simply said “no more” and removed all temptation. But it’s increasingly difficult to get them to do what I call the “real” things: ride a bike, climb a tree, have a conversation with a friend (not on FaceTime or Xbox Live).

At another school in town, a number of boys were suspended last week because they were tweeting some pretty awful (read: disgusting) things about a female teacher—during class. I can’t imagine how difficult social media must be for teens, who often lack the foresight and impulse-control and life experience to understand how dangerous instantaneous communication can be, especially in emotional moments. So, as a family, we’ve drawn the line at Twitter.

Can I tell my teens they’re not allowed to tweet, if I’m doing it? I could argue that it’s different: my account would be for work, while theirs would be for entertainment.

But would that be true?

*

And what about my reading/writing life? To engage deeply with a literary text requires a brain that is in some sense prepared: open, receptive, able to shut out noise and lose itself for an extended period of time. Lately, when I tune inward—at the beginning of a yoga class, say—I find my brain is on hyper-drive: a frenetic flashing among images, a jump-cut progression of thoughts. Especially after a day online.

And then there’s the creative work to be done. The stories lined up in my head. Some days they whisper: breathe life into us. Other days they shout: what the hell are you waiting for? Over and against these voices: Promote yourself. Network. Be accessible. You owe it to your audience. You owe it to your publisher.

But isn’t what I owe my audience and publisher—please correct me if I’m wrong—more work? Don’t I owe it to myself?

Finally, there’s this, from whip-smart critic Roxane Gay: “Writers feel this ‘market pressure’ to ‘network’ so they create social networking presences they have no idea how to use, that they have no interest in using, and then those presences languish and make the writer look like they don’t give a damn.”

If I join Twitter right now, it’ll be because I feel this ‘market pressure.’ And what will happen next will be one of three things: 1) I won’t use it in a way that’s authentic; 2) I won’t use it at all; or 3) the most likely scenario: I’ll transfer my addictive tendencies to Twitter. And wouldn’t any one of those outcomes be far worse than not joining to begin with?

Isn’t it better to just be straight with you, tell you what I’m afraid of, hope you’ll understand, and find me on Facebook? Or send me an email?

I promise I’ll respond. Probably within seconds.

Dear Reader: if you look for me on Twitter and don’t find me there, it won’t be because I hate social media, or think I don’t need it, or don’t care what you think about my work. It certainly won’t be because I don’t want to be there.

It will be the opposite.

I know this looks like fear.

Someone talk me out of it.

 

 

 

Share
We are always looking for great work. Have you considered submitting to Ploughshares?

About Jamie Quatro

Jamie Quatro’s first story collection, I Want To Show You More, is forthcoming in March 2013 from Grove/Atlantic. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Kenyon Review, Tin House, Ploughshares, AGNI, American Short Fiction, McSweeney’s, Oxford American, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of fellowships from Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and lives with her husband and children in Lookout Mountain, Georgia.
This entry was posted in The Writing Life and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Why I’m Not On Twitter Yet

  1. The beauty of social media is that one size doesn’t fit all. You can identify and employ those platforms which fit well with your passions, personality, and perspectives. Unfortunately, there are many self-proclaimed SM gurus who constantly push network involvements like a drug, all the while berating us into thinking we’re totally uncool and technologically inept if we don’t immerse ourselves in the places where all the hip people hang out.

    Social media engagement can become a huge sucking vortex of vacuous wasted time. It’s takes deliberate and proactive discipline for many of us to schedule/block specific time each day. And then to have the power of will to walk away when real life calls.

    Don’t listen to the lemming’s call. Twitter will be just fine without you. And your book will flourish without Twitter.

  2. Connie O says:

    I loved reading this. I can relate and what a great image of prufrock. And your family..I am not sure where to start on my response to you- it resonated with my soul.

    My career is in the digital strategy space – I LOVE being online. I love the gadgets and the tools that make communicating from a far easier. I love the apps and the services that make my life easier. But I am slow to embrace social media for myself – Twitter specifically. My life isn’t that interesting. Sure I read a lot but will others be interested in what I read and think.

    I am raising a 10 year old boy. He too loves the gadgets and the apps and being online! Have I robbed him of the smell of a library book forever (we get our books at nypl.org for our kindles)? The feel of a ocean soaked book on a misty day? Being outdoors on a day like today because we are inside online? He wants a Facebook account – he isn’t 13. If I break this rule what will he say when I catch him drinking or smoking or possibly worse?

    And then my inner self takes over (thank God) and says – relax. Go with the flow and as Rich said in his post – social media can be what I want it to be not what others want me to have it be. Thanks for posting this – I can relate.

    • Jamie Quatro says:

      Thanks for sharing this, Connie. Some days I really feel alone in the struggle – so many friends use the platform with such seeming grace and ease and wit, and I long to be able to do the same.

  3. Michael says:

    What an interesting, thoughtful, and honest post. And, I want to think a little bit more on it before I write my complete thoughts here, but initially? I say don’t. Roxane’s advice is really sound: don’t use social media if you aren’t really into it because being half-assed is worse than not being there at all.

    And, of course: congratulations on the forthcoming book!

  4. Rafael Otto says:

    So much resistance in this piece, and yet here you are using a blog platform to essentially promote yourself and your upcoming book. Twitter will do the same thing but in shorter segments, and probably more quickly, and probably open you up to new contacts and readers, and probably throughout the world. And you won’t really know what Twitter is like until you start using it (which you clearly will start doing).

    In five years we will see the end of paper books in the same way we saw the end of vinyl records – publishers will still have a few paper books printed for the diehards and collectors and those who still like the idea of a “bookshelf.” As a writer and reader, I lament this to a degree. But the future is here, and platforms like Twitter are not only transforming how we communicate but how we think. Instead of resisting, go ahead and use it and see where it takes you (it most certainly will take you somewhere).

    Blocks of writing time can still include clicks to Facebook and Twitter (Why not? Sub-message: ditch the guilt). We can integrate our online experiences with our traditional methods of writing and making art. The essential thing is that we continue to create and tell our stories. It’s just that now we have more resources and tools to do the work, engage more readers from more diverse communities and do it in ways that were not possible in our recent past. That, to me, is opportunity, one that writers and artists in general can hardly afford to waste.

    • Jamie Quatro says:

      I need to inscribe “ditch the guilt” somewhere on my body. You nailed that one.

      But as for the resistance to joining Twitter in the piece vs. using the blog platform, here, to self-promote: I’m not sure I see the connection. First, this is an authentic wrestling with a personal and pressing issue; I mention the upcoming publication to situate what follows in context. I want readers to better understand the increasing pressure I feel to get on Twitter, with a book releasing in nine months. Second, I wasn’t trying, in any way, to construct an argument against Twitter as a vehicle for self-promotion; nor was I trying to argue against self-promotion in general. Self-promotion is a separate issue. For the record, I’ve reconciled myself to it – I don’t bat an eye when dancers invite me to their performances, or painters to their openings, or musicians to their concerts – and, as I say in the piece, I keep an updated website and Facebook page (and definitely post links to my writing there).

      This post is about my own predilection for obsessive/compulsive use of internet-based media, and my fear that my addictive tendencies will get the better of me if I add Twitter to my roster of temptations — not about whether or not I should self-promote.

      And about the bound book’s survival only as a collector’s item within the next five years? You may be right. But I dearly hope you’re wrong.

  5. Alexis Smith says:

    Jamie,

    I am on the other side of your situation–but just barely. My first book came out in January. Before the book came out I felt enormous pressure to blog, tweet, have a fb fan page, get “active” on Goodreads, etc. I only did about half of these things, partly because readings, press, having a job, and being a parent were taking up most of my days anyway (oh, and writing? I’m just getting back into my next book–get ready for a little circus in your world for the next six months).

    The thing is, if it doesn’t come naturally to you (it didn’t for me), if you don’t feel compelled to blog or tweet, etc. then forcing it won’t connect with readers anyway. And on the other hand, if it comes all too naturally & your addictive personality takes over, you’ll be reading web content all day & commenting & hash tagging your fingers off. You won’t advance your writing career in that case, either, because you won’t have a next book for people to buy & read.

    As for the social anxieties: if you don’t tweet, people will probably assume it’s because you’re a serious writer who is working her butt of with a kind of discipline they can’t muster themselves, not farting around on the internet like the rest of us. Really, deep down, I believe that my friends who are not on FB are probably much more productive than I am, and I respect them for it, even if the truth is that they’re just watching Game of Thrones all day.

    My book has done damn well, with audio & foreign rights sales, kudos from big shots in the book world, and impressive sales for an independent press offering, and all even though I rarely update my website, don’t blog, and have about 12 followers (all friends) on Twitter (to receive the once/week posts I manage to spit out).

    I appreciate what you say about demonstrating unplugging and being in the here and now for your kids–and for your own well-being and sanity. I think we all struggle with this anymore. Maybe the answer is not cutting out technology, but making our real life interactions with people count more. There are social networks in the real world, too, after all. It takes more elbow grease, but you will feel more human afterwards.

    Go to as many independent bookstores as you can, sign their stock, talk to their employees and owners, tell them how much you appreciate that they stock your book, buy a book if you can, offer to come read or sign. If they don’t carry your book, buy a book anyway, and ask them if they will carry your book. Say yes to every opportunity to meet face-to-face with readers and booksellers. Skype with book groups, or offer to go sit in on their meeting. Your audience will ask you what you’re working on, and you’ll tell them, and when the next book comes out, maybe they’ll remember your face–not that tweet about that NYT article.

    • Jamie Quatro says:

      Alexis, this is incredibly helpful. “Maybe the answer is not cutting out technology, but making our real life interactions with people count more.” YES. And I’m so glad to hear that Glaciers has done as well as it has (I see it everywhere – it gives me major cover envy!) despite the fact that you didn’t go gangbusters on Twitter/blogging etc. And encouraging to hear that face-to-face interaction with booksellers, readers, book groups etc. still makes a difference. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  6. Although I’m far from a proponent of Twitter (or the idea of social media as self-marketing at all, because it seems dishonest and whore-y), I have a hard time seeing even compulsive Facebook- and email-checking as much of a problem. Any time I’m in front of a computer, whether at work or at home, watching TV or writing, I have Facebook open in a tab (if not Tumblr and Gmail) constantly. I watch the top of the screen for the parenthetical 1 that means I have a Notification, and I jump over occasionally to check for new updates, but with the exception of the first time I check it during the day, none of this takes more than maybe five minutes an hour in little twenty to thirty second bits. The way I see it, if I tried not to check Facebook or my email, I’d spend a lot more time thinking about it than if I just check it, process it as much as it deserves (which, when it’s just my brother saying he’s on the bus next to a weird person again, is not much), and get back to whatever I’m doing.
    And as far as thinking in status updates, to me that suggests a desire to share your experience and who doesn’t have that?

    Maybe not a great reply to the whole Twitter conundrum, but it’s what first comes to mind.

    • Jamie Quatro says:

      I hear you. Maybe I just work differently, but I have a hard time staying with the novel I’m drafting (or story, essay, etc.) when I’m constantly checking. Yanks me up out of the creative well, so to speak. I seem to require long, uninterrupted periods of time to access the deep levels of feeling, tap into the creative energy that inspires my work. Does that make sense?

      As for the self-promotion: that’s another thing entirely. I’ve pretty much reconciled myself to that aspect of the business. I put stuff up on Facebook, and keep my website updated with publications etc. So my resistance to joining Twitter really has less to do with self-promotion, and more to do with wanting to protect my work, my engagement with my kids, and my ability to get outside my head and really *see* the people around me, in real-time.

  7. Sybil Baker says:

    Really enjoyed these comments. I already posted on your FB wall about this, so I won’t rehash everything–but just to say that with your conflicting desire to create a space for your “real” world and your writing with a desire to connect with the virtual writing and reading community, to do well by your publisher and potential fans is understandable and all too common. Add on top of that your fear of adding yet another compulsion to your life and being a role model for your kids adds to a lot of worry. I don’t think there’s any shame in relying on your Twitter friends and fans to spread the word.

  8. Michael says:

    I thought about this way too hard. So, I blogged about at TMR. Just a warning: I can ramble on and on and on and on!

    • Jamie Quatro says:

      That, my new friend, is one of the most honest and genuinely helpful things anyone has ever written to me.

      I’m posting it on Facebook.

      You know I’d tweet it too, if I could.

      And listen: I’ll sign my book for you if you’ll do the same for me.

      Cheers, JQ

  9. JES says:

    Here via Michael’s post at TMR… (Hmm. I certainly didn’t intend a little object lesson in that!)

    I’ve been on Twitter for a few years now; ditto Facebook; ditto a blog. I have no idea if any of it matters.

    For starters, I often block people attempting to follow me on Twitter — because it’s obvious from their own profiles and tweets that they don’t know me and have absolutely no connection to anything about me… and follow 12,000 other people on Twitter. Obviously this is some sort of weird reverse-marketing/-spamming kung fu. I guess the idea is that REAL followers who are curious will look up my other followers, and then be sucked into the marketing vortex. But I don’t want anything to do with this — which sentiment utterly flies in the face of all “get your brand before as many eyeballs as possible” advice. (Ditto, my habit of tweeting maybe a couple-three times a day, if that.)

    Facebook doesn’t draw me very much.

    But oh my, blogging appeals to me. It’s not an especially good marketing tool, not for me, anyhow. (Although I’ve got a handful of themed series, my blog’s not about a particular topic. I’ll never be regarded as an expert on anything, or a voice to be reckoned with on subjects A, B, or C.)

    Bottom line: I’m comfortable with the technology, and know how I should use it to promote my writing. I’m just quite stupid about doing so.

    You, on the other hand, will be just fine — with or without Twitter, Facebook, or even a blog. Ultimately, it’s all about the work.

    • Jamie Quatro says:

      Thanks for chiming in, John. I like blogging too. I can take time with my thoughts, develop my ideas in a longer format. It’s a slower writing practice that seems to mesh nicely with my other writing work – and the weekly deadlines force me to learn how to push through the days/hours when the Muse doesn’t show up.

      Conversely, though, there’s something unique and aesthetically challenging about composing prose in shorter segments; saying much with little. Jennifer Egan’s current Twitter story in The New Yorker is a great example – an aphoristic pastiche – reads almost like the book of Proverbs.

  10. Wendy says:

    I hated Twitter. Then I tolerated Twitter but thought it was ridiculous. Then I tolerated Twitter. Then I kinda liked Twitter. I think I might be on the verge of having a crush on Twitter. I’m afraid of what comes next.

    Don’t do it for your writing career. You don’t need it. Do it because it will enrich you and if it won’t? Don’t do it!

    (From a fellow high-octane nailbiter.)

    P.S. I found you from Michael’s open letter which was fantastic!

    • Jamie Quatro says:

      I know – Michael’s letter is so great. I want to tattoo certain sentences on my forearms so I can see them as I write. That bit about planting my flag and sounding my barbaric yawp…I still need to write a cohesive reply to him but every time I try I just keep gushing about what a great reply it is.

      Anyhow! Thanks for your words and encouragement. Nailbiters unite!

  11. Pingback: Regarding Recognition: A Response to Michael Nye, With Gratitude | Ploughshares

  12. Evelyn says:

    Jamie, we share the same problem regarding getting lost in cyberspace; I can’t even remember how I got to your terrific post! Since my YA novel was published 2 years ago, I found myself pulled into the book marketing black hole. There has been much written about this brave new world–you (we) are not alone. I’ll offer two quick tips: 1) Decide how much time you will devote to book PR each week and just do it. 2) Even if your publisher doesn’t have a big campaign planned, there is much you can do on your own, especially pre-publication. Enlist the know-how of experts to guide you on this, like Peter Bowerman http://www.wellfedwriter.com/author.shtml

  13. Diana says:

    Jamie,

    As a big fan/ constant user of Twitter – I was the Ploughshares web/social media intern and I obsessively read all my accumulated tweets from top to bottom – I just want to say that I’ve loved following this post and the responses to it, both here in these comments and on other sites (Michael’s open letter). That being said, I don’t think you should feel like you need to join twitter to push your book at all. I read your story in Ploughshares and loved it – enough so that when I saw on here that you had a book coming out, I mentally noted that I wanted/ needed to read it when it comes out. I think great writing can still speak for itself and will find you willing and excited readers!

    • Jamie Quatro says:

      Wow. Thank you. This comment makes me very, very happy ;)

      And yeah, what a great conversation this has been. People have been overwhelmingly supportive – here, on Facebook, in personal emails/letters. I can’t tell you how many folks have written to me saying they struggle with similar types of email/Twitter/FB addiction. Last week someone wrote to ask if I’ve come up with any strategies that help (other than staying away from Twitter), and if I have, to please send them. So I drafted a list of things I’ve tried. I might post it in the coming weeks. But it’s embarrassing, and feels almost ridiculous, for me to put up some kind of self-help strategies list. Because do I actually practice any of it? No. Not really. Maybe on a good day. But good days are rare.

      Anyhow. Thanks again for writing. I hope you like the book!

  14. Pingback: How Do You Get Past the Sirens? | Ploughshares

  15. Pingback: From Bennington to Book Tour: A Life-of-Letters Q&A | Ploughshares

  16. Pingback: Our Boston Tea Party (AWP Style!) | TMR Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong> <div align="" class="" dir="" id="" lang="" style="" xml:lang=""> <embed style="" type="" id="" height="" width="" src="" object=""> <iframe width="" height="" frameborder="" scrolling="" marginheight="" marginwidth="" src=""> <img alt="" align="" border="" class="" height="" hspace="" longdesc="" vspace="" src="" style="" width="" title="" usemap=""> <map name="" area="" id=""> <object style="" height="" width="" param="" embed=""> <param name="" value=""> <pre style="" name="" class="" lang="" width="">