By C. Jai Ferry
On December 30, the high temperature in my neck of the global woods was a whopping -21 degrees Fahrenheit (-29 Celsius). That didn’t take into account the wind chill, which even today, with our balmy 2 degrees (-16 Celsius), makes my toes curl up in icy protest just thinking about. Needless to say, I am not a fan of winter. Oh sure, a scene of giant, feathery snowflakes drifting down to blanket a cottage with a fire in the hearth and steamed up windows looks all nice and cozy from the outside, but anyone who has had to take a dog out to do his business in sub-zero temperatures knows that blanket of snow brings with it a chill that settles into your bones.
But, if we’re being honest, I must admit that I do like one aspect of snow-filled days: They give me the perfect opportunity to hunker down and write without any distractions. When the roads are covered with white fluff, no one expects me to run errands or meet them for lunch. During this time, I spend hours and hours trapped in my own little worlds without having to come up with an excuse about why I so rarely leave the house. Living an excuse-free life—even if only for a season—translates into my writing process, as the words flow on to the page, taking on a life of their own.
So why am I talking about beautiful but bitterly cold snow when this is our first Twitterflash post of 2018? Because social media is a lot like snow: It can be a cold, unforgiving environment despite all the crowds oohing and ahhing over how a handful of people have used social media to create a cozy and warm home in their neck of the woods. Many people who have much lower socialization needs cringe at the thought of using social media, especially when all the people “in the know” are telling them they must do this or that—activities so far beyond their wheelhouse that they immediately set up all sorts of roadblocks that prevent them from ever using social media.
Let’s get one roadblock out of the immediately. There is no right or wrong way to use social media. Just because one writer got a book deal or sold a million books or was crowned The Greatest Writer Ever by tweeting or posting on Facebook doesn’t mean that you will have the same results if you follow his “9-step foolproof plan to mastering social media.”
A writer friend likes to remind me that the Universe rewards those who speak to it, responding with exactly what you are asking for. I tend to think of social media, and especially Twitter, as a megaphone to the Universe. If you share stories and insights on potentially flaming content, you will likely attract flamers in epic proportion (flame is slang for sharing angry, critical, or disparaging comments online). If your tweets focus on bursts of microfiction related to today’s social injustices, you will probably still attract a flamer or two (they’re ubiquitous, unfortunately), but you will also attract followers interested in those injustices, who will read your tweets and, over time, build a relationship with you. You may never realize the power of your tweets for others, but powerful they will be—whether you’re writing about a fictionalized account of a refugee separated from her family, a story about surprising your child with a puppy, or a scene about herding cattle during a snowstorm.
The idea behind Twitterflash at the Carrot Ranch is to help writers find their voice on Twitter. I’m not going to tell you what to say or how to say it. Rather, I am going to help you explore Twitter’s tools, take them for a test run, then ask you to come back here at the end of the month and share your discoveries. How you use the monthly challenges is completely up to you, but if you want to take some risks, I will be there to support you as best I can.
Now, before we jump into this month’s challenge, I have to offer a few words of wisdom from my own less-than-successful experiences on Twitter. I’m trying not to overwhelm you, so just offering a few tidbits for now. If you have specific questions about anything, drop them in the comments on this post and I will do my best to find an answer for you.
- Unlike other social media platforms, Twitter’s power is in its public nature. People do not need your approval to follow you on Twitter (unless you set your account to private, which defeats the whole purpose and power). If you want to control who sees what you share, don’t use social media. Seriously. On any social media platform, even you put in place every security gatekeeper that exists, you still cannot stop your friends and followers from showing your content to others. Privacy does not exist in social media. Assume that everyone in the world will read what you post.
- Because anybody can (and will) follow you on Twitter, make sure you visit their Twitter page before you automatically follow them back. Many users think it’s an unwritten rule to follow those who follow you. Not so, although you do want to follow a variety of people. Some followers you will immediately recognize as not worth following (e.g., accounts that offer to “sell” you new followers). Others might not be as obvious. When you get a new follower, click on their profile and go explore. Read some of their tweets and look at what they retweet. Some accounts you will need to block (which is done from their profile page) right from the get-go. Trust me. You’ll know what I mean when you see them. Others, you might not see anything negative, but also nothing that makes you want to follow that person. But what if the person’s tweets are ho-hum, but they’re someone you think maybe you should follow (e.g., an acquisitions manager). That’s where lists come into play.
- Start using lists as soon as possible. Lists are Twitter’s way of organizing your followers so that you don’t go insane. They don’t explain it that way, but really, that’s what lists are for. According to Twitter: “A list is a curated group of Twitter accounts. You can create your own lists or subscribe to lists created by others. Viewing a list timeline will show you a stream of Tweets from only the accounts on that list.” (Twitter’s information on setting up lists.) Note: List titles are public. So don’t do what I did and create a list entitled “Book scammers & spammers” because the people added to that list will not be happy. But you can create lists for writers, publishing industry, and new friends (which could mean new people you meet online or your secret code for “they seem nice, but let’s keep them at arm’s length for a while…just in case”).
Okay, feeling like you might have just been crushed by an avalanche? Before we wade any deeper into the Twitterverse, let’s grab our security blankets and cozy up to the fire in the hearth. It’s time for this month’s Twitterflash challenge.
Content rules on Twitter.
You can have all the sparkly emojis and flashing GIFs you want attached to your tweet, but if the content doesn’t live up to the hype, people will just scroll on by. So for this first challenge, focus on creating content.
Twitter users have a lightning-fast attention span. If the first few words in a post don’t grab users, they scroll to the next tweet in their feeds. Twitter users are also merciless when it comes to keeping their attention. You can have the most amazing first five words in a tweet, but if words six and seven are meh, time to scroll. When you are writing your Twitterflashes this month, try to create as many powerful word/phrase/sentence/idea combinations in your stories as possible. Subtlety can be powerful too, but if you choose this route, create your subtleties in layers rather than textual combinations (e.g., the kind of story that, the more the reader thinks about it, the more meaning they find in it).
The good news is that Twitter users are fairly forgiving when it comes to following grammar rules. Abbreviations are the norm, especially when you’re pushing that character limit. As long as the reader can understand the abbreviation, it’s all good. So don’t shy away from abbreviations and shortcuts; they will not impede your storytelling on Twitter. (Check out this resource for a comprehensive list of shortcuts used on Twitter.)
Don’t change your writing voice. Rather, push your limits.
Think of Twitterflash as an espresso version of your writing. You’ve got a month to practice and tinker. You can try a couple of different approaches with the same story or write several different stories. Engage your Twitter followers in the process. Ask them to recommend a title for your story or to choose between two options in the plot (remember the Choose Your Own Adventure stories?). And if your followers don’t want to engage, that’s okay too. Remember: Even if they don’t engage, someone is always reading your tweets.
Ok, ready to dive in?
January #Twitterflash: In a single tweet (which is 280 characters, or in the ballpark of 50 words), write a story about seeing coldness in a new light. It can be physical cold, psychological cold, emotional cold…wherever you want to go with it. Tweet your story (or stories), including the hashtag #Twitterflash. Tweet them all month long. Tweet the same story more than once. Tweet at different times during the day (or night). Notice anything different in your approach or the reception? If so, make a note of it and share with the group.
On the last Friday in January, we’ll ask you to come back to the ranch to share your favorite Twitterflashes. I’ll also ask you to share one Twitter account that you think other Rough Writers would enjoy and/or benefit from.
Drop your questions/comments/concerns in the comments below, but save your Twitterflashes until January 26, when we’ll gather around the hearth to share here at Carrot Ranch. C. Jai Ferry is a flash fiction freak, human trafficking warrior, and Master Ninja at novellaninjas.com, an online space promoting published short stories and novellas to readers. Her titles include Unraveled, a collection of microfiction and flash fiction stories, and “Skeleton Dance,” 2014 winner of the Vermillion Literary Project Short Story Contest, which was turned into a film and included in the 2016 Nebraska Noir collection. She tweets from @CJaiFerry
Carrot Ranch’s Twitterflash 2018 is a monthly challenge focused on expanding writers’ use of Twitter as a tool for writing. Throughout the year, writers will experiment with storytelling via tweets using the following areas of focus (in no particular order):
- Visual Aids
- Multiple tweets
Have an area you’d like included in this year’s Twitterflash project? Drop me a line.