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.
This sounds like fun! I’m still not a big Twitter enthusiast, but might give this one a go.
Give it a go! C. Jai has agreed to help the ranchers get more time out on the Twitter range, so this is a great opportunity to try. We had fun with her during the Rodeo. Let us know your Twitter handle, too!
Mine is @Charli_Mills.
Fine. I’m sold!
Mine is: @EnneaGramType8
“Let’s do the time warp agaaaaaiiiin…”
Ha! I will always have need of your skills, 1. Jai (which is short-hand for you-are-my-#1-C.).
I’ve been tweeting a year and picked up just over 700 followers and follow about a 100 less. I focus my tweets on input to writing related daily hashtag prompts such as found at #MuseMon, #1lineWed, #Thurds, #FictFri and #SlapDashSat (but there are many more) and simply search my prose and poetry files for appropriate lines or short poems. I do this maybe 5 days a week and spend about 5 to 10 minutes finding and tweeting the text each day. What takes the time is interacting, ie reading and ‘liking’ as appropriate other writers contributions; it is essential you do this as you cannot expect to be ‘liked’ unless you ‘like’ folk too! I’ve become a quite efficient scan reader and limit this activity to no more than an hour a day. Given I’m reading ‘writers’ I tend to ignore overuse of images, blatant book ads, multiple tweets of the same material (really irritating please don’t do it!) and dare I say tweets with abbreviations too; I tend to find writers worth reading don’t use them. You soon pick up on the hashtag writing ‘superstars’ out there getting 50 to 100 (even more) likes a time, and often they are well worth reading, and liking, and reweeting if you genuinely like their words. Never fake it though, and you’ll find your handful (or less) of likes slowly grow as you learn what works and doesn’t, until, well, you get a say 10 to 20, and get the feeling you are doing okay, you have a presence, you’re being read. I think from me enough said, other than if you haven’t, go try it. Eric
Thanks for sharing your experience, Eric. By abbreviations, do you mean full sentences? There is abbreviation etiquette as C. Jai was pointing out to us. I think Twitter can feel intimidating, and we are looking to make it fun!
By abbreviation I simply meant truncated words and the like.
Charli, you are a blessing. I learn by doing, so with your inspiration and instruction I know I will soon come to be a better Twitter user. Thanks.
And I’m blessed to have writers who find joy in wordplay and want to explore literary art. C. Jai is one of our Rough Writers and she’s braving Twitterland for us all to grow! Thanks, Susan.
I see cold in a new light, love bragging about the warm weather I wake up to when my family is stuck in the cold. 😉
Enjoy your warmth!
I mostly retweet, I must admit. Let me know what you want RTed and I’m your gal!
Yay, Jan! We’ll enlist your RTing prowess. 😀
I only use twitter as one way to share blog posts I like. I hadn’t thought of posting something new there. Perhaps I should get more familiar with it.
C. Jai is getting us ready to experiment and we’ll have a grand time on a new range, Frank.
My blood pressure just went up.
(But I can just think of this as a 50 word story?)
I’ll do it using Buffer, but I’m not a twitter fan.
What’s Buffer, Joelle? Maybe we’ll all come to see the light on Twitter if we are friendlies on the range.
You can sign up with http://www.Buffer.com and sign in with your twitter account and they will retweet your tweet for you. I have the free account. They do a lot more for people who pay them. 🙂
Oh, okay. Kind of like HootSuite. I experimented with the retweet feature in WP. I’m still trying to find my groove on Twitter. I do like following #MondayBlogs and I like to be able to tweet posts and stories. I’m open to learning more..much more!
Seriously, I have no clue as to how hashtags are dreamed up, how they work, why you’d choose one over the other, how many you use, where you place ’em. The list of confusion and fear goes on and on…
The Canary in the Coal Mine
(Chirp, tweet, spiraling down, thunk!)
There are too many prompts and just not enough time…
I’m gonna have to take a pass on this. But the reading ought to be fun.
from the Frozen North…somewhere where it’s 9 F or -13 C…
(I’d tweet but my lips won’t move. – I actually read the other day that astronauts can’t whistle in space… maybe like a ducks quack that doesn’t echo? …back away folks I’m saving this canary… come on little birdie… let’s get us some fresh air! Nothing agin’ them smart tweeters… but any less complicated and we might have us a square dance in a round barn! Hugs to all.)
In space, astronauts can’t whistle…and no one can hear you scream!!!
(Thank you, Ridley Scott) 😉
I wrote you a helpful response, Liz, complete with sassy hashtags, and now I see my own WP ate the comment. Sheesh!
Hashtags help archive, monitor, and join chats on Twitter. They are easier to follow than create a following. You’d choose ones that seem active and have followers you’d like to follow or join (like #MondayBlogs has active bloggers). When I go online on Mondays I check in with that hashtag to see what’s being shared, share blog posts under that hashtag and RT interesting ones or by writers I know. Some hashtags are used to set up online chats. If you write responses to #twitterflash, you can later search that hashtag and your twitter handle to pull up all your own responses.
That’s a good question about where to place them — if the goal is to engage readers, make sure your hashtag doesn’t empede your hook or the clarity of your tweet. I place mine last.
I think Twitter feels fast, and the unspoken rules are not so clear. C. Jai can give us practice and guidance.
Does everything that is tweeted have to begin or end with a #statement?
I get wanting to stay connected. But sometimes…
#Hashtags help you find your tweets, Jules. Think of it as a filing system. C. Jai might have a different answer, but I don’t start tweets with a hashtag. I leave them at the end so that my tweet looks readable. One or two hashtags is enough. If I’m participating in #MondayBlogs and want to share a post on #education, I’ll use those two. Mak your hashtags meaningful — to follow, find or connect
It also depends on how you are using hashtags. Hashtags started as a way to help people find the content they wanted to read, but they are becoming abbreviated forms of sharing multiple layers of information within the content itself. Start looking at hashtags across all platforms — they are used on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter — and study how people are using them. Like all languages, hashtags are constantly evolving.
Too many if’s here… like if I had a brain, or a twitter account, or had some tech savvy – So I’m going to have to pass on the participation end. But I bet the reading will be fun. 🙂
I have a feeling we can rope you in at some point, Jules! 😉
…to write ‘as if’ on twitter, with instructions I could understand… but not FB, Pin-ter…, or a real tweetie. I just don’t have enough straw in my scarecrow brain… 😉
Update from a luddite: I searched that hashtag at twitter and golly neds, there are already some amazing flashes posted. #encouraged#intimidated
Yes! Some great flash sparking out there!
Sounds like fun. I’m slowly overcoming my twitter anxiety. Ha ha. May give this one a go. 🙂
It’ll be a good way to test the waters, Diana!
Hey Everyone, letting you know about some #hashtag events that are happening weekly if you want to explore Twitter.
First, play along with the prompt C. Jai has given you until January 26. It’s monthly and you can practice, then bring back the ones you like best to share. Tweet them all month long using #Twitterflash. It’s effective to tweet them all month long and RT those of others. It will get you into the Twitter groove!
In addition, to get you more comfortable on Twitter:
Every Sunday: Join the Bloggers Bash crew SUNDAYS on Twitter for a weekly #BlogBashChat. You’ll find the gathering @BloggersBash from 7-8pm GMT. Go to that twitter handle and follow along with the hashtag. It’s a discussion among writers with blogs and bloggers.
Every Monday: Join book marketing guru and author, Rachel Thompson (@RachelintheOC) for #MondayBlogs. You can read about it here: http://badredheadmedia.com/what-is-mondayblogs-and-why-you-should-be-participating/.
Excellent crash course on Twitter 101 Charli. 🙂 So important to check each follower before following back. I spend a few moments every morning checking my new followers so they don’t turn into a huge ‘to do ‘ list, lol. I also don’t follow ‘eggs’ with no avatars or those that have barely tweeted – ever. It’s important to check before following back, it’s not surprising how many are peddling pron on Twitter too. 🙂 Oh, and yes, I must get better with my lists 🙂
Good point — “eggs” for those who aren’t familiar with Twitter (yet) are accounts without a photo (Twitter give them an egg-icon). Those are good habits to cultivate, Debby. If we don’t check out a follower, we may end up with unsavory Tweets in our news feed! Ah, yes, I need to give my lists some TLC. Thanks for reminding me!
Great community of sharing Charli. Our findings shared can always help someone’s else’s back. 🙂
Yes, that is so true! And it makes the journey easier to know we are helping one another. 🙂
Where you two been?
Shorty, what’s a hashtag?
Pal made me, Shorty. I wanted ta head back ta muck the stable. Genius, here, had ta click on some hearts.
Thought it was like a 1-armed bandit.
Sure. Pays in bitchcoin.
Pays in kind.
The Kid’s gone a-tweetin’! Don’t spend that bitchcon all on knock off purses!
Please note the character count in this response. Had to lose my quotation marks though. Ugh.
Yeah, these two… but they prove that even stable geniuses can tweet, very asseccible.
Twitter pushes some creative boundaries in order to compromise with its limits. Ah, don’t let these two near the tweeting stable genius. That’s a badland.
I had to prune this to make the character-limit work, but here’s the unedited 50 word story. Twitter’s is further abbreviated. 🙂
Toni’s Aunt’s face resembled a carved, decayed apple, set in an expression of disdain. Toni feared her, shied from the old woman’s cold contemplation. She pointed out Toni’s every fault and flaw. “She’s too tall, too thin, too quiet.”
Toni’s Mom showed a photo of an awkward teen in old-fashioned clothing. The old woman who feared her niece would inherit her inadequacies.
Sharp writing, Kerry! See you on Twitter, too!
Reblogged this on firefly465.
I liked the previous twitter flash fiction competition, Charli. I did hash my tweeting a bit but I soon learned. I will think about this and see what I can come up with.
This will be a fun way to practice, without the pressure of a contest. I look forward to what you come up with.
Great post CJai. I’m a little overwhelmed but will make an effort to do it. Will be back with thoughts and findings.
Twitter is definitely one of those platforms to learn more about.
Looks like I can only Tweet 140 Characters. 🙁
Bet here’s what I did assuming an 280 capacity…
5 degrees past sundown. My head’s sweaty, cheeks toddler-pink, thighs numb. Shoveling snow is heavenly: light & dry, creamy & easy to toss over dead leaves & lawn. Let’s just see what the snowplows do to my pristine driveway. HA! #Twitterflash #cold #snowplow
Hunched up, shivering, too many layers 2 count. Sundown = lighter snow. How many more feet left? Steam along in a crystal cloud, labored breath gets loud. Shovel scrapes, catches ice islands, my belly bronco-kicked. Come and get me, snowplow! #Twitterflash #cold #snowplow
I stand before you, supplicant. Your pale eyes, barely blue, barely there. My mouth opens, rolls out an apology, a Spring-time breeze. A breath 4 new beginnings. You’re not having it. My tears are diamond knives. I’ve cut myself 4 the last time. #Twitterflash #cold #unforgiven
This sounds like an interesting challenge with many opportunities for learning.
You can do it!
I’m not sure I have time for anything else at the moment. I need to focus on my “real” work. 🙂
This is a great post. I love the idea of the challenge, but I honestly don’t know if I can fit that in. We’ll see. I certainly need something to kick start me back into the active world, though.
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