Twitter has changed me. Changed the type of writer, the type of creative artist I see myself as. Of course I can't ascribe any blame or agency to Twitter, that I haven't allowed to happen to myself.
Watch a conversation between just 2 people. How their sentences trail off, or veer wildly along a new train of thought. How they cut across one another. How they are punctuated with 'ums' and 'ers' as they gather and compose their thoughts. Twitter is not unlike this, in that the time to type means you are both lagging behind past conversational exchanges and cutting across new ones as they appear. Oh and it's unlikely to be restricted to just two parleyers. But because it demands a rapid response, you often don't have the luxury of time to compose and gather your thoughts. Then the 140 character automatic edit may further distort and deform your meaning. Nuances can be lost in something that comes over as declamatory. Twitter has no time for 'ums' and 'ers'.
Okay, so how has Twitter changed the type of writer I am? Like any writer, I am a magpie always on the lookout for ideas. Anything from daily life may be noted down, filed for later sculpting in fictional form. But it would have been worked on, chewed over, cogitated upon at length. Yet now within the exigencies of Twitter, I have started to react immediately to things. It's certainly changed the way I watch television programmes or sporting events. Now I can be sat there, laptop poised, commenting and critiquing live to the broadcast. In doing so, I can't be giving it quite the same focus as were I just to be watching it untrammeled by any keyboarding? The impulse seems now to just jump in, to react instantly and offer an opinion. How wise is it to unleash unmediated thoughts? It certainly goes against the author's tendency to weigh up and reflect upon his material.
Moreover, just what exactly is that persona of you that exists online and through Twitter? Does it represent 60% of the real you? 75%? 90%? All of you? The latter assumes we can ever even possess full self-knowledge. Whatever the percentage, it is the amount you choose to put out there of yourself. But it is still just a persona. You almost certainly reveal snapshots of the artist you. The workaday you for those who Tweet from the office. The leisure time you as you Tweet from a concert or the pub. But what about the family you? How much do you want to bring in of those nearest and dearest who themselves may have no online presence? Those who are never asked for their consent to be mentioned in your dispatches. Kids and spouses become part of our Twitter routines, if we judge it reflects well on us, or even badly so long as it is in a comic light. I don't know, if you're at a bus stop and a complete stranger gets out their wallet and shows you pictures of their children, is that significantly different from what we Tweeters do? Authors are often quizzed about how much of real people in their lives they put into their books and whether this presents them any problems of conscience. Well you can probably double that with regard to Twitter.
Yet it always fundamentally comes back to the words. The 140 character bite-sized morsels. Those that no matter how directly, may be silently, subliminally imploring Tweeters to go visit your blog, go read your book, to see your words at their full value, given proper breathing space to articulate themselves. And in order to fulfill this dynamic, the demands upon the writer are now to have fresh words as often as possible for consumption. To keep getting people to come visit your blog or view a piece of flash fiction or a poem you've posted. So now I'm writing flash fiction on a weekly basis, when I'd never written one in my life before joining Twitter. If I keep up the pace of one new piece of flash for each week's fridayflash Twitter hashtag community, then that will entail 52,000 words written in the year, irrespective of other new slightly longer pieces I occasionally pen. Plus weekly blog posts and book reviews. In other words, easily the equivalent of a new novel, only I'm not actually engaged on any current work in progress.
I blog opinion pieces and my take on literary theory, usually as guest posts on other blogs. Oh yes, I also review books - it's no longer sufficient just to read books for pleasure, now I feel the compunction to express my views on them publicly. All well and good, but from the noises I've had in regard to all this, I am just as likely to be 'spotted' and possibly offered an invitation to step up to the next level professionally, as a blogger or reviewer rather than as a novelist. None of which I've ever yearned to be or seen as a career path I'd take.
While that may seem churlish, I've never been someone of the opinion that all writing of whatever form has to be a good thing if you see yourself as a writer. This is purely my personal view, I certainly don't hold that it must be so for all writers. For me, I don't want to be a jobbing writer, maybe earning a crust that enables me in my spare time to devote my energies to my fiction. For I am all too aware, that the nature of the beast is such, that to do justice to the necessary professional standards of blog or journalistic writing, entails such an investment of time in its proper craft, it inevitably erodes the mental energy left for one's own work. I'd far rather earn my crust in a completely unrelated field, leaving me the space to create in a whole different mental space.
So I find myself writing more and in smaller chunks. I find myself being far less reflective and leaving my material far less worked on. I find myself possibly betraying confidences from people who have no means of redress. And I find myself writing opinion and review pieces and therefore consuming my own reading material in an entirely different way than from before. An interesting question comes when I finally draw a line under my current marketing campaign for the novel and decide it's time to return to starting a new long project. Will it coexist on Twitter along with me, or will it be written in seclusion from Tweep friends and fellow banterers? I don't yet know the answer to this, but I guess I'll let you know.