Twitter for Writers: Powerful Tool or Evil Time Sucker?

Blue Birds

My first interaction with a writer on Twitter took place over two years ago. I had just finished reading Last Night in Montreal (Emily St. John Mandel‘s first novel) and loved it so much that I raved about it through my Twitter account (@BibloGeek). Much to my surprise, Emily responded.

This interaction convinced me of the power of Twitter for readers. At the time, hearing from an author on Twitter was akin to meeting a movie star. Not only did I get a chance to ‘talk’ to a published author, but I also got to tell her how much I enjoyed her work. As an avid reader, this was thrilling.

Now that I’ve started writing myself, I’ve come to understand just how effective Twitter can be for writers as well.

3 Reasons Twitter Can be a Powerful Tool for Writers:

Here are the three main reasons I think Twitter can help writers, although I am sure there are many more ways (feel free to add them in the comments!).

1) You can spread the word about your work: Twitter can provide writers with an invaluable  link to their audience. Not only did I, as a reader, get to tell Emily St. John Mandel how much I enjoyed her book, but I also spread the word to all of my contacts on Twitter. Research on marketing shows us that consumers are much more likely to trust a recommendation made by a friend (virtual or real-life); having people talk about your work on Twitter can be a great way to gain new readers.

2) Twitter is a portal to a community of writers:

Lonely Tree

Life as a writer can be lonely. Twitter provides access to a community of like-minded people: authors, aspiring writers, bloggers, readers, publishers, poets. Even better, when you’re talking to others on Twitter you don’t need to get out of your pajamas, or show up at a specific time.

3) Twitter is a great source of news and information: As an aspiring writer, I use Twitter to keep myself in the loop about the latest developments in the publishing world, and to access articles that help me hone my skills. Each morning my Twitter feed provides an instant view of what’s going on in the writing world, from alerting me to new publications, to leading me to interesting posts from other bloggers.

3 Reasons Twitter Can be an Evil Time Sucker:

As useful as Twitter can be, it’s not for everyone. Even those of us who do use Twitter on a regular basis have most likely seen its dark side.

Dark Side of the Moon

1) Twitter can be a fantastic procrastination tool: I have spoken to several people (in the ‘real world’) who think Twitter is a colossal waste of time, and sometimes I have to agree. I’ve fallen into the Twitter-trap more than once before: I’ll be stuck on a piece of writing and convince myself that a 5 minute Twitter break would be the best way to break through my writer’s block. Half an hour later, my writing time is up and my page is still blank. I’ve overcome this by setting specific times for my tweeting, but it’s still something I need to remind  myself of every once in awhile.

2) Time invested might not equal value returned: Depending on what a you would like to get out of Twitter, you may become frustrated with the return on your time investment. Maintaining a Twitter account takes a fair chunk of time (especially when you’re getting set-up), and if you’re expecting to gather thousands of legitimate followers within days, you’ll most likely be disappointed. I think it’s important to determine what you’d like to get out of your Twitter account and how much time you’re willing to put in before you dive into the Twitterverse.

3) It’s not for everyone: Some authors (or people, for that matter), just aren’t into social interaction online. Jonathan Franzen is famous not only for his ridiculously good writing, but also for his dislike for the internet mixed with writing. Jonathan’s 8th rule of writing is: “It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.” If the idea of talking to people in 140 characters or less doesn’t appeal to you, Twitter might not be an effective tool for you as a writer.

Here are a few posts about Twitter and writers that I have found useful:

As an aspiring writer, I have found the pros of using Twitter have outweighed the cons, but I know that’s not everyone’s experience. 

As a writer, do you find Twitter an effective tool, or a time sucker that drags you away from writing? Have you had a chance to interact with any of your favourite authors on Twitter? 

Images sourced from stock.xchng: Blue BirdsLonely TreeDark Side of the Moon.


  1. Your post is informative and another observation that reaffirms…the Yin and the Yang…
    Everything has good qualities…and that same thing(no matter what) has bad.
    The individual and the life we lead change the good part or bad part of a desired action.


  2. As Jaye says… It’s not an either or debate.

    I’m a recent succumber to twitter and struggling to make sense of it. But I have already found some fantastic new authors through it and really pleased signed up.

    As with facebook, so long as you don’t treat it as a competition to get followers / friends, but use it thoughtfully, it can be a useful tool.

    Maybe a great tool. I’m just beginning to get to grips with hashtags and the like, but I’m hearing from others tha twitter is performing miracles for them, and so slowly putting in time to build my social platform skills.

    I have no interest in what an author or blogger I hardly know had for breakfast or what they’ll be doing at the weekend, but updates on new blog posts, books and similar news are invaluable and help build the community spirit which is changing the face of writing.

    @markwilliamsint just in case anyone’s interested. :-)

    • I’ll be sure to follow you on Twitter Mark!

      I think (like many things in life) Twitter’s value is in the eye of the beholder: I know several people who are adamant that Twitter is a waste of time (writers included!), but I also know others, like yourself, that find Twitter to be a very useful tool. For me, Twitter has some clear benefits and some clear drawbacks (so I’m in the Twitter is both wonderful and evil camp).

      Thanks for your comment, and happy tweeting!

  3. I joined the Twitterverse a while ago and I’m just starting to find the writing, publishing and blogging community on Twitter. I used a hashtag for the first time last week and got a positive response from another following that group. It was positive reinforcement. :) It has yet to become a time sucker for me, but I can see how the writing community can become addicting to chat with. Great post.

    • Hello Nicole!

      When I first started with Twitter, it felt a bit like I had joined a club that had a ton of secret rules, rules that I wasn’t privy to. It definitely become better with time and lots of reading. I’m still trying to master/remember to use hashtags myself (which I know is terrible).

      I am following you on Twitter now – you should add a pic! People are way more likely to follow when you have a picture/icon on your profile (you may be working on this, but I thought I’d point it out just in case :)

      Welcome to Twitter!

  4. Carrie, thanks so much for this post. A newbie Twitterer myself, I am in the ‘honeymoon’ stage..all starry eyed and cradling a hopeful heart. Your article has given me some, valuable, pre-marital counselling and I am going to enter into the relationship with my eyes open. Thank you.

    Also, Amazon are now plucking Emily S.J Mandel’s debut novel from their shelves, as I write. My ‘good book’ attenna has been on altert for sometime for a novel to grab my attention. Fingers crossed, it will hold power and court over me whilst I clutch its sleeve. Thank you.

    Have you read Remainder by Tom McCarthy? I found this book to be a literary black hole, not that it let me vacuous, but that whilst reading nothing else seemed to exist around me and I was off in a sphere of my own. I would LOVE to write a book that has this very effect.

    • I really hope you enjoy Emily’s book. I have also heard good things about her second book, ‘The Singer’s Gun’. I’m hoping to read it this summer.

      I haven’t read Remainder, but I’ll definitely check it out. It sounds very intriguing.

      Thanks for the reco (and let me know what you think of ‘Last Night in Montreal’)!

  5. I can’t decide yet if Twitter will be an effective tool for me as a writer or a waste of time and tool for procrastination. I’m having a lot of trouble getting into the whole Twitter scene, although I’m trying. I definitely don’t think it’s for everyone. I think as long as you don’t get addicted to it, it can probably be useful to an extent.

  6. I’ve been reading your articles for a while now – and this is a very interesting posting! :)

    Personally, I don’t like twitter. Maybe it’d be a great tool for me, but I think twitter is just about a million things I DON’T want to and don’t need to know about my friends and other people’s lives. ;)

    • Hello!

      I have talked to a lot of people who don’t think Twitter is for them, and I can understand where they’re coming from. I actually only follow a few people that I know in my non-virtual life on Twitter – most of the people I’ve connected with are people who share my professional interests (writing and editing). For my professional life, it’s been fantastic, but I too would not want to hear about what my friends are eating for lunch (unless, of course, they were inviting me :)

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

  7. I think a large amount of it comes down to self-discipline. If you are using it as a tool with the appropriate focus, then it’s a great avenue for publicity and for communicating with fellow writers. However, it can be easy to get drawn in and following other lines of conversation that end up more time wasting than productive.

    Striking that balance is probably the hardest thing as a newcomer to the medium – and I suspect any time there is a writer’s block, it becomes easier to procrastinate rather than focus!

    • Ahhh self-discipline! The writer’s best friend ;)

      I totally agree with you, Stephen. I’ve definitely had to set boundaries for myself with Twitter (and other social media tools). Even with my boundaries, I have to remind myself to close my browser window and get back to my writing every now and then.

  8. PS In the positive category, I found this article, and your newly-bookmarked-in-my-browser website, courtesy of Twitter. And I’ve shared it with other writers too – so something is working :-)

  9. Thanks for this post! When my publisher told me to get on Twitter, I was frankly kind of dreading it, but it’s turned out to be a lot of fun and I’ve met some lovely people through it. It feels more like an ongoing conversation about books and publishing than a promotional tool. A bookseller of my acquaintance likens it to dropping into a cocktail party; you arrive, engage in a few conversations about a topic that interests you, and then leave.

    I know what you mean about what a time-suck Twitter can be. I disagree with Franzen’s 8th writing rule (I’ve written three novels on a computer with an internet connection, thankyouverymuch) but I do find the Internet wildly distracting sometimes. My solution these days is a $10 program called Freedom ( that shuts off the internet for a pre-set number of minutes; once the program’s running, you can’t get online unless you restart your computer. I turn off the internet and write for a couple hours, turn it back on for twenty minutes or so, repeat as needed til I’ve written a respectable number of pages for the day.

  10. I agree with ALL of this–the good and the bad. I’ve had opportunities I’d never have without Twitter. And it’s also eaten up more time than I can possibly know. Great post for people making the decision!

  11. […] My first interaction with a writer on Twitter took place over two years ago. I had just finished reading Last Night in Montreal (Emily St. John Mandel’s first novel) and loved it so much that I raved about it through my Twitter account (@BibloGeek). Much to my surprise, Emily responded. This interaction convinced me of the power of Twitter for readers. At the time, hearing from an author on Twitter was akin to meeting a movie star. Not only did I … Read More […]

  12. I love the clarity of this post — thank you! I have found twitter to be really helpful to me as a writer. Like you, I’ve enjoyed the chance to interact with other writers and the opportunity to follow industry news. Also like you, I’ve had to put time limits on myself! But it’s worth it.

    • Hi Lisa,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I think Twitter is worth it too – I love meeting random people (virtual strangers) that have similar interests that I never would have met without Twitter.

      Thanks for dropping by!

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