Keep going. Keep getting better.

Twitter catches a lot of crap for being the digital version of the Wild Wild West. While that may be partially true in a “not racists, but #1 with racists” kind of way, that doesn’t mean the whole shebang is a shit-show. And, to be fair to Twitter, they’ve nuked a bunch of White Supremacist groups. There are plenty of good reasons to explore Twitter and a lot of good things can be found there, too.

At the very least, you’ve got #caturday, so you can haz cheezburger if you’d like.

I’ve used Twitter for a variety of writing-related reasons, ranging from seeing what’s out there and dropping ads, to playing the writing prompt games.

A couple posts back, I wrote a post about the idea of getting better at things by doing them a lot. Like most of my posts, it was a rambling affair, full of magic and heroism that talked around the issue as much as engaging it. That post was partially a reaction to various people I’ve met who  worry about not being good enough at writing to write a book. To those people, I’ll reiterate: Yeah, you’re probably not, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t just write the freaking thing even if you’re not an expert at writing. Do something often enough, look for a feedback loop, and, if you take the feedback into account, you’ll likely get better at it.

Don’t listen to him. Zoidberg hates everyone.

In other words, just start writing. The more you do it, the more natural it will become. Pay attention to criticisms, provided they’re not completely useless, and you’ll improve. Simple as that.

Now here’s something else to add. When I first started programming, I followed the directions in the book and things happened and I was happy. But, I didn’t really learn to program until I had to sit down and write an application that I didn’t get to choose and I didn’t have the book with handy-dandy directions to follow. It was just “write me a service that will listen for GPS data from trains, figure out where they are, and determine how far off schedule they are based on position and time.”

That’s when the rubber hit the road. Or the wheels hit the iron. Whatever.

The point being, I didn’t get good at it until I had to do something where I didn’t get to choose what the program was going to do. There was also a lot of feedback from the customer about what things were working, what weren’t, and how many things needed to be changed. In the end – such as it is – I wrote what they wanted and got a whole whack of new skills in the process.

Or, in my case, it was trying to figure out how to determine time on target when speed is a huge variable.

Which loops us back to Twitter. In the midst of all the cat pictures and ass-random presidential tweets, lies a pretty large group of authors swapping lines back and forth. Do a little digging and you’ll find people tagging tweets with things like #musemon, #2bittues, #1linewed, #thurds, #fictfri, #slapdashsat, and #sunwip. To the unitiated, those may sound like gobbledygook, cockamamie nonsense, or flat-out flumadiddle, but the tags have meaning to the authors that partake in them.

See, Twitter is a vast wasteland and it’s impossible to take in the whole of it, so it’s segmented by hashtags that create little sub-worlds withing the vast miasma of the whole of Twitterdom. Once you learn about those hashtags, you get the keys to the kingdom.

Most of these hashtags have rules. They’re not simple “write whatever you feel like and toss a tag on it” games. Each week, the person responsible for the tag determines a theme for the week. It could be thankful or half-full or angry or whatever. All except #slapdashsat, that’s always theme-free. So, each person that tweets and tags that tweet is expected to follow the theme. In a pure world, you’d find a line from whatever you’re writing that fits and use that. Sometimes, that line doesn’t exist, though, and that’s when the rubber hits the road.

Just like with programming, you can learn a lot from writing according to a spec, even if it is a one-word spec. So, whenever I don’t have a line that will fit, I write one that fits the tag and the book I’m working on. In case you’re wondering, most of those tweets will wind up in the book in some form or another.

This is what I’m working on, by the way.

Now, part of my morning ritual is going over the tweets from the one or two tag games per day I follow and putting up my own tweets. It’s been a great way to see if I can work a word or phrase into whatever I’m working on or sharing something I’d already used in a story. There’s something about being put on the spot that’s helped me craft a few zingers here and there and the process has improved my writing by making me think beyond just what I feel like doing.

Besides, remember that feedback loop that’s so important to getting better at a thing? In the Twitterverse, that feedback comes from likes, retweets, and the odd comment. Hashtag games have become a great way to test lines in front of a group of people I’ve never met and see what works and what doesn’t.

Feel like trying it out? Dig up the hashtag games for the day and post a few tweets. Who knows, maybe you’ll strike gold.

Praise is nice, but it’s criticism that really helps

I submitted Henchmen to Creativity Hacker’s Immerse or Die Challenge, a challenge whereby Jefferson Smith reads a book while he’s on the treadmill.  It didn’t go so well for me, but at least he didn’t shred me.

Oh, ah.

It’s unfortunate, but true, that it’s the constructive criticism that helps the most.  Hearing you’re awesome is great and all, but I’d really like to grow as a writer and for that to happen, I need to know what needs work.  I’ve gotten good reviews and some mediocre reviews, and a whole whack of friends who never bothered to say one way or the other what they thought.

So, thank you Jefferson Smith.  I really appreciate the feedback.

After I’m done editing the sequel, I think it’s time to take another look at Henchmen and do some serious reworking now that I’ve got a bit more experience under my belt.