Twitter Tips for Writers: How I went from 80 followers to 1800 with 8 simple strategies

twitter logoTwitter is an essential part of any writer’s platform. But it can be a daunting place to try to figure out. Which is why I, like so many writers, made an account then promptly let it lie fallow for years.

Last November, with 80 followers, I finally realized that in my pursuit of book publication, Twitter has the potential to be a powerful ally. I started working to cultivate a larger following. Here’s what has worked for me:

1. FOLLOW BACK! — The number one rule of Twitter is reciprocation. Unless you’re Beyonce  or Neil DeGrasse Tyson (and who among us is?) then almost no one but porn bots, sales bots, and your mother will follow you just for being you. Take time to follow the real people who take the time to follow you. (Don’t follow back the sales or porn bots though. That way lies doom).


2. Identify your communities. Think about the topics that you most want to tweet about. For example, I tend to tweet about writing, motherhood, Alaska, food, art, sex, and current events. Look for and follow people who are tweeting about the things you care about.

3. Use hashtags. Identify some of the hashtags associated with your communities and start using them. The topics themselves make a good start for hashtags. For example #food will attract people from the #foodie community.

hashtag4. Find the community hubs. Community hubs are accounts that are centered around a single theme and promote people within that community. For writers these may be indie author promoters, literary journals, agents, etc. They may also be readers who have an enthusiasm for particular types of writing such as erotica or flash fiction. Hubs generally have a lot of Followers, a lot of people they are Following, and tend to tweet or retweet people who are actively promoting. These are a great resource for finding new writers and readers to follow.

5. Watch your ratio. Keep your Following number higher than your Followers number. But not too much higher. 10-20% is a good number to aim for. Do not follow anyone who’s Following number is dramatically lower than their Followers number. (Unless it’s NDT or Beyonce, and you’re following out of genuine interest). Having uneven Following/Followers ratios is a red flag. It tells you that the account is not reciprocating when followed.

6. Make a routine. Set aside a time on day or two each each week (I do Sundays and Wednesdays) to search for people to follow, cull people who haven’t followed back, and follow back people who have followed you. Allow yourself 20 minutes or so for this.

7. The Mute button is your friend. As your Following/Followers grows, use the mute button to control what appears in your timeline. Obviously it isn’t possible to listen to 1800 people all the time. Be selective about what you hear by tuning out accounts who you’ve Followed back, but who don’t necessarily have the same interests as you. For example, if you write historical romance, it might be okay to mute some of the sci-fi writers in your feed, and vice versa. Don’t worry, if you’re in the same communities, their most liked and retweeted tweets will still get through to you via the networks you’re engaged with.



8. Use pictures. As writers, we tend to forget that not everyone gets as excited by words as we do. But we still want to be read. So use a visual to draw attention to your tweet.


Twitter Tips for Writers: How I went from 80 followers to 1800 with 8 simple strategies

I Used to be a Reader

This is a hard thing for a writer to say:

I used to read.

I used to read voraciously. I carried books with me wherever I went. I slept with them under my pillow.

I read three or more books at a time, and knew what page number I was on in each of them.

When I found a writer I loved, I inhaled EVERYTHING they’d ever written. I spent hours in bookstores. I lived in the library.

Then two things happened. I had babies and I graduated with a degree in literature.

After college, I didn’t read anything but non-fiction for a full two years. I was burned out. Proust will do that to you.

I did still read a lot of poetry and history. I read to research my novels. And of course I memorized Go Dog Go, Skippy Jon Jones, and Sandra Boynton’s entire canon, (which I highly recommend).

But outside of an occasional audio-book, I almost quit reading novels altogether.

It’s hard to read when you’re a mom.

Every book was like the leftover, half-finished bagel you shove in your mouth between jumping out of the shower and rodeo-ing the kids into the car. When I did get to read, I read without tasting. Without digesting.

To be a writer without reading is like breathing without inhaling. It makes your writing dizzy and tight. Blue-faced.

To be a writer without reading is like breathing without inhaling. It makes your writing dizzy and tight. Blue-faced.

But today, ten years and two days after learning I was pregnant with my first child, I took my youngest child to kindergarten, hugged her, kissed her, hugged her again, cried a little, and turned to find myself facing a tiny ocean of time.

Time to myself.

I’ve had today marked for a few months as the day I’m going to start working on my novel again. But as it got closer and closer, a different excitement overshadowed it.

I’m going to read.

I’m going to read Literature. With a capital L.

I’m going to read big, fat, difficult books.

I’m going to read skinny, compact, difficult books.

I’m going to read my old favorites – Atwood, Steinbeck, Morrison, Camus, Bradbury, Allende.

I’m going to read new authors.

I’m going to read authors I’ve never even heard of.

I’m going to read poetry and plays.

I’m going to read Shakespeare again. Shakespeare! Out loud! For fun!

I’m going to read in public and ignore people.

I’m going to read in private and ignore my phone.

I might even try to tackle Moby Dick for the umpteenth time.

I went to a bookstore today by myself. I spent a lot of time selecting the first three books for my bibliophile bacchanal. Three books made of paper and ink.

They smell terrific.

If you need me, I’ll be in my room.

P.S. Don’t need me.


I Used to be a Reader


Another old poem to appease the blog gods. I’m deep into the tenth revision on the novel, so old poetry shall have to sate. Thanks much to Suzi Ramsey Towsley for use of the smashing pic!


Courtesy SRT Images: All rights reserved.
“True” Courtesy SRT Images:
All rights reserved.




born of sky so sharp it cuts itself

and bleeds pink-green light

on coasts of frosted shoal

on labyrinths of ice and stone

they emerge from fog


air hisses across their skin

keeping breath with the oars

muscles tighten   reach

creak of leather   wood

the ocean’s bearing

shoulders narrow   broaden   narrow

closing in   they slow

slither-slow and cease


they drift


silence holds the sky

above conspiracies of wind

hushing pines along the shore


they wait   oars aloft

the ocean trembles


smoke trickles from the horizon

seeps into a gloaming sky

steel stirs against their thighs


their oars   fin-faithful

sink then surface

fast falling   drum steady

rise gleaming   dripping silver


plunge toward shore





*First published in Cirque, Dec 20 2010



50 Shades of WTF?

The book I recently finished writing deals with themes related to sexual consent.

Because of this, I needed a narrative device to make the romantic relationship so overtly consensual as to be hyper-consensual.

The end result is that I’ve been writing a relationship that has elements of BDSM at a time when 50 Shades is all the rage. Yuck.

First things first. I am not a member of the kink community. However, I took care to ensure I was accurately portraying that relationship dynamic. Probably MORE SO because it isn’t one I have ownership of.

Sexuality is deeply connected to identity, and just as I would take care to responsibly portray someone else’s culture or race, I felt I needed to treat these people with as much respect as possible.

Second things second. What I’m writing is not porn. (Though my mother might disagree with that statement). So it is by definition inherently more complex than spanking and tampon yanking. The stakes are higher.

Sexuality and identity get messy fast.

Third. I really did try to read 50 Shades and the writing was so awful, I couldn’t get through it. But the books are universally accepted as badly written, so that is not my point.

My criticism is not of the book. My criticism is of the devotees of the books who argue, “It’s just a book. Relax.”

Incidentally these devotees tend to be the same women who go through relationship after relationship, then look at me and say, “You’re so lucky. You have such a good husband.”

Oh, you mean the man I chose? He didn’t fall out of the sky. I picked him. What’s more, we work very hard to maintain open communication and respect for one another. Luck has fuck-all to do with it.

If you’re following along on this conversation, you’ve heard “It’s just a book. Relax.” a lot. If I were a sociologist, I would conduct an experiment to examine the relationship patterns of the population of people who enjoy this book.

But I’m not. I’m a writer. And as a writer, my central point is this:

Stories matter.

To say, “It’s just a book” is to say, “It’s just a romanticized projection of our rape culture’s social norms that reflect what we wish to attain. Relax.”

I know it’s easy for me as a reader and a writer to place a premium on stories. Much the same way that in Hollywood, the movie about show biz always wins the Oscar. (I’m looking at you here, Shakespeare in Love).

But how can anyone say, “It’s just a book?”

It’s “just a book” about a horribly unhealthy relationship idealized as romantic.


To be absolutely clear – the kink is not the abusive aspect of the relationship portrayed in the story. The RELATIONSHIP is the abusive part. When we equate stalking with love – we have a problem.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “If only he would completely violate my privacy and pressure me into doing things I don’t want to do, then I would know he loves me” then you, my dear, are the reason every woman who is raped is tagged as “asking for it.”

This is precisely why I developed such respect for the BDSM community as I worked on my book.

They’re grown ups about their sexuality. They don’t tolerate wishy-washy assholes and their petty drama.

As Louis CK puts it, “I’m not gonna rape someone on the off chance that she’s into it.”

Seriously, ladies? I’m trying to raise daughters here. Could we please just grow a modicum of self respect?

Do I really have to post 700,000 links to articles about how narratives are important and influence our emotional development?

Do you need studies that prove our ability to empathize is learned from stories?

Will you shut the fuck up about it being “just a book” if you see anthropological reviews that detail how narrative is the embodiment of what we are, what we wish to be, and what we must be warned against becoming?

Or are you a grown up?

This is basic.

Stories matter.

It’s never “Just a book.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go revise mine to amplify the consent aspect of the relationship. I know it will never sell 30 gazillion copies.

But I’d rather be broke than sell women shit-sandwiches and call it candy.

50 Shades of WTF?


My eldest daughter entered the tween years this summer. Like so many other phases of parenting, this one caught me off guard.

Phases. You know they’re going to happen. Other parents tell you about them. You read about them in human development books (at least, you do if you’re married to a psych dweeb).

But nothing really prepares you for what a new phase will look like on your child. This is partially because how their biology hits them is unique for each kid and situation.

When my eldest was three, she developed a stutter that came and went for about a year. It was something I refused to make a big deal about despite the advice of other, older moms. First, because I was concerned that making a big deal about the stutter would cement it in her identity as a personal trait. Secondly, her doctor wasn’t worried, so I wasn’t either.

One day I noticed that the stutter appeared for a few weeks, and when it disappeared it left behind a new language tool, (such as use of multiple adjectives or subordinate clauses). “Okay,” I thought. “This is just her brain hard-wiring itself.” The stutter was, I thought, a result of her brain firing up new neural connections. It disappeared shortly after her fourth birthday. No one had ever told me that a stuttering phase might accompany a verbal explosion. It was unique to her.

Then there was the kid phase. This happens around 6-ish, when your child stops seeming like a baby/preschooler/snuggly love-bug and starts being a kid. A great kid. A kid you’re happy to know. But a kid with things to do and people to see, and who may or may not make mom and dad a priority. This is a phase where you step back, take a deep breath and watch them begin to grow in directions you never imagined. They develop interest in things you could not possibly care less about. But you fake it for their sakes.

The tween change has been different for me. I wouldn’t say that my daughter is on the threshold of puberty, but she’s definitely within spitting distance of it. It’s terrifying. Not only because of the wealth of dangers that accompany coming of age in our society, although goodness knows, that’s bad enough. It’s the anticipation of watching someone you love prepare to undergo a transformation more difficult and delicate than they can possibly apprehend.

I’ve done things to prepare her of course. She’s heard since she was tiny that the human brain continues to develop decision-making apparatus until around 25 years of age. That all the years up to then are critical to her cabeza.

She knows that women have periods wherein they bleed to shed unfertilized eggs.

These factoids come along with more dogmatic platitudes: “School first. Then you can worry about boys.”

But the thing the tween phase didn’t prepare me for is this. When I look at my daughter, I feel like I’m mothering an infant again. Not that she is dependent on me. Rather, it’s that sense that you get as a new parent. That part of you that says, “My god, this human being is beautiful and precious and her life has tremendous potential and that is a TON of responsibility. How do I not screw that up!!!”

Part of it is that she is truly a beauty. I’m not just saying this because I’m her mother. She’s a knock out in the making.

But she is beautiful beyond just the beauty of her features. Hers is the beauty of becoming. Sharing a house with her is like living with some mythic animal that is dangerous and beautiful, and entirely innocent of both. Sometimes when I look at her, I see the fat-cheeked, extroverted toddler that flirted shamelessly with strangers, and sometimes I swear I can see the long-legged, thin nosed, driven woman she will be in a few years.

Before becoming a parent, there’s no way to understand how fiercely you will love your children. You love them so much it’s scary. So much you feel like it will break you in two. So much that you want it to break you in two if that’s what they need from you.

It’s a conflicted love. You want them with you more than anything in the world, so you can keep them safe and share their every experience. But you want the world for them too, as imperfect as it is. A world far beyond anything you’ve ever experienced, full of opportunities beyond what you could ever provide.

So you ease them out into that world a little at a time and feel them slipping away, little by little. Until one day, the weight shifts by just a fraction, and they are more gone than here, leaving you to rejoice for the new adventures they’ve found, while your own heart breaks and mends and breaks over and over again endlessly.


Birthday Anxiety and the Modern Mom

Confession: I hate my kids’ birthdays.

Not because of any trauma associated with the experience of birth (though goodness knows there was plenty of that). But because of residual anxiety I have regarding a long history of my own sucky childhood birthdays.

It’s tragic, really.

On my 8th birthday, my gift was a promised trip to the dinosaur museum in Vernal, Utah. I was nurturing the flames of a nascent love for paleontology, only to be shattered by the slow, 6-month-long realization that my mother’s promise was never to come to fruition.

Like so many wizened and embittered by life, I took up writing instead.

A friend of mine remembers her mother losing it at a party and throwing all the birthday presents out the window. I had to talk this friend down on her own child’s 8th-birthday by reminding her that there is NO way we’re screwing this up as badly.

The standard I inherited from my mother was this: I’m out of bed and dressed. In my childhood, that was functional motherhood. Anything past that was gravy, including birthdays.

So it is with a great-deal of “I’m gonna fuck this up” that I approach my kids’ birthdays. I’ve lived through 12 of these so far, and I think I’m getting better about it. I no longer hit the panic button at the last minute. Or every week for 4 months prior.

But it was with some trepidation I asked my soon-to-be 5-year old what she wants for her birthday party.

As one often inadvertently and tangentially does with a almost-5-year-old, we discussed every possibility in depth. She settled on a yogurt place. One of those with bright colors and a full bar of sugar-derived toppings. Relieved to pawn the fiasco onto someone else, I called the shop.

The person I spoke to was the most spectacularly competent 15 year old on the planet. I said COMPETENT. She was a joy. Her name was Taylor and she was WAY excited about my daughter’s birthday. Part of the reason she was so excited was because my daughter’s birthday happens to be her birthday too. I wanted to adopt Taylor on the spot.

A lot of people complain about teenagers. I love them. I used to have a job where I went to high schools and taught teens about blood. I always got little grimaces of pain when I told people I was guest-lecturing in a high school. But the students were invariably enthusiastic, energetic, and inquisitive. Maybe there is some gray, Alcatraz HS somewhere where they stick all the dimwits and jerks. But every teen I encountered was pure sugar. Once I was in restaurant near a high school that had just let out on a bright spring day. The server apologized to me for the rambunctious clientele. But I was loving being awash in their joy and excitement. I said, “No need to apologize. They’re just excited to be out of school on a beautiful day.” It roused a chorus of cheers from the table behind me. They wanted to throw me a tickertape parade, but I declined, having already paid my bill.

So Taylor impressed me. She was re-working schedules, presenting options, crunching numbers all to give me and my kid a good birthday at their yogurt place. While discussing how many invitations I needed, I asked her, “How many people can I fit into the room?”

Her response was perfect. “She’s turning five? Well… they’re pretty small people.”

It was a challenge.

It conjured images of those 1920s contests to cram people in a phone booth. I pictured various members of my daughter’s preschool class pressed up against the glass Gary Larson-style, sticky with yogurt and cooing softly from a sugar-induced stupor.

“Give me a whole stack,” I said. “We’re inviting EVERYone!”

It was a lovely moment. A far cry from the anxiety I’ve often felt the last 12 times I’ve gone through this birthday thing.

Perhaps I’ll take Taylor a gift, so she can celebrate her birthday too. It’s nice to get to look forward to enjoying the day my little one and I first encountered each other. Moreover, it’s lovely to let go of worrying about getting it wrong. Because, stress and anxiety is for grown ups. The young have things figured out. You live out your enthusiasm. You throw sprinkles and fudge on your fro-yo. You enjoy every day. Promises may or may not pan out, but a birthday is still a birthday. And you only get one a year.

Birthday Anxiety and the Modern Mom

Book narrative and screen narrative

Have you read the short story The Veldt by Ray Bradbury?

A mother and father want their children to be happy. So they give them a nursery.

The nursery is made up of screens. In these screens, the children can explore and create the world around them, without ever leaving the house. The screens manifest the will of the children.

When the children become disobedient, the parents decide to unplug. The kids don’t approve.

It doesn’t end well for Mom and Dad.

The Veldt was a shudder-worthy read in 1950. In 2014, it’s downright blood-chilling.

I can’t think about the page and the screen without dragging Bradbury out and propping him in the corner. He’s the Grand Poombah of this discussion.

Like many great Sci-Fi writers, Bradbury had a love/hate relationship with technology. He adored movies. He wrote for movies and television. But in his work, screens are universally regarded with a Luddite’s foreboding.

Because, while Bradbury revered movies, the written word was sacred.

This isn’t a concept unique to Bradbury. It’s the cultural vestige of the era when books, by their rarity, really were sacred objects.

For a hundred years, the screen borrowed gravitas from books by paying homage to the page narrative. How many early Disney films start with a storybook flipping open?

Seeing the movie was a lesser form of experiencing narrative. Reading the book represented the true narrative experience. The real story.

That model has changed.

The book as a sacred fetish reached its extinction-burst in the late-80s/early-90s, which swarmed with movies (particularly for children) where the book was revered: The Never-Ending Story. The Princess Bride. The Labyrinth. Beauty and the Beast.

But to children now, screen narrative is just as valid as page narrative.

For those of us raised on page narrative, the new primacy of screen narrative can be uncomfortable. I still read the books to my daughters before we watch the movie. I’m a bibliophile who wants to raise bibliophiles.

But I feel like Tevya.


There is still plenty of reading going on, both on page and screen. Though an alarming portion of it is cross-marketed, franchise adver-tainment.

I’ve had moments when my chosen creative activity feels as quaint and useless as calligraphy or collecting muzzle-loading muskets.

But I’m not worried about our cultural unbooking. I don’t believe that all people should be readers. I don’t believe people should be shamed for not being readers.

Yes, everyone should learn to read and have access to books, etc.

But when I hear a statistic that, for example, the average high school student graduates and never gives another thought to F. Scott Fitzgerald, that’s a-okay by me. I don’t give a shit about racquetball. I can’t imagine living in a world where everyone thought I should, no matter how edifying racquetball might be.

The reason I don’t care if Americans read for fun is twofold:

First, all humans, whether they read or not, and regardless of any other factor in their lives have a deep, profound, and unswerving need for stories.

Stories are meaning. They are morality. They are the religion of common human experience. Where and how my fellow Americans get their narrative gratification is no more my business than where or how they get their sexual gratification. To each his own.

Second, American culture is rife with excellent narrative, some of it occurring in the most unliterary of places. Graphic novels, fanfic, movies, or even – gasp! – television. Serious narrative is alive and well in the oral tradition from whence it sprung.

More power to it. The oral tradition has a history backing it that the novel, at its peak, could never have hoped to rival in the long run.

Step back a few miles. Examine the book from a distance.

For most of human history, most people didn’t or couldn’t read. But narrative flourished. Plays. Poetry. Stories. Songs.

Language is fluid. Narrative is fluid.

The idea that a story has one right iteration that should be made static and preserved for all time is only a few hundred years old.

In the scope of human history, our concept of page-narrative is the aberration. Not the norm.

Yet books have always thrived. They have always been birthed by book-lovers into the hands of book-lovers.

The book has slipped from its temporary throne to retake its place among the many and varied forms of narrative.

We can mourn or we can teach our children to seek out stories that are moral and meaningful, no matter what the medium.

We stand as parents in the Veldt. Uncertain what monsters our children might create with the technology we’ve given them.

We are fearful their stories will dismember our gods. Rest assured they will. Good narrative always does.

Book narrative and screen narrative