The Techie: How Not to Be Boorish, Boring, or Bored on Twitter

Mia Eaton taps into her Twitter knowledge, with Margaret Atwood as spokeswoman. And this is only Part I.
Twitter is too vast a subject to cover in one post, but let's begin like this. Try to think of Twitter as a salon—a thoughtfully curated gathering of voices, news, and opinions from people with whom you choose to share your time. It is a place to contribute your thoughts, your humor or sensitivity, your unique knowledge.

How much you enjoy and benefit from using Twitter will depend largely on who you follow, what you contribute, the discussions you find, and how much you engage with others. Try to find and follow people with similar professional or personal interests, who provide you with relevant news, or whose company you enjoy.

"New Twitterers ask, "What will I say? Who will follow me?' Wise Twitterers ask: 'What can I learn? What cool ppl will I find?'" — @jooliagoolia

I've seen a famous writer go from moaning about how he doesn't get the point of crying out into the void, only to realize that he'd been missing countless @replies from fans and friends, and suddenly, the whole world opened up. Next thing you know he was harnessing the Twitter hivemind for knowledge about a strange bird in his yard and meeting fans at local bars.

A quick aside: you can use Twitter's website in your browser, but seeing all your @replies, @mentions, direct messages, and following #hashtag subjects is infinitely easier and less frustrating with a good Twitter client (typically for free or less than a gourmet coffee). I really love Tweetdeck on my home machine, and Tweetie 2 on my iPhone.

Mashable has an excellent Twitter guide book, that explains everything from #hashtags to why people aren't following you back. I'll cover the @ (at replies and mentions) more next time, as well as the hefty power of the hashtag, the best ways to RT (retweet) and the category lists that help you organize the people you follow.

So, how to not be a lame tweeter? See above re: why people aren't following you back, as that article covers many of the most common turn-offs. Consider the content and tone of your tweets. Don't blast people with links to your blog, or badger the world at large to follow you or buy your book. Avoid that irritating "expert" voice it's easy to slip into when trying to sound intelligent. Avoid aphorisms. Don't be a downer. You'd (not) be surprised about how many people use Twitter to blow off steam when they're depressed or frustrated. Constantly posting complaints or self-pitying remarks is no fun for others. Nothing says you can't have a bad day — I've had bad days turned around by an outpouring of twitterlove, people sending me pictures of bunnies and whatnot — but you can't talk like Eeyore all the time.

People naturally gravitate towards and are more likely to Re-tweet (RT) people who share good links, who are entertaining, or are endearing or empathetic characters. Like employing a writing constraint, it's helpful to flavor your tweets (writing, running and cooking, for example), but don't feel like you need to be super strict with yourself.

Margaret Atwood started tweeting a year ago, and yesterday she wrote a charming, amusing piece for The New York Review of Books about her experience thus far. I couldn't ask for a better spokeswoman:

"The Twittersphere is an odd and uncanny place....

But despite their sometimes strange appearances, I’m well pleased with my followers—I have a number of techno-geeks and bio-geeks, as well as many book fans. They’re a playful but also a helpful group. If you ask them for advice, it’s immediately forthcoming: thanks to them, I learned how to make a Twitpic photo appear as if by magic, and how to shorten a URL using or tinyurl. They’ve sent me many interesting items pertaining to artificially-grown pig flesh, unusual slugs, and the like. (They deduce my interests.)"

So, She Writers who tweet, how do you find it?

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Comment by Abby Kelly on February 26, 2014 at 1:10pm

Oh my word, I needed this. Like many others, I've been on Twitter for I don't even know how long, but I'm essentially a Twitter idiot. Now that my book is being released in March, I feel like I'm missing something BIG if I don't figure this out. But thank you so much for the reminder that no matter how much I hope Twitter increases my audience, it is unhelpful and unappreciated to simply Tweet my blog or book links. Any more basic, step-by-step tutorial you suggest?

Comment by Kayelle Allen on October 16, 2011 at 3:13pm
In the past six weeks, I finally learned how to really use Twitter after being on it forever. The 90/10 rule of posting 9 times about others before posting once about myself has made a huge difference. My followers doubled once I started being a resource instead of a salesman. I use Hootsuite and love it for posting the same kinds of things on different sites at one time. Will be reading this entire section for ideas.
Comment by Sandra Miller on July 19, 2011 at 6:21am
Great article, and timely for me; I've dedicated this week to researching and learning how to use Twitter for personal and business use. Still trying to get use to it, my biggest problem was grasping its purpose (I didn't understand the hype). However the article and the comments did help bridge that understanding gap. Thanks.
Comment by Jackie Branagan on October 26, 2010 at 3:53pm
I am STILL figuring it out. Tweetdeck might help - and thanks for that. I'd like to get to the place where the famous writer found himself, sharing.
Comment by Monica Forrestall on October 26, 2010 at 1:03pm
Needless to say I immediately stating following Margaret Atwood, a hero...and fellow Canadian.
Thx for this piece.
Comment by Kelly Simmons on October 26, 2010 at 11:42am
what's a 140-character word for fun?
Comment by Lynne Morgan Spreen on April 4, 2010 at 6:47am
I'm in the group like your writer friend who moaned about not getting it! I am learning, but I don't yet feel satisfied with Twitter. For example, a person tweeted this: "Obsessing." I mean, what is the point of THAT? I try to read and comment, tweet good stuff, etc. I have 65 followers, some of whom are spammers, I can tell, but many are good peeps w/ whom I share interests. I follow about the same number.

I attended a webinar about writing and followed it on Twitter just to see how it worked in that space. The tweets were, IMHO, fawning and slavish. They repeated the comments from the webinar over and over again. I tweeted a couple of times that the actual topic of the webinar hadn't yet been addressed, because I knew the hosts were following the tweets. THAT was kind of neat, that you could have realtime input - not that they adapted their drift back to the topic, tho.

I have heard that Twitter is great for asking questions, but I've asked a couple (e.g. best wordpress theme for easily displaying comments?) and haven't yet got a response. I have been able to get current info on things like the Iran student uprising, is Gmail down, earthquake in LA, etc., so that is a useful function.

So in a nutshell, I am still optimistic and willing to put in the time but so far it's not gratifying. I will try Tweetdeck again, tho, based on your suggestion. Thanks for writing this.
Comment by Linda K. Sienkiewicz on April 2, 2010 at 3:30pm
Thanks for an outstanding article. I downloaded Seesmic and found it immensely helpful. As a 50+ writer, I enjoy tweeting, so I don't think it's a generational thing. Think community. What can you share in 140 characters that's of value to other writers?

My grown son warned me "you can't just regurgitate other people's tweets," and that, if you retweet, it's good to add a comment or opinion. Those who just RT or tweet about themselves don't get it. He also coached me on the importance of finding a catchy name (mine is @lindakay_astray, which is not especially clever, but it's the best I came up with) and don’t be too dry in writing your bio (I'm a "fiction writer, poet & artist gone astray, looking for inspiration & good stories...") and you should have a link to your website or blog, if you have one.

As for usefulness, I've discovered some terrific blogs by writers, gotten tips on promotion for when I get that book deal :), and shared a few laughs. It's not as intimate as Facebook (speaking strictly for myself here) so there's no need to feel guilty if you don't respond to everything or don't have something of great importance to share. There's isn't the same sense of obligation.

This is a useful tip: since tweets are limited to 150 characters, when you paste tweet a link, first go to to get a short version. For example, this page's url is but gives you this address
Comment by The Motivator on March 31, 2010 at 8:17pm
I loved the style of writing here, but I think I need Twitter for remedial students. I still don't get the point of Twitter. And I don't understand: does "tweeting" happen via cell phone or internet. And why is it sometimes considered a great opportunity for social change? I'm completely full to the brim with "things to do in my extra time", and I prefer being outdoors to sitting at a computer, if given the chance. So I'm not looking for more another Facebook. But I have heard twitter can actually be useful. If so, how and for what? I don't imagine answering my question will be very useful to others. But can you refer me to a place for twitter illiterates? Many thanks!
Comment by samina on March 31, 2010 at 3:08pm
Since we're on the topic of Twitter here's who I love to follow:
I'm still finding my voice on twitter (and just generally in the blogosphere).
There seems to be a few tools for finding people- does a list exist for the She Writes community?
Here are the sites I know for finding others with similar interests:


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