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Playing tag

When I first started using Twitter, I didn’t get it. I thought it was just Facebook status updates without the pictures and video (except that you can add those too). I didn’t understand why anyone would follow me. How would I meet anyone in this big empty room?

Okay, so I’m not an expert by any means, but what I get from Twitter—and hopefully give too—is a community. On Twitter, it’s easy to find a community built around whatever interests you, once you know the secret.

For writers who spend their “free” time holed up in front of a keyboard making up stories, Twitter is their water cooler. In fact, I’ve met quite a few people that I refer to as friends.

Friends? Really?

Yes. Because they’re the ones who cheer my successes and give me cyber hugs when things aren’t going well. They understand the challenges and joys of the writing life. We form connections online that may eventually turn into face-to-face friendships when we meet at conferences or workshops.

We help each other brainstorm and find resources. We recommend workshops and books.

And some of these people I never would have met through my RWA affiliations because they’re not romance writers.

So, wait a minute. What’s the secret? (Well, one of them anyway.)

Hash tags. That little # symbol on the three key. Twitter is nothing without them.

Whatever you’re into, there’s likely a group of people on Twitter talking about it, and the way they mark those tweets for others who want to find like-minded people is with a hash tag.

Interested in meeting writers? Try the #amwriting or #writing hash tag.

Malamutes? #malamute

Geocaching? #geocaching

Organic gardening? #organicgardening

Scrivener? #scrivener (You knew I had to throw that in there, right?)

Want to find out what agents have to say? Sometimes they can be found answering questions at #askagent. Or sometimes they will mark a tweet with #pubtip.

Some of the hash tags like #FF or #FollowFriday are how others recommend people to follow. It’s also a way of acknowledging that someone is an important Twitter connection to you. #WW (Writer Wednesday) is like #FF for writers.

Some are just for fun, like #lesserbooks where people re-imagine famous book titles to something less than (e.g. The Mediocre Gatsby).

And sometimes people make up hash tags just to be funny. #lostmymind

Once you start following people and commenting on their tweets, some of them will follow you, respond to you. And then they’ll retweet something interesting and you’ll find a new person or hash tag to follow.

If you’re not on Twitter, why not give it a try? Yes, it takes time, but once you get the hang of it, and maybe pick up a helpful piece of software (like TweetDeck) to help you manage your lists, you can just check in periodically. It doesn’t have to be a huge time suck.

Go ahead. Follow me or tweet me and I’ll follow you back. I hope to see you there!

The new water cooler

As most of you know, I recently dipped my toes into the waters of Twitter. Turns out I love it. Yes, it's impersonal in that it's electronic communication rather than face-to-face, but where else can you tweet a bestselling author you really admire and have her respond?

One minute later!

I now have a small community of aspiring authors, published authors, agents, and friends from whom I get all sorts of great insights, motivation, and ideas.

Twitter has quickly overtaken Facebook as my favorite social networking tool. I still like Facebook, and use it exclusively for personal friends at this point. It's great for sharing photos and news and seeing what everyone else is up to, but Twitter is much more immediate. It's almost like an online chat with dozens of people at once.

The drawback? It can take up too much of your time if you let it. I try to limit my at home access to 3-4 times per day for a few minutes. I unfollow people who overtweet. I catch up on everyone's tweets, respond to some, tweet a few things of my own, and get out. I also catch up if I'm waiting in line or at the orthodontist, or working out on the cross-trainer.

The benefits? Getting friendly, helpful tweets from authors like JoAnn Ross in response to a comment/question. Learning that an agent I'm following is no longer taking submissions. Being virtually surrounded by aspiring writers who understand what it's like to struggle with the story and the dream.

Twitter provides the “water cooler” that so many of us who work from home lack. (Or those who work outside the writing/publishing industry.)

Still not sure what it's all about? Already signed up but don't know what to do? Check out this helpful link.

It's time to get your feet wet! Join me @Gwen_Hernandez.

UPDATE 4/8: Here's another good link for Twitter Etiquette, geared toward writers, but helpful to anyone.

[tweetmeme source=”yourtwittername” only_single=false]

All atwitter

Back in January, I took the plunge into the Twitterverse. I haven't quite figured it all out yet, but I'm getting the hang of it. Not one to spend all day on this kind of thing, I'm still figuring out how to make connections and get involved in conversations without it eating up all of my time.

My hope is that by following agents, editors, and authors, I'll be able to keep up with publishing industry news and trends, get a better feel for the personality of agents I think I'm interested in working with, and make contacts with other writers.

Of course, some day I hope to have fans, too. And as a newly published author (I can dream, right?), I don't want to be setting up a new account in a platform I've never played with. I also figured it wouldn't hurt to lock in my name now like I did with my web domain. Too late for that one. Another Gwen Hernandez beat me to it, so I had to take Gwen_Hernandez instead.

Oh well.

So far, it's been interesting, but I'm still a fringe user. I don't tend to follow conversations through hashtags (#whatever) very often, but I'm starting to see the possibilities for making connections with people I'd otherwise never communicate with. Much like with commenting on blogs, or interacting with an author's fan page on Facebook.

I have to say, it's pretty darn cool when someone like James Scott Bell tweets you a personal thank you for re-tweeting one of his tweets. 😉

Write on.