Why I Won’t Follow You on Twitter

As the publication date of my book draws near, I’ve been spending more time on social networking, mainly on Facebook and Twitter, keeping my friends updated and making new ones. On Facebook, it’s fairly easy for me to learn about the people I want to friend and those who want to friend me. (Did you ever think you would live in a time when “friend” would become a verb?) But Twitter goes faster, has less space (although it’s surprising what you can fit in 140 characters) and can be more abstruse.

Since I am meeting more people on Twitter, I’m getting more follows. I want to follow you back. Really, I do. So many of you post tweets that are entertaining, inspirational, and often so funny I have to avoid drinking coffee while I read them, lest it end up on my screen. But in the couple of years I’ve been on the site, running three different accounts, I’ve learned how to parse out the good from the life’s-too-short.

Here’s why I won’t follow you:

1. I know nothing about you. Twitter gives you 160 characters for a bio. If you leave this blank, I’m less likely to follow you. Tell me something about yourself. Unless you have something to hide.

2. Your avatar is Twitter’s default “egg.” Adding an image tells me that you care enough about your social presence to put a face on it.

3. You follow a lot of people but no one is following you. This tells me that you’re selling something not a lot of people want-it could be a link to a pornographic website or spam. I’m not going there.

4. You tweet in all capital letters. This is obnoxious, shouty, and difficult to read.

5. You BEG me to follow you back. BEG and BEG and BEG. Your desperation scares me off.

6. You are clearly only on this medium to sell me something. Yes, we all have something to sell, even if your only purpose on Twitter is to have fun. You’re selling your personality. But if you are hawking a product or service, the hard-sell approach will make me delete you. The soft sell (some media experts recommend never even mentioning where you can buy your brand-new book, for instance) works so much better. Let me get to know you before you offer to change my life, make me rich, or show me how to drop ten pounds of stubborn belly fat.

7. Your auto-responder is overtly spammy. Have you ever gotten one of these: “Thanks for following me! Come buy my product at XYZ.com right now! You’ll lose 30 pounds in a week!” While it’s nice to get a direct message after you follow someone, as it can be more personal than simply a blank follow, keep it short and simple. If you are meeting someone for the first time face-to-face, would you immediately leap into your sales pitch, or would you exchange a few pleasantries first?

8. Your tweets are awash with hashtags. I appreciate that you want to get indexed everywhere, but this makes your message sound like William Shatner is reciting it.

9. You tweet too damned much. Okay, a few at a time are fine. But I get frustrated when I have to scroll past your dozens of tweets about where I can get a free iPad before I can find my friend’s daily haiku. Unfollow.

Are you on Twitter? What makes you hit “unfollow” faster than Rhianna changes her hair color?

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Baffling Ads In Men’s Magazines

Through some aberration in the fabric of the universe, my husband has begun receiving a year’s subscription to GQ. As my spouse’s normal attire is a pair of old jeans and a gray Champion hoodie, and his cold-weather-to-warm-weather transition is to switch from long sleeves to short sleeves, this gift in our mailbox is akin to Elton John receiving a subscription to Juggs. (For the record, I’m no fashion plate either.)

But since I cannot resist a peek into what poses as a male-oriented periodical when I’m tossed into the same room with one (my favorite is Maxim), I started reading it.

I thought women’s magazines were bad! Holy crow. I couldn’t get past the advertising. These two guys in the Calvin Klein spread (above) look like a cross between Frankenstein’s monster and the guy on the cover of Atlas Shrugged. The guy on the right’s intent stare could melt glass, and there is so much product in vertical sculpture of his hair that he better not get too close to an open flame, lest he reenact Michael Jackson’s Pepsi ad. The dude on the left looks like he’s having a very intense discussion with himself about whether he left the iron on.

There’s an entire novel going on in the Gucci spread. Sorry, I couldn’t find the full image in all of its ambiguous glory, so you’ll have to take my word for it. A clean-shaven young man with knife-edged cheekbones has his eyes downcast and leading off the page. Perhaps he is holding back tears. Apparently, these tears are because the dramatically-posed stick insect of a female model standing in the center of the spread does not return his intense feelings of love. She presses one hand to her temple as if she has a horrible headache. Perhaps this was caused by the overzealous aesthetician who removed all the hair from her head. A finger covers an eyebrow. Maybe the waxer got to that one before she decided the Sinead O’Connor-meets-Mona-Lisa-look was probably not the best career move for her head shape. At the right is a man in a tightly fitted, shiny suit, sitting cross-legged in a way that tightly fitted, shiny suits do not normally permit. Another woman, who has hair on her head but apparently is wearing a horse’s mane as a top, leans over him and whispers in his ear. What that is we may never know, but this guy isn’t having any of it. He continues to stare at the shiny fabric covering his left calf as if it contains the secrets of the universe and the location of Jimmy Hoffa’s remains.

But what really made my day was this Dolce & Gabbana spread (top). As I’ve said, I’m tragically out of the loop when it comes to fashion, but I didn’t see anything in this ad that resembled fashion. It’s a black-and-white spread featuring seven guys involved in a very intense game of tug-of-war. We do not see against whom they are tugging. Maybe the guys in the Calvin Klein ad. They look like inmates from a Turkish prison, and all have varying degrees of facial hair and lengths of fabric torn off their white pants. The one in the front looks vaguely like Barack Obama scolding John Boehner. They dig their feet-all wearing oxfords, some without laces-into the sand. At the bottom left of the spread, looking off the page, is a small black dog that looks seriously underfed. I do not understand the significance of the dog, and this disturbs me. Meanwhile, I draft in my head a novelization of the ad, a cross between The Great Gatsby, The Dirty Dozen, and Midnight Express.

This intense focus on creating a context for the products confuses me just about as much as the context itself.  I know what the ads in women’s magazines are trying to express-they’re attempting to make us feel uncomfortable and insecure about our bodies and beauty so that we will continue buying their products and the magazines. I don’t know what the hell the GQ ads are trying to do. Maybe you men out there can help me. Do you buy these magazines? What do you think about the advertising? And what is the point of the dog?

How to Love Editing Your Novel, Part Two

So, you’ve let your first draft compost for however long your brain needs to gain some emotional distance from it. Now the hard stuff begins. Many writers, myself included, get so caught up in the creative phase of writing that when we need to put our editor hats on, it feels like a poor fit.

But I had to teach myself to love revising. Fortunately, I love puzzles and challenges, so I transferred that skill set over to my editing. What I also find important is to draw the distinction between creating and editing. Albert Einstein once said that you can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it. The writer mind is interested in creation and doesn’t want to revise, not one lovely adjective of it. The editor mind slashes things up with a red pen. To make it easier to get to that place, you may want to try some of these techniques.

Note: Everyone’s got a different style of working, and your actual mileage may vary. So I can’t presume that this series of suggestions is anything more than that. But it works for me. If you’re having trouble getting started editing a manuscript, maybe this is something you’ll want to try.

1. Read a printed copy of your manuscript all the way through. Some people are very handy with tracking comments in their Word documents, but I need to have paper in front of me so I can scribble all over it and see everything all at once. Incorporate any notes you might have gotten from writing group members or critique partners. Jot down anything that comes to mind as you read-research needed, facts to be checked, or inconsistencies. This is the working manual of your manuscript. Keeping everything in one place goes a long way toward preventing squirrel brain. This is also the playground of anyone who loves scrapbooking, colored markers and those little bitty fluorescent sticky notes. Go to town. Don’t stress about catching every single dangling modifier or misplaced comma. That’s why we do subsequent drafts.

2. Either on a series of index cards or on a computer document, summarize the content of each scene or chapter. This has several purposes. It will help you put everything in the order that’s correct for the book. It will help you cut unnecessary scenes. And it will help you write the dreaded synopsis that agents and publishers want to see when you start shopping your manuscript around.

3. Look for the missing threads. Perhaps you’ve dropped a subplot line or have a character just hanging around with no particular purpose. Using a chart like this one can help you find major problems in the plot.

4. Modify your plot summary (index cards or otherwise) based on the information you gathered from #3. Make note of any new scenes you’ll need to write, secondary characters that either need development or need to be shown the door.

5. Fact-check and research items that came up from the reading.

6. Write the next draft. Writers have differing opinions (imagine that!) about how this should be done. But I took a tip from another novelist and found that it works for me. In the early drafts, I retype the entire shebang. Yeah, I know. That’s a lot of keystrokes. But an interesting thing happened while I was doing that, besides developing a wicked case of carpal tunnel syndrome-just kidding, it was tendonitis. I was able to divorce myself from what I had already written and could more easily make the drastic changes that were necessary. There’s something about a computer document that seems so “finished” that we don’t want to tear it up, if that’s what’s needed.

7. Set aside to compost until you’re ready to work on the next draft.

8.  Repeat steps 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7 (updating your plot summary and character chart is necessary) until done.

But how do you know when you’re done? Ah, my friends, that’s a question for another blog.

So how do you and editing get along? Are you eager and ready with a red pen? Or does the whole process make you want to start writing another book instead?