Writing For Craft, Not Clicks

March 21, 2023 § 7 Comments

Social media often feels like a distraction from our writing work, or weirdly transactional (I posted 10 minutes ago, did anyone like it yet?) But mindful social media makes us better writers. Ignore follower counts and clicks—instead, consider Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, blogging and newsletters as literary forms.

One of the world’s greatest short-form writers contemplating the delivery of his next publicly-available serial content.

A great Facebook post is a 100-word microflash essay with a beginning, middle, ending, and a strong premise that engages readers. A great Tweet is a great sentence—whether you follow or violate traditional writing “rules.”

Sharing our work publicly and regularly also keeps us in the habit. Writing advice often starts from the premise that we’re all going to sit down and bang out our word count for an hour every morning—or we should be. But not only do you not have to write every day, a lot of writers can’t write every day. They have families. Or they’re caregivers. Or demanding jobs consume their creative brains. This does not make them—or you—any less a writer. Plenty of excellent books have been written in short spurts. Books are built from blogs. Or from texts. Or from writing a little at a time. Social media lets us write in short, manageable chunks on busy days.

But if I write something every day, what if it’s not good? What if it’s not a diamond-sharp, multiply-revised presentation of my Best Thoughts Ever?

That’s kind of the point. Whether or not the 10,000-hour theory is correct, the number one thing that makes us better writers is deliberate practice. Social media is a place to practice publicly, to raise the stakes just enough to make each sentence count, while not becoming a permanent record. Social media is brief. Brevity helps you write more often, using your available time. Don’t feel guilty if you don’t have an hour—feel good that you got out any amount of words to share. Remember that the medium is the message: readers don’t expect literary genius in an email. Write your best, but don’t worry about perfection.

Great short-form public writing, whether an 850-word blog or a 400-word newsletter or a 280-character tweet, has key principles:

Practice writing at the sentence level. Anchor your sentence beginnings and ends with concrete nouns and strong verbs. See what word combinations have punch.

Share a moment that is a whole moment. Stay in one scene or a single thought.

The medium is the message: there is no “and then I realized…” because the venue says that for you. Publishing on a social platform already establishes, “I thought this was important to crystallize and share with my readers.”

Both literary and commercial constrained forms depend on vertical takeoff. How fast can you bring a reader into your mood? How much emotional impact can you create in under a minute? Can you draft a killer first sentence that makes readers click to read the whole thing? That’s a skill all writers need for work in every medium.

Social media often feels random and chaotic. We’re stepping into a room where a million people are practicing their voices, trying out what they have to say and waiting to see who’s listening. Limit your time and figure out who you want to listen to. At the same time, find your own audience. It’s not weird to make online acquaintances and spontaneously participate in their conversations. They can directly respond to your joke, question, micro-essay or impassioned political or emotional point, and you can block them if you don’t like what they have to say.

When I’m posting regularly on social media, I see more stories in the world. I’m more likely to ask questions of the people around me, and truly listen to their answers. This spills over into my longform writing, making me more curious about my characters and more conscious of the circumstances that make people who they are.

One of the most beautiful essays I’ve ever read (in any medium) is Tucker Shaw’s fragmented recollections of the AIDS crisis, triggered by an overheard conversation on the subway. The nature of Twitter—short, sequential, slightly-but-not-really disconnected suits this essay. Each tweet feels slightly forced out, excavated from the pain of memory, heightening the meaning of the work. Did Shaw write it in advance and piece it out in 140-character bursts? Maybe. Did he write it as he tweeted it? Also possible. Either way, he’s used a social form to advantage, not only creating a beautiful and meaningful work, but also reaching thousands of people who either don’t read literary magazines or wouldn’t have subscribed to a particular one that published the piece.

Sure, an MFA is great, but have you made a joke land on Twitter? When we explore literary forms deliberately, not as “content creators” but as writers, we practice craft. Share writing news, personal stories behind your work, strange happenings and moments of joy and poetic wonder. Don’t sacrifice your writing time to random scrolling. But by all means, pick a platform you like, set a specific amount of time for reading and writing there, and use it to practice your craft and read meaningful work to inspire your own.


Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor. Find her on Twitter & Insta @GuerillaMemoir. Want to write better with Social Media? We’ve got a webinar for that. April 5th, replay available.

Sechs on New Year’s Eve

December 30, 2022 § 27 Comments

By Heidi Croot

I was sitting across from my grandfather at the game table one New Year’s Eve as he clutched his belly in helpless laughter.

“Mein Bauch, mein Bauch!” he said, barely able to form words.

I was seventeen years old that night and learning euchre at the round pedestal table in my parents’ little brown bungalow. My German immigrant grandparents, then in their seventies, had made the two-hour train trip from Toronto to ring in the new year with us in our small bedroom community outside London, Ontario.

Opa and I were euchre partners and losing madly to Oma and my father. We were using cards as counters, but because of our losing, Opa and I had turned ours face down. When it was his turn to deal, he kept mistaking our counters for someone’s stack. Every time my Oma, my father and I shouted “No, no!” in unison, Opa’s forehead would graze the table, and our drinks would sway.

I clutch my own belly to remember it.

Precious mote of memory.

And one that may have been lost forever had I not described this New Year’s Eve in a letter to my aunt in California, and had I not saved a carbon copy of that letter, as I did with all my correspondence, and had those letters not grown into a foot-high pile of pink and yellow onionskins—an archiving habit I picked up from my mother. 

A useful habit it was, too—the archive serving as a time machine for many writing projects, including my memoir. The essential tool was carbon paper, a page coated on one side with dry ink. My mother and I would slip a sheet between our letterhead and a piece of translucent paper as flyaway frail as an onion skin, before rolling all three pages into the typewriter. She had trashed her tower of onionskins by the time I was called upon to clean out my parents’ house, a loss for me as I sought understanding of my fugitive family.

My mother does not appear in my letter. She took a dim view of card games and despite idolizing my grandfather, had probably retired early that New Year’s Eve. Yet I picture her smiling in her bed on the other side of the thin wall.

It was my dad with his dry English wit who had been the architect of that night’s hilarity. It started even before the cards came out. We’d been teasing my shy, girlish grandmother about her horrified reaction to the word “sex”—don’t ask me how sex came up in the conversation—and Oma had giggled so hysterically she wet the couch. I remember because my father snapped a photo of the spot. I still see her holding the back of her hand to her mouth, eyes streaming.

Later, while playing a round of Michigan Rummy, Oma kept turning up sixes, so whenever she said “sechs,” German for “six,” my father and I countered with “There she goes again! Can’t get sex out of her mind!”

Whereupon—according to my letter, my youthful penchant for hyperbole in full flight— “everyone would get up, lie down on the floor, and split their sides laughing.”  

“I don’t think it’s safe for me to go to bed tonight!” Opa said.

And still I squirm. A daring thing for my legendary Opa to say in front of his sheltered teenaged granddaughter. No doubt I worked hard to avoid catching Oma’s eye, even as I laughed with her in a thrill of embarrassment.

The day I found the copy of my letter describing that night, it was as if my Oma and Opa were alive again. I felt their presence rising, saw the contours of their beloved faces, heard the timbre of their voices like an old, forgotten song. Their love was warm breath on my cheek, their arms the embrace I yearned for, so safe, so tender. I knew my place in my family, not something I’ve been able to always count on.

The sensation was mostly gone by morning, but for a day and night it was mine. 

When I emailed excerpts from the New Year’s memory to my relatives, my California aunt, with whom I share a nostalgic bent, mourned the loss of letter-writing as a way for future generations to understand their past.

History will take “a mighty blow,” she said.

My heart hurts for those generations caught in the fast lane of electronic communication, unable to bring beloved people back through the portal of words in letters warmed by the hand that holds them.

They’ll think they can fill the emptiness through other means—they’ll knock their knuckles on their memory banks and wink—but memories are capricious, content in their own company, like dreams cavorting in a far-flung field.

How will the void manifest for the people standing on the porch as the shadows lengthen, hearing a distant echo, unsure of what they are longing for, missing something they can’t even name?


Heidi Croot is a recovering corporate writer whose creative work has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Mud Season Review, Writescape blog, Linea magazine and elsewhere. She is a member of the Brevity Blog editorial team and is gathering courage to query her memoir. She lives in Ontario’s beautiful Northumberland County. You can reach her on Twitter.

A Publishing Contract: When Jupiter Aligns with Mars

December 14, 2022 § 61 Comments

By Eileen Vorbach Collins

Finally, after a year spent fretting over the difference between a synopsis and an overview, what to include in a proposal, which comp titles are actually comparable, and submitting my manuscript to more than 20 small presses I had three offers for publication.

The first was contingent on my changing the structure, because “essay collections don’t sell.” I’d need to rewrite the book in a more traditional memoir format. Excited to have an offer, I considered it; even spent some time working on the rewrite. But it went against my vision for the book. I want it to be read in the bite sized pieces a bereaved person can manage.

We bereaved can’t focus. Our attention spans are gnats, buzzing around our heads for seconds at a time. By the time we’ve read one chapter we’ve lost our place, can’t remember how we got here. Where are my keys? Did I feed the cat? What month is it? Do I even care?

The second offer came from a small press with some good titles and interesting cover designs, though after a call with an editor, that one didn’t feel right either. It’s hard to explain. The edges were jagged. There was a vague unsettledness and I felt myself holding back, my enthusiasm waning. But who am I to be picky? Shouldn’t I grab the first offer I get? Alliteration notwithstanding, what fun I would have withdrawing all those submissions. “I’ve accepted an offer of publication. Thank you for your consideration.”

Sure, we all dream of a traditional publisher, not necessarily one of the big five, but a press with some heft. A well-known name. An editor who shares our vision. A robust social media presence.  Some gorgeous cover designs. But the universe opened her arms to me through the little press that accepted my manuscript. To paraphrase the well-known song from the musical  Hair, for once “Jupiter aligned with Mars.”

The offer came from Apprentice House, a small university press in Baltimore, my hometown. Loyola University is my alma mater. It’s where I first started writing about my daughter’s suicide for what became my master’s thesis.

As I looked at the books Apprentice House had published, I noticed one by Michael Olesker, a former syndicated columnist for The Baltimore Sun newspaper. His wife was one of two midwives at the Baltimore Birth Center where my daughter entered the world. Although not present for the delivery, she came to our home the following day for a postpartum visit. Seeing her name brought me back, full circle, to the time of my daughter’s beginning.

When I started thinking about requesting blurbs, one of the first people I thought of was an associate professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins whom I’d met because of a serendipitous flyer posted in an elevator when I worked as an RN at the hospital. He taught a popular course in bereavement in the Pastoral Care program at Loyola. I contacted him and he asked me to send the manuscript.

Whether I’ll get that blurb remains to be seen, though I marvel at how everything is finally coming together. I’ve seen it happen so often now, for writer friends. I still grapple with feeling happy about it. How can I be happy to be publishing a book that I wish I could not have written? Writing the essays in this collection was sometimes excruciating. Why couldn’t I put it behind me? Why couldn’t I move on?  

To write about grief, especially the suicide of a child, feels risky. The stigma is real. Will readers judge me? After all, what the hell kind of mother could I be? My child took her life and I’m capitalizing on it, seeking attention by writing a book. Even including some humor. What the hell is wrong with me?

I can only tell you that when newly bereaved, I wanted nothing more than to read authentic stories by real people who had survived the most terrible loss imaginable. Stories that would show me it was possible to find a place of bearable sorrow. I hope my stories will do that for someone else. 


Eileen‘s work has been published in SFWP Quarterly, The Columbia Journal, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. Her essay, “Love in the Archives,” received the Diana Woods Memorial Award for Creative Nonfiction. “Two Tablespoons of Tim” was the winner of the Gabriele Rico Challenge Award. “How to be the Mother of a Dead Girl” was a finalist in the Michael Steinberg Memorial Essay Contest.  Eileen’s forthcoming essay collection received a Gold Royal Palm Literary Award from the Florida Writers Association and was chosen 1st runner-up unpublished book of the year.

Tinder for Writers?

November 2, 2022 § 10 Comments

Using Reddit to find a writing partner.

By Michael Anthony

Years ago, I was single, alone, and staring at my computer screen. I had a big decision to make: Send the Message or Don’t Send the Message. It was my first attempt at dating online—an unusual concept at the time—and as the minutes of doubt ticked away, I sighed to myself, “Why the hell not?” 

Overall, my foray into online dating worked out quite well (which I won’t go into here). But the thing is, when years later I was looking for a writing partner, I thought for sure it had to be someone I met in person. I figured it would be too weird to not “vibe-check” physically and thus wouldn’t have that same literary spark—which I oddly felt more a necessity for a writing partner than a romantic one. 

I imagined dozens of meet-cute literary scenarios: running into someone at a coffee shop, glancing at each other’s screens from across our tables, seeing what the other needed in their story; or going to a poetry reading and connecting so deeply with each other’s poems that we instantly start working together.

And I tried, I really tried to meet a writing partner in person. I had degrees in writing, which gave me a wide network of writerly friends, and yes, I attended writing conferences, and yes, I went to local writing groups at libraries and from MeetUp.com. And yeah, sure, I ended up having a few tawdry one-night-stand writing sessions. A couple of song lyrics strung together, some poetry verses read, an outline for a short story written, but none of it meant anything. 

Everything changed one day as I was browsing Reddit (a forum-based website). I saw a post about people looking for “Writing Collaborators,” and there in front of me was a piece of artistic work so beautifully crafted I fell in love. I knew nothing of the creator, who they were, where they lived, their age, gender, education, work, or publishing background; all I knew was that it was “love at first sight,” and even though I’d be batting out of my league, I once again sighed, “Why the hell not?” and sent a message.

I made it short: “I like your stuff, are you still looking for a writing partner?” And before I knew it, I had a message back and then we were moving from Reddit to Instagram to Gmail and, eventually, phone. One thing led to another, and I asked them to partner on a project and they said … yes! Within a few months of that “Yes!” we got an agent together, and a few months afterward a book deal for our graphic memoir: Just Another Meat-Eating Dirtbag: A Memoir.

The point is though, none of it would’ve happened had I not first opened up to the idea of where I could find a writing partner, and what that partnership could look like. And if it can happen for me, then it can happen for you, too, with just a few simple steps: 

  1. Open yourself up to the idea of searching for someone who might not live close; the wider you open yourself up, the more you’ll be able to base your decisions on something besides proximity. Since a Tinder/Bumble for writers does not currently exist, I recommend Reddit (far better than Goodreads forums and Facebook pages): there are groups for everyone, e.g., R/ComicBookCollabs (where I met my partner), R/WriteWithMe, R/Writers, and the larger general group R/Writing. And if a sub group doesn’t exist for what you’re looking for, then start it!

2. Be clear what you’re looking for but open yourself up to the possibility that the perfect partner might be the opposite of what you assume you want, i.e., not local, older/younger, different background, etc.

3. When you do find a potential partner, approach from a place of respect—both for their work, and for their time.

4. Remember that “No means No”: if a prospective writing partner says “no” then just move on.

5. Don’t give up on your search! I spent years looking for a writing partner and you might spend years too—but know that the right partner is worth the wait.

6. When you do find a possible partner, start with an outline for a short story, or go over a few paragraphs; don’t dive right into agreeing to write a book together, take it slow.

Keep up the search and I know you’ll find a writing partner you enjoy and respect just as much as I enjoy and respect mine, the great Chai Simone.


Michael Anthony is the author of the graphic memoir Just Another Meat-Eating Dirtbag, and the award-winning and acclaimed memoirs Civilianized and Mass Casualties. His work has appeared widely across the web in various publications and formats. He holds an MFA in creative writing from Lesley University and is a volunteer for the Veterans Writing Project. He tweets and does the website thing.  

Chai Simone is Michael’s writing partner. She is a writer, artist, film aficionado and the illustrator for their graphic memoir Just Another Meat-Eating Dirtbag. She can be found on Instagram.

Writing on Walls

October 20, 2022 § 8 Comments

How graffiti’s origin story helped me make peace with writing for the Internet

By Liz Charlotte Grant

I almost never see my words in actual ink. I’m an elder-Millennial a decade into a writing career. Most of the essays I have published have never made it to paper, existing only on the intangible wires of the Internet. This is the experience of most of my literary generation. We translate our sentences into a digital language we do not understand in order to reach across voids, where our words exist as brief blots of light in the minds of our readers. It’s miraculous and also fleeting in a way writers of other generations never experienced.

Don’t mistake me: I do feel relieved at the ephemerality of the Internet (don’t we all pray that myspace profile will stay buried amongst a zillion search results?). Yet the downside is stark—nearly all our contemporary literature is here today and gone in five minutes. 

I find myself wondering, in this strange age that refuses to preserve even our most treasured pocket technologies across a single decade, how will the literature of the Internet persist beyond the click and scroll? Will any of these works last? How will we keep our most notable writings from becoming roadkill on the digital speedway?

Case in point: did you know that the Associated Press has downgraded the Internet from a proper, capital-worthy noun to an uncapitalized, common one—no longer Internet, but internet, no longer notable or historically significant enough to merit a capitalization, but instead unremarkable and ubiquitous? Remember back when us literati feared the e-book’s power to kill publishing? The internet’s ubiquity might be worse for us writers than e-books ever were.


Considering the nature of writing for the internet, I find comfort in graffiti’s origin story, which began as a love story. Darryl McCray was a teenager in inner-city Philadelphia in the 1960s. He fell hard for Cynthia, the prettiest girl in the eighth grade. Darryl, aka Cornbread, had already experimented with tagging back in juvenile detention where he had also acquired his nickname. But his crush made him creative: he memorized her bus route and swapped marker for spray paint, sneaking out at night to cover every free inch of cement along her bus route and block with “Cornbread loves Cynthia.” Ultimately, the romantic gesture won her—at least briefly, until her father moved her out of the school district in order to avoid the “gang banger” (he wasn’t one) Darryl. 

But Cornbread’s heartbreak was brief, as he had discovered a new passion. Cornbread’s tag appeared across the city, on benches, sidewalks, walls and fences and bus depots. Cornbread told a Philadelphia Weekly reporter in 2001 that “riders would sit on the name Cornbread, go to work and see Cornbread, come home from work and see Cornbread again.” Cornbread, the omnipresent. 

Then, when a reporter got the facts wrong and described the tagger as shot when he wasn’t—that was Corn, not Cornbread—Cornbread planned his coup d’état. “I go to the zoo early in the morning, climb over the fence, into elephant’s enclosure,” he told Sandra Shea at the Philadelphia Inquirer years ago. “I take the top off the spray paint, start shaking. The balls start rattling. [The elephant] turns around, he looks at me, doesn’t pay attention. I paint ‘Cornbread lives’ right on his side.”

Cornbread’s tag on the backside of an elephant in the Philadelphia Zoo represents the most naked declaration known to humankind, as old as the first graffiti in Pompeii’s ruins in 78 BCE, as Adrienne LaFrance wrote for The Atlantic: “Gaius Pumidius Diphilus was here.” Another artifact of Pompeii reflected Cornbread’s original instincts. Archaeologists discovered the following wall scratchings: “Health to you, Victoria, and wherever you are may you sneeze sweetly.” 

In Roger Gastman’s seminal book, The History of American Graffiti, TAKI 183, an early wall writer said, “You wrote it once and a hundred people saw it. You wrote it twice and a thousand people saw it. By your hand, you were known.” Whichever medium we pick, us writers aim to be known, to be noticed across centuries by a crowd—or even by a single person in a single moment.

Though, admittedly, the favorite medium of graffiti artists remains more stable than mine. Cement’s lifespan inches to eternity. A log, and thereby any book, can turn to mush in a year depending on the weather. Plastics are not immune to decay either (a mark against lamination).  But those concrete structures built by the Romans? They’ve lasted 2,000 years and counting. 


Imagine with me a future excavation of downtown Philly, given the same attention as ancient Pompeii. What would an archaeologist find? There, beneath the layer of acrylic glopped on by a huffy landlord, the paint will flake off and expose the message Cornbread was here

The handwriting will be unmistakable. The one and only, Cornbread the distinctive, the man who first shook the aerosol can at 2 in the morning to mark all of Philly as his, yes, that Cornbread, once paced this spot in a pair of Reeboks, a bandana over his nose. He flipped off the lid of the can with a pop and then blasted the wall in a stream, his right finger on the nozzle and the air filled with the sharp smell. His arm twisted and dipped as he traced the practiced letters, a dance akin to Pollock’s rhythm paintings. Cornbread was there back then. But also Cornbread exists now in the archaeologist’s sightline.

Back to the Adrienne LaFrance in The Atlantic, who reminds us that art offers the chance “to be everywhere at once yet nowhere at all.” The first-person pronoun, the paint on the wall, the chisel in the marble. Cornbread and Gaiius and Victoria’s lover and I are all the same: we were here and we wanted to reach past our own time and into yours. 

Perhaps this is why I keep tapping the same language into new pattern, despite the likelihood that my words will vanish before anyone ever stops to notice. I cannot help myself. I’ll keep trying even if it kills me. 


Liz Charlotte Grant is a freelance writer in Denver, Colorado. She’s published her essays in the Huffington Post, Hippocampus Magazine, Under the Gum Tree, Christianity Today, the Christian Century and many more places. Her publication, the Empathy List, was nominated for a 2022 Webby Award, making it one of the top five independently published newsletters on the internet (subscribe to The Empathy List for free). Find her on Instagram

My Story Went Viral: What I Wish I’d Known First

May 31, 2022 § 13 Comments

By Diane Forman

I never expected my story to go viral. Over two million views on a widely read commercial site. 11.5K likes and emojis on Facebook. Over 2.2K comments. The piece was syndicated and posted on Yahoo, Singapore News and elsewhere. A friend saw it as a top trending news story on her phone. A viral piece and huge readership—just what I’d been striving for as a writer!

I was completely unprepared for the aftermath.

It had taken me several years to gather the courage to write about my daughter’s estrangement, and this was well after we were reconciled. Reconciling took a great deal of time, space, personal change and effort to break long-established patterns. I wrote the story as a commercial rather than literary piece, citing not only my own experience, but research on estrangement and shame. I ended with hope because fortunately, our story had a happy ending.

I pitched the piece for Mother’s Day, a difficult holiday for many, with a personal goal of offering hope to those suffering from estrangement. I’d spent several Mother’s Days alone and would have loved to read an aspirational story of reconciliation on that day. 

My story was accepted for publication rather quickly, and the editor was responsive and compassionate about the content. But when the proof arrived prior to publication, I was taken aback by the title, which shouted “clickbait!” Having mostly written for literary magazines, I’d seldom had a title chosen for me. Certain my daughter would balk, I e-mailed the editor and expressed concern. According to him and his team, readers decide whether or not to click on a story in under a second— they were sure the title was a win. Against my intuition and better judgment, I agreed. I’d never had a story run with the promise of so many readers, with so many potential likes and tweets.

The story ran on Mother’s Day, in a subsection of the main site. My bio linked my website, and within hours I had dozens of kind emails:

Your love and insight were inspiring…

Your words were a balm for my broken heart…

I thought I was the only one who had ever gone through this…

Thank you for your story of hope. I read it over and over again. 

Over the next day I received over 150 messages from both grieving mothers and estranged daughters. There was some criticism, but most comments were appreciative and thankful. A few asked for writing support or wanted to join one of my writing groups, an unexpected perk. Several people wrote tomes of their own painful experiences. Some asked for the names of therapists, or provided their phone numbers and asked me to call them, or pleaded for help in reconciling with their own estranged children. In no way was I prepared for those questions. I am a writer and teacher, not a therapist.

But then the story appeared on the publication’s main site and its Facebook page, and things got ugly.

I was already concerned about the title, including the words “Perfect Mother.” Any cursory reading of my piece would indicate I never believed I was. But readers bashed me for calling myself perfect. They labeled me dysfunctional or mentally ill. Some said I was entitled, a terrible mother, and it was no wonder my daughter left. Some called me a narcissist or pathetic or mewling. The amount of vitriol was astonishing. At first I didn’t let the comments bother me, but after a while, I had to stop reading. Over the next days, I was so overwhelmed by hundreds of messages from my website, from both desperate parents and bitter haters, that I had to temporarily shut down my site.

This was a very tender spot of my actual life that strangers on the internet were trashing.

Many publications, commercial and literary, can continue to repost our pieces on social media for more clicks, and I couldn’t bear more insults. I contacted the editor, asking if he would consider changing the title of my story and removing personal information from my bio. Fortunately, he agreed.

When I decided to publish this piece, I knew people would wonder about my daughter’s side of the story, which was a fair question. I anticipated some criticism of my acknowledged codependent parenting. But I never imagined that my personal story would go viral, and that thousands of strangers would assault my character and call me names for writing a piece I believed was honest, loving and hopeful.

Would I place a story like this again in this type of publication, even with a wonderful editor? While I can’t control a reader’s response, I will better trust my instincts and intuition. I’ll think more carefully about the potential readership. I will never again consent to a title that makes me uncomfortable. Despite the number of people who thanked me, felt less alone in their own situations, and reached out in numerous ways—fulfilling my goal—I’d consider all angles before doing it again. I was and am proud of the piece, and know my words were comforting and affirming to many, but the hateful comments didn’t just bounce off. Our stories are pieces of our hearts, and we have to think carefully about how, when, where and even if we want them in the world.

Diane Forman has published in Boston Globe Connections, Intima: a Journal of Narrative Medicine, WBUR Cognoscenti, and elsewhere. Diane lives, writes, and teaches north of Boston. See more at dianeforman.com. Twitter: @WriterForman

I Love Zoom Writing Workshops

February 28, 2022 § 12 Comments

By Mary Hannah Terzino

I love Zoom writing workshops. I love the way some people name themselves on Zoom: Steve’s iPad, or Grandma Lois, or JCO, as if Joyce Carol Oates is slumming with the twenty of us on a Saturday afternoon.  I love the pronoun designations, eighty percent of them she/her, often the obvious ones; the rest silent, bestowing upon us the gift of guessing.

I love the beginning of these workshops, the participant credentialing. We hear from a novice, a nail technician contemplating a novel about a nail technician who solves crimes based on her knowledge of hands; the seasoned writer mentioning every journal that’s published her creative nonfiction about Overactive Bladder; the elderly white man describing in detail his 750-page manuscript about an Indigenous community on a South Dakota reservation he’s never bothered to visit, written in the voices of tribal people.  

I love the chat box. I love deciphering the frequent “great idea” or “yes!” comments where the antecedents are mysterious. I love the two people who ask the same question in the chat that someone just asked aloud, how usually they are anal types worried about following instructions. I love feeling slightly superior because I don’t worry much about the instructions. I love it intensely when someone I know in the workshop sends me a direct chat message with a swear word in it.

I love the people who have to be told “You’re on mute,” as if we haven’t all been doing Zoom for three years. And oh, how I love their opposites, the people who forget to put themselves on mute when their cell phones ring, so you get to hear them yelling at someone.

I love seeing people’s cats walk in front of their screens. I especially love it when the cats’ tails brush against their owners’ faces, forming temporary moustaches. I love the man, at least I think it was a man although he didn’t tell us the pronouns to use, who aimed his camera at the top half of a portable whirring fan and left it there for the entire workshop. I deeply love the woman with makeup like Bette Davis’s in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane whose camera showed only her left eye and nostril in extreme closeup until the break, when she forgot to go on mute and yelled at her cleaning lady to reposition it.

Of course, I love to hear the white man read. He doesn’t read whatever we were supposed to write for twenty minutes based on the prompt. Instead, he reads from his manuscript about the tribe in South Dakota. He provides several minutes of prologue and an introduction to the personnel, followed by ten minutes of stilted, Tonto-like dialogue. I very much love the moment when the workshop instructor politely tries to wrestle control of the reading session, and fails. When others finally read, the white man turns back to his laptop, presumably composing page 751 of his manuscript. He forgets to put himself on mute. We hear him typing hard with his index fingers and exclaiming “mmm-HMMM!” when he writes something he likes. Gosh, I love that.

Unlike him, I love the prompts, the way they juice me up. The number of things I write that begin life as workshop prompts surprises me, even if they bloom into something different along the way. I almost never read my words aloud during the workshop. I love to hear people read who are insecure, tremulous, and often wonderful writers. They’re people who might not come to a workshop if it weren’t on Zoom, not knowing if it’s worth their time and money to travel, because they live in Tulsa or Bangor or East Jepeepee, the name my father called any place impossibly far away.

I’m from a tiny, snowbound town, so maybe I wouldn’t be there, either, if the workshop weren’t on Zoom. On Zoom I’m meeting Twinkle the moustache-tailed cat, hearing about the white man’s Native protagonist, staring into Baby Jane’s violently periwinkle-lidded left eye. It’s better than no workshop at all, and sometimes it’s better than workshops I’ve attended in person. This essay, in fact, is the offspring of a Zoom workshop prompt. I really love that.

Mary Hannah Terzino writes overlooking the Kalamazoo River in Saugatuck, Michigan. Her prose has been published in The Forge Literary Magazine, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Lumiere Review, and Blue River Review, among other places. She was a 2018 finalist for a fellowship for emerging writers over 50 from The Forge, and was awarded first prize in 2021 for her flash fiction story “Blank Slate” from the UK’s Fiction Factory. She is presently working on a collection of short prose and is lightening her mood with the occasional humor piece.

Do I Hafta? Why and How to Be a Writer on Twitter

February 8, 2022 § 5 Comments

Vintage cartoon bluebird holding a pink parasol and a bouquet of flowers

Waaaaaaahhhhhh…do I hafta be on Twitter? Of course not! But Twitter has plenty of benefits for writers even if you only check in once a week.

Twitter is the smallest of the major social platforms. Compared to almost 3 billion Facebook users, YouTube’s 2B, and Instagram and TikTok’s 1B each, Twitter’s under 500 million seems positively quaint. For writers, this smaller audience means it’s easier to find and interact with your community.

  • Agents and publishers casually interact, answer questions, and use hashtags like #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List) to say specifically what they’re looking for
  • Mass media editors ask for specific pitches; literary editors post submissions calls
  • The literary world has thought-provoking conversations
  • Journalists and essayists can keep an eye on pop culture and news
  • Writers bond with fellow writers

Want to be on Twitter? Already on and want to have a better time?

Update your profile photo and make it a face. Even if you’re wearing sunglasses or a cartoon. Profiles without a face pic seem like bots, or people who don’t care about being on Twitter and won’t be interesting. Add a header photo relevant to your book or your work-in-progress.

Use a searchable user name, one you can casually say to people you meet at events. If your name is hard to spell, make it easy: food-and-family writer Stephanie Vuckovic eschewed her difficult last name for GIANTSHEETCAKE.

Set up a clear, relevant bio. Who are you? What do you write about? If your message is, “I’m a freak” put that in there! You get one link: usually your website. If you teach or lead events, use an easily updateable linktree to host multiple links from a single link for your bio.

DO tweet relative to your actual book: key discoveries, interview quotes, research tidbits, etc. Interact with relevant work. “This article talks about X and we all need to consider that because Y.” “Author says A but I think B.” Anyone seeing your profile should know right away what you’re writing about.

If you’d like to be an “active” Twitter user, tweet 1-3 times a day. BUT…

Mix it up! Social media isn’t about immediate book sales. Talk like you’re talking to friends. Vary your tweets. You don’t have to violate your own privacy, but think about how you’d chat at a party. Not just about your book, right? You have other interests!

Follow people you’re interested in and who are relevant to your work. Their tweets give you more to talk about by retweeting, with or without adding your own comments.

When sharing blog posts, newsletters or articles—yours or anyone else’s—quote something that entices readers to read more. Don’t summarize the material—open a conversation that continues at the webpage or in responses to your tweet.

When people follow you, click through and like one or two of their tweets (more is creepy) or respond to one tweet. If they aren’t interesting enough to do that, don’t follow back because you won’t enjoy them! Recently I was followed by someone whose tweets were all political statements. Even though I agreed with their positions (and sometimes want to get politically fired up!) I’m not on Twitter to be angry and sad. No follow-back.

Twitter Etiquette

Twitter is Victorian. At country house parties, guests didn’t need formal connections to interact, because “the roof constitutes an introduction.” You know that friend from college you hardly ever see, but you pick up where you left off? That’s everyone on Twitter. Interact like you’re starting in the middle. Chime in on conversations, even famous ones!

Don’t thank people for following. In real life, thanking someone in the first five minutes for becoming your friend would seem…odd. Thank them when they share your work, or have truly acted like a friend.

Don’t worry much about hashtags. They’re mostly for major events or to make a joke.

Tag authors when you say something nice! Better yet, tag their publisher and agent, too! It’s fine to be a little bit fan-girly on Twitter, but direct praise can feel embarrassing. Generally, tweet about authors with praise, tweet to them with how their work affected you.

“[quote from book] I am loving X’s insightful, compelling book”


“[quote] Thank you X—you’re making me think about biracial adoption in a way I never considered.”

Public recommendations help sell their book. (And that’s how social media sells books!)

You don’t have to be active to benefit.

Lists are Twitter’s best secret tool. From your profile page, create lists of accounts you care most about interacting with: agents and publishers, literary news sources, other writers. Even easier, follow someone else’s list by clicking the three dots next to their bio, then select “View Lists.” Check in with your lists twice a week for information. You never have to tweet or respond, just learn!

Twitter gets better.

If you choose to tweet, yes, you’ll endure “talking into the void” for 6-8 months of regular engagement before getting traction. Keep nurturing your community. Participate in conversations; retweet with comments to lift up others; share what you’re reading and thinking. The best way to approach all social media is to focus on what you’re giving, rather than what you’re gaining—and the best part of Twitter is how much there is to easily gain.


Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor and the author of Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro from Blank Page to Book. Want writing news, events, and upcoming webinars? Join the A-List!

Writing Is Writing Is Writing

January 25, 2022 § Leave a comment

By Michelle Redo

“She said yes!” I squealed to my husband Phil.

“What?” he exclaimed, unable to read my mind, as I always assume he can do.

It was a Sunday morning, mere moments after extending an invitation to Zibby Owens, mastermind behind the Mom’s Don’t Have Time To Read Books podcast. She’d said yes, she’d talk with me on my little podcast! Zibby launched her podcast in 2018. Since then she’s expanded into a Mom’s Don’t Have Time To do much of anything empire. She knows a lot about brands, and loves branding, as she went to Harvard Business School. I went there, too. Their cafeteria was across the B-School’s giant parking lot from my old radio station, WGBH, when it was on Western Ave. in Boston. She got her MBA. I just got lunch.

There’s a lot to love about Zibby’s podcast, and I got the chance to tell her so when I interviewed her for Daring to Tell. I love the opportunity to listen to engaging conversations with writers…an uninterrupted half-hour to speak with writers was something she loved, too. Her genuine enthusiasm for each writer is irresistible. I’ve discovered I don’t have to be interested in the book or even the genre to be interested in what the author has to say. Writing is an art and a craft that’s delightful to plumb and dissect. You don’t have to like the final product to relate to the process.

Zibby and I talked about what actually counts as writing. She made a point that I heartily endorsed: even an Instagram post is writing. Yes, a different type of writing than essay or memoir. But writing is writing is writing. We’re choosing the content and structure of a message for an intended audience. And most of the time, shorter is harder. It’s why a word count restriction isn’t a curse of limited space, but a blessing for a focused message.

Zibby’s observation that reminded me of my radio spot-writing days. One of my favorite campaigns was our web spot, a daily 15-second promo highlighting recent stories. The spot always started, “Today at WGBH News dot org…” and ended, “…if you missed it on the radio, catch it online at WGBH news dot org, right now,” which left about seven seconds for a compelling and descriptive headline. It was a challenge in theme and variation: see how we got the website URL in there twice? How we reinforced our primary product, the radio…and featured information from a recent story that was almost as good as hearing the feature itself.

My inspiration for the campaign had been discovering the #ICYMI hashtag—In Case You Missed It—on Twitter. I wanted to reinforce local stories unique to our station. Those radio spots showed me how much I love crafting a pithy, memorable phrase, and the discipline that comes from daily practice. I thought the campaign might last six months…five years later it was still going. The spot was voiced by our station’s news editor who’d formerly run the Boston Phoenix for many years. His Kennedy-esque Boston accent and gravelly tone were iconic. People hearing him in coffee shops asked, “Hey aren’t you that guy? If you missed it on the radio? Can ya say it? Say the line, Right now.” By popular demand.

Now, as a podcaster, I have the luxury of all the time in the world. But the lesson of tight writing has stuck. It’s about respecting your listener’s time, and writing a hook that relentlessly distills a message to a single focus. Saying the most in the fewest words. Like a puzzle. Poetry, even.

How do you think about writing? Perhaps in three sizes, Tweet, Medium and Amazonian? Do you write batches of posts in advance? Do you strategize targeted promotional campaigns? Or simply attend to them as a daily discipline? Zibby Owens makes time not only for those IG posts, but also for the other writing that’s part of who she is… including her own memoir, Booked: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Literature, due out this coming July from Little A.

And me? I’m working on more Tweets, but podcasting allows me to keep doing the kind of writing I enjoyed in my radio days…writing words that someone will speak aloud. Now, instead of the radio announcer or voice talent, it’s me!

Hear my conversation with Zibby Owens now out on Daring to Tell, where you can hear her talk about podcasting and publishing, writing and stories.

Michelle Redo is a podcaster, writer, and book lover, the creator and producer of Daring to Tell, and audio producer for Heart of the Story podcast with Nadine Kenney Johnstone. Michelle was also a thirty-year, award winning public radio veteran at WGBH in Boston and has taught audio production at the Banff Centre, Banff, Canada. She lives in Maine and tweets @michelleredo.

No Really, How Many?

December 2, 2021 § 7 Comments

A memoirist recently shared her querying frustration: “An agent really liked my work, but said I didn’t have enough platform. But I have a website and I’m on Twitter and Instagram!”

Out of curiosity, I checked. The author’s website showed she wrote occasional humor pieces, loved knitting and had two dogs. She’d published on a couple of literary blogs. On Twitter she had 400 followers; on Instagram she had 185. Nothing in any location suggested she’d written an intimate, soulful memoir about Culturally Relevant Topic.

When Ashleigh Renard (platform expert and author of SWING) and I co-host The Writers Bridge Platform Q&A, we’re frequently asked for numbers. How many clicks make a “viral essay”? How many followers show an agent you have “platform”? How many places do you have to publish? How many years will you have to do this?

You knew this was coming: “It depends.”

Followers can be bought, so numbers don’t tell the whole story. Followers can be generated through #writerlifts, in which everyone agrees to follow everyone else and some of them actually do. If you’ve seen Twitter accounts with 20K followers / 19K following, those are not meaningful numbers. People have followed back politely, not because they’re interested in what the many-followed person has to say. What matters more is engagement—how often do people have a (short) conversation with you online? How often do they comment on your photo, not just click a heart? How often do you share information related to your topic, your writing or your book? Does that information get reshared, or discussed even outside your own feed?

Plenty of people have sold books without being on social media. Plenty of people have sold books with 100K followers. Plenty of people with 100K followers haven’t sold a book.

I know all this, Allison, I hear you cry through the ether, but please just give me a number!

  • If you’re writing memoir, it helps to be connected to readers who will later spread the word about your book, at least ten thousand of them. This can be across social media, newsletter, other types of mailing list, public speaking/teaching, or establishing yourself as an expert in your topic. Many of your followers will overlap…so aim for a total of around 50K engaged followers.
  • If you’re writing self-help, business, or wellness (or your memoir focuses on one of those angles) you must have at least one very large following, which could be 100K+ on any single social media platform, YouTube, a podcast, or speaking regularly to groups of 1000+ whose ticket price includes a copy of your book.
  • If you’re writing a “big idea” book (like Malcolm Gladwell’s work) or narrative nonfiction, you mostly need bylines in significant media, like the New York Times, the Atlantic, Harpers, etc. Places where you’re demonstrating that your work appeals to a wide range of people who are ready to have Opinions about your topic.
  • A “viral” essay is 100K plus views, often more.

But I’m going to self-publish!

That’s great! Do you want people to purchase and read your book? Do you want to reach the people who need your message? Every publisher needs platform, even if that publisher is you. Self-publishers would be wise to start with at least half the numbers above.

Two things sell books: interest in the topic and recognition of the author. “Building platform” is simply making as many people as possible aware that you’re writing something they care about, so when your book baby hits the shelf the bookstore aisle will be full of people stopping, saying, “Hey! I’ve heard about that author!” and buying your book. The sneaky algorithms that pump ads into your social feeds and your Google searches are also looking for authors they’ve heard of, writing about subjects of interest. For both people and numbers, your continued, engaged presence in the world is how you become someone they’ve heard of.

Very often, authors publish widely and consistently for several years before landing a book deal. Humorists write columns, or they get their work into the world so someone will let them write a column. (To see what working towards getting a column looks like, follow Lucie Frost on Instagram/Twitter, where she shares fun facts, regularly, in a specific voice.) Literary writers publish essays. Commercial writers publish magazine articles. Very, very few writers generate one magical, beautiful book and publish on the strength of the writing alone. Are you better than Joan Didion? Go for it! But if you’re not, if you know your writing is still growing but your subject is important, focus on making the most of the platform you have.

  • A clean, well-designed website that shows your topic clearly, and establishes your expertise and/or skilled interest.
  • Social media on which you appear regularly and engage in discussions.
  • Getting short pieces into the world, then sharing the best quotes through your newsletter or social media.
  • Starting a spreadsheet NOW for the mailing list you’ll be able to start in 18 months.

Platform takes time and effort to build, and yes, takes away from your writing time. But the good news is, you can do 15 (focused) minutes a day for two years, listening to your audience, caring deeply about other people having the same experience, adding topics as you discover them…and your platform will gradually assemble itself.


Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor and the author of Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro from Blank Page to Book. Want writing news, events, and upcoming webinars? Join the A-List!

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Writing and the Internet category at BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog.

%d bloggers like this: