Twitter can be controversial.
When I first heard about Twitter a few years ago, I thought, "What's the point? You just tell people online what you're doing all day long? Who cares if I'm eating a sandwich right now?" At the time, the whole thing seemed pointless--a stripped-down networking site that reduced the user's presence to the equivalent of abbreviated Facebook statuses. And a lot of other people feel the same way, if blog comments and overheard conversations and things said on Facebook are any indication.
Fortunately, however, I bowed to pressure from my brother and got an account. I let it sit for a while, doing little with it other than following a few screenwriters and authors. I didn't really know how to navigate it, I didn't really know how to utilize it.
* BTW ~ Ignorance, my friends, is no excuse in the age of Google. *
Anyway, after a while I started tweeting about writing, and I got a few followers. I started to see that I could use Twitter to connect with others who shared my passion. Then I found this blog, which opened my eyes to how to use Twitter. She actually had a fantastic article about Twitter, which I would have posted here (but couldn't find it!) ... This was my turning point. I began to use Twitter in earnest as a tool to improve my writing.
Sometimes I hear people say things like "Twitter is just a huge waste of time" in relation to writers, or just people in general, and I have to bite my tongue to keep from giving them my rant about how a tool's usefulness is determined by the user, and how people shouldn't make blanket statements before they understand something.
Now, in all fairness, Twitter CAN be a waste of time (albeit an enjoyable one), and I'm not going to pretend I don't use it to procrastinate too. But it can also be supremely useful, and I hate to see something that is so useful be slapped down without any defending on my part.
So here's my rant about how it has helped me:
1. COMPANIONSHIP. Twitter is an excellent way to find others like you. Writing is lonely work, and Twitter has allowed me to connect with other writers, especially other aspiring writers who share my dreams and hopes and fears. I don't know a single other person in my normal circle of friends and acquaintances from my home town who is writing seriously with the intent to be published (there are one or two fanfic writers, but if I tried to talk about publishing houses to them they'd run screaming). Heck, nobody I know personally even knows what a query is, or why a synopsis makes me want to tear my hair out, or how funny Janet Reid is and why she makes me laugh till I cry, or what sorts of trends are big in YA right now (Well, nobody except for those unlucky individuals who I've chosen to confide in on a daily basis, IE, my bestie Nikki and my husband, poor souls).
This is why Twitter is so awesome. I have 300+ individuals who are following me who KNOW MY PAIN. Solidarity is a fantastic support when it comes to writing, and furthermore, having that emotional support and commiseration with others has transformed me as a writer. I am no longer alone in my journey through the valley of the shadow of queries, and that by itself is a reason to be on Twitter.
2. INFORMATION. Twitter is a huge grapevine where information passes word-of-mouth rapid-fire. Information flows thick and fast as users in the writing community share links to blogs, videos, events, and contests, and they tweet good news like an author's NYT bestseller list debut, or upcoming books, or author signings. My understanding of writing, writers, the publishing business, libraries, conferences, awards, and much more has quadrupled since I started Tweeting. If somebody has something interesting or helpful, somebody else out there will retweet it, and then somebody else, and it gets passed on down the line until I see it.
Basically, Twitter gave me the tools to become a better, smarter, savvier writer.
3. SUPPORT. Twitter helped me find people who could help me, like agents who would answer my querying questions and beta readers who would help me edit MSS. With all those writer-related people connected to me, and with the ability to share information and blog posts and tweets and links, I've forged friendships. From these friendships come all kinds of benefits, like offers to trade and critique manuscripts, offers of help on synopses and queries, and just general support and encouragement.
I would have never met these people without Twitter.
In summary, Twitter can be extremely helpful to the aspiring writer. Yes, it is possible to fritter away all your writing time tweeting, but if you can practice some will-power (an important skill to learn anyway, if you want to write) you can keep that from taking over your life.
Twitter is a tool, and a darn good one in my opinion, that has proved invaluable to my personal growth as a writer over the last two years.