So, May, 2009. We’d been living in Canada for two months, and only one of those months in our own place. I was still officially a full-time writer, but earning less than a full-time wage. Facebook hadn’t lived up to its promise of making me a household name (other than in my own household), and anyway, we were using Facebook to let our families know how we were getting on in the Great Unknown. And things were, on the whole, quite civilised.
But I didn’t want to be surviving, or getting by. I wanted to be a success, and that meant SALES! Plays or e-books, I didn’t mind which. The only way to really drive sales is, of course, to invest in advertising, while simultaneously working very hard on developing contacts and doing favours for other writers and publishers. Get known as a good person, someone whose opinion is worthwhile. Get word of mouth working in your favour by sending your material out to the right people, but only when they are ready to read it.
This is, of course, hard work and time consuming, and back then we already had plenty of things to consume our time. I remember James Moran, TV writer, Film Writer, and genuinely nice person, posting about how he managed to write the draft of his screenplay that sold (Severance):
“I wrote more than twenty drafts. I would go out to work, come home at night and work. I would work early in the morning and at weekends. I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote until it was right.”
I believed him, because it was the kind of thing I had heard before. Writing is something anyone can do. Making a living from writing is serious business, and not for the dilettante. I knew it. After all, even Sir Terry Pratchett himself had told me as much when I met him.
But I couldn’t shake the thought that there might be a shortcut. Something to get things moving. And so I got onto Twitter. It had only been going three years, but already people were saying that was the place to get yourself noticed. But I don’t have a wide attention span. I kept the number of people I was following pretty low for a long time, so I could actually see what they were posting. Naturally, the number of people following me stayed low too. I tried to be professional to project the image that would sell plays, but it feels dreadful. Surely Social Media should be the one place where you can actually be yourself? If other people don’t like it, there’s a block button! As long as you’re staying within the guidelines of the platform and the bounds of human decency (not always the same thing, obvs) then I say, BE YOURSELF!
And I’m not a salesman. I’m proud of my writing, and I think it’s worth performing. I’m proud to be associated with my publisher, who took steps to be a premier theatrical presence online while others were clinging to print. I’m not ashamed that I juggle, or like Star Wars, or was a Stay at Home Dad for a decade or two. Gradually I have relaxed my need to be professional on Twitter. I still advertise my plays, but I leave comments and terrible jokes, and post pictures of the garden, or the cat, or my latest helmet slightly more often than that.
Twelve years of Twitter haven’t made me a star, but they’ve helped me stay connected to two of my semi-cousins, one in the States and one back in the UK. They’ve allowed me to follow and interact with some authors I would never have the chance to meet in real life, and leave messages for people like my favourite comics artist, Terry Moore.
I was sad when they shuttered G+, because that had brought me a new circle of friends (whom I still chat to through another, inferior platform), and if Twitter eventually goes the same way, I will certainly feel the loss. The short format and chatty style fit into my day much better than the ghastly notion of listening to sound bites (Clubhouse) or watching short videos (TikTok and IG). Call me old-fashioned if you like, but I’d be happy to still be swapping bad puns on Twitter in another twelve years, even if it’s only me and a couple of other people there.