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Many of you will know Anne Lamott’s insightful book, ‘Bird by bird: some instructions on writing and life’ . The phrase, ‘Bird by bird’ comes from a story about Anne’s brother, overwhelmed by a study on birds he has to complete. Anne’s father tells him, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” Anne uses this metaphor to talk about writing and the need to keep moving ahead one steady step at a time, with short assignments or a focus on paragraphs, perhaps, but as long as you turn up at the table and actually sit down to write.

My sojourn into twitter has been a bit like that, learning how to build one step at a time. I’d been interested in the phenomenon of twitter but didn’t really understand it. I was finally pushed, through work, to set up a twitter account for a workshop where we explored new technologies and innovation. Once I’d set up an account, I began to explore. I started by following my key blogging reads and influences – Joanna Penn, Chris Guillebeau, Danielle LaPorte, the communicatrix, Sage Cohen. Joanna especially is a big twitter aficionado and talks on her podcasts about twitter as her main social media platform along with her blog. I learnt from the  podcasts. I watched and studied my key influences and how they used twitter to connect, be useful, get to know others, share information, gather feedback, advise about their own work and convey something about themselves. All in 140 character bite sizes of information.

Miraculously, people started following me. The birds began to flock and call. It still amazes me and I treat each follower interested me in as a gift and am honoured.  The tweets initially seem all over the place as they build. I try to read them all and work out how to respond. I feel overwhelmed and wonder how these people with hundreds and thousands of followers manage all the attention and communication. I search for some clues from other more experienced twitter players and find some useful advice to move forward.

Joanna Penn is incredibly helpful as always, as a role model and through her writing and podcasts. From The Creative Penn, I learn how twitter can connect with other social media, the value of being useful and finding my own ways to add value. Joanna’s  post on ‘Social Networking for Authors: Tips for using twitter effectively’  was really useful to get started. Reading it again now, there is still so much more I need to understand and apply – such as use of hashtags and using tweetdeck or similar tools more effectively. This article is an excellent starting point with lots of links to other twitter tips especially for writers. (Note to self: go back to this great post and learn some more now you are further along.)

Similarly in his excellent article, Free Advice, Chris Guillebeau emphasises that: ‘The best way to build a following is by doing stuff away from Twitter, and encouraging people who find you elsewhere to add you on Twitter…’  That makes sense and is where I find value on twitter and hopefully where I can add value over time. Chris also comments on the power of twitter, that 25% of his business comes from twitter even though in the previous 30 days he only mentioned his actual business on twitter once.

Naomi Dunford in ‘How to get 8379 new Twitter Followers by Christmas’, provides a blitz of a framework for gaining a twitter presence using a structured approach of tweets over a few days with a formula which is roughly: 1/4 retweeting, 1/4 responding, 1/4 sharing and 1/4 ‘stuff from your own head’ to show you are a human being. Then repeat…Best to read the article for the whole story – it is well set out in steps and phase one and two, plus humour throughout so it’s not so terribly serious. I haven’t gone the whole way with this, more due to my timeframes than anything, but love the structure and have used the ratio formula to try to balance my own tweets and also learn the ‘rules’.

There’s so much I still don’t understand but I have found twitter to be an incredible network of connection and unlimited possibilities. I am especially honoured by the kindness of people I have met through twitter and their genuine interest in me.  People I read and love are amazingly following my tweets. New people are connecting with my story and themes, and I am connecting with theirs. C Patrick Schulze, whose author’s blog I was reading, wrote this blog post for me on planning a novel. It’s about writing a story, not a novel, and has been incredibly useful for where I am now with my own story in moving on with writing. Where else could you get such connection? Every day I log on to twitter and find people connected to me in my thoughts and interests, and I learn more about them, reading their work and thoughts and what they are reading.

‘Bird by bird’ I will move ahead in this space. I wonder how the people with hundreds and tens and hundreds of thousands of followers manage these diverse and dense flocks, but I guess it builds by stealth and you manage it best as anything else likely to overwhelm you, as Anne Lamott suggests, one step at a time.

What has learning to twitter been like for you?

Image, Birds of Paradise by Jen_Mo from flickr and used under a Creative Commons license with thanks