Digital media can change how we shop, how we exercise and how we cook. Has this digital age also changed how writers transform a blank Word document into a finished blog post, article or novel? Absolutely. If you are a writer or are aspiring to be one, here are a few ways to use the digital landscape to your advantage.
1. Read. Read more. And then read some more.
If you hope to be a good writer, you must read good writing. It’s an absolute no-ifs-and-or-buts-about-it fact. So, fire up your RSS reader and start following well-written blogs. Yes, there are about a gazillion blogs and counting on the Internet, many of them are poorly written and even all the good ones won’t appeal to you. Even so, it’s possible to find several blogs tailored to your interests.
All you really need to start is one good blog, a cup of coffee and a few hours. Bloggers are a tight-knit community and often share links to their own favorite bloggers and writers. Follow those links to other blogs, read around, follow more links to more blogs, and by the time your coffee cup is empty, you’ll probably have a handful of blogs lined up that will inspire you to write better and write more.
2. Use Twitter to communicate with fellow writers
With Twitter, it’s easier than easy to make new friends. While emailing someone whose writing you admire might be a little too personal, active Twitter users are comfortable communicating with people via @reply or direct message. Most bloggers also have a Twitter account, so start by creating a Twitter list of your favorite bloggers. Based on what and whom they tweet about, you should soon be able to build that list. There are plenty of other ways to leverage Twitter lists, too.
Don’t be shy about responding to and commenting on any links or tweets you find interesting; this is how to build dialogue on Twitter, which leads to relationships. Using Twitter to get to know someone better is exactly how the platform was intended to be used. Many writers “meet” on Twitter long before they have a chance to meet in person.
3. Find your niche online – and dive in!
Since writing is an independent and often slow process, it can get rather lonely and sometimes you really need someone to bounce ideas off of to squelch your writer’s block. So some writers are going to Twitter to do exactly that.
One of the best forums to interact with fellow writers is through a Twitter chats, which usually happen at the same time weekly and revolve around a certain topic or prompt. To participate, it’s as easy as including the Twitter chat #hashtag in your Tweets. This is where finding a niche is key. If you’re working on a memoir, the biweekly Wednesday #memoirchat might be a place to start, or if you are trying to market your book, the Thursday #bookmarket might be a good fit. @inkyelbows has a Twitter Writer Chat FAQ as well as a list of active chats arranged by day of the week.
Writers also use month-long challenges to motivate other each other and push themselves to write more. November is National Novel Writing Month (@NaNoWriMo), when writers all over the world challenge themselves to write a 50,000-word novel in a month. It’s easy to find writers via online forums and through the #nanowrimo hashtag on Twitter. Reverb10 is another month-long challenge to blog every day of December. Writers receive daily prompts and are encouraged to tweet links to their posts with the #reverb10 hashtag so other participants can read their post and leave comments.
4. Digitize your reference bookshelf
Writers are only as good as the reference books they carry. A dictionary and thesaurus are an absolute must. Some publications require adherence to certain stylebooks. And a grammar reference book is always good to have around.
While it’s nice to reference hard copies of these books, it’s even nicer to have them handy no matter where you are. With a smart phone, that’s easy. There are plenty of dictionary and thesaurus apps available, and the AP Stylebook even has its own mobile app and is garnering interest via email for a BlackBerry version (client). And now, with the growing popularity of e-books, it’s even easier to carry them with you on almost any device or e-reader you like. For example, Google eBooks apps now make it possible to reference the tried-and-true quick-and-dirty grammar tips of the “Elements of Style” on almost any device. The book is available in the Kindle store, too.
5. Turn off the distractions
Being a good writer is 3 percent talent, 97 percent not being distracted by the Internet.
Although your smart phone, RSS reader, Twitter community, e-reader and countless other digital devices and doodads can enrich how you get inspired by and communicate with other writers, they also make it much easier to get distracted from the task at hand. Writing is a process that requires focus and patience, and it’s difficult to have either when you’re continuously checking new Tweets or blog posts. Multitasking and writing do not play well together. Remember that science fiction author William Gibson wrote the classic Neuromancer in 1984 using a 1920’s-era typewriter, coining the term “cyberspace” in the process.
So, to truly improve your writing, you must be able to periodically disconnect from the wonderful world of online community and digital resources. It’s the best way to be productive. If you find yourself getting burnt out, you can always open your browser for a break.
Image Credit: Jeffrey James Pacres
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