The (Anti)Social Writer


I hate social networking. It's not because I hate technology. And not even because I hate people; real social networks are, after all, as old as humankind—and I love humankind.

But I hate social networking because I'm a writer. A really crazy writer. The sort of ridiculous person who can spend 45 minutes writing a three-sentence e-mail, reading it aloud to myself until I'm absolutely sure that the final comma shouldn't actually be a long dash. I'm so prone to these tumbles down the rabbit hole, in fact, that I've established metrics to counter the bad habits: Over the course of an eight-hour writing day, taking into account all the false starts, long thinks, and sentences stricken from the record, I've calculated that I can write about 300 decent words an hour.

It took me 25 years to get there—and just a couple more to discover that, in the Twitterverse, I'm good for 140 characters in, oh, say, 20 minutes.

It was in this pitiful state that my friend Kim Thai found me when we began working together in 2009. I was editing the website of one of the premiere magazine brands, and she'd joined up to mastermind our social media presence. So imagine her surprise when she asked me to sign up for a Twitter account of my own, and I just about hid under my desk. The notion of agonizing over not just every idea (or sentence, or word), but over every character and piece of punctuation seemed like stress I just didn't need. And sending these half-thoughts out into the wide world, well, that was bound to be torture.

To her credit, Kim only laughed a little. And then she started me on her very own 12 Step program—i.e., 12 Steps to Not Hating Social Media. It's been a bit like conquering a fear of water. (I've been known to be afraid of that, too.) First, you put your face in the water. (Sign up for your Twitter handle.) Open your eyes. (Follow some people.) Eventually, you learn to float. (Send a tweet a day.) Then try a few strokes. (Retweet, reply, post a picture!) And before you know it, your morning cruise of The New York Times (website) has been replaced by half an hour soaking in your Twitter feed.

It's a whole new world, and I have Kim to thank for that. It still has its scary moments, and there's a ways to go—let's just say I won't be foursquaring it any time soon. But where years of mainstream writing—academic, journalistic, and otherwise—had at times threatened to take the joy out of words, some of the conversations, linguistic acrobatics, and just plain free thinking in these new spaces has actually put some of the excitement back in.

We'll see where it all leads. I have a book in the offing, for instance, and it'd take quite a few tweets to make even a tiny dent in that word count. But already, there's this site—something that just couldn't have happened without Kim, her 12 steps, and the sparks they've set flying. (Never mind that she built it all, too!)

So it's fitting, I think, to kick things off by saying thank you for all this, Ms. Thai. Without you, I might still be under the desk.


For your very own insights from Kim, follow her here. And today's photo—of the Literary Walk in Central Park—is by the intrepid Elizabeth Hira.