Twitter in a Creative Writing Class

Twitter in a Creative Writing Class

Inspired by the way Adam Johnson shares innovative classes via Blogger, I decided to create a blog for two of my classes this semester. One is a graduate course on Linked Stories, and the other is an undergraduate course on Novel Writing. Long after the classes are over, the blogs will remain, archiving the experience of the course. I’m curating the Linked Stories blog, titled #amlinking, and my intern Lauren Burch is curating the Novel Writing blog, #amnoveling.

Why those titles? Well, if you use Twitter and you’re a writer, I’m sure you recognize what I’m doing, so let me take a minute to explain hashtags to the rest of my readers. See picture below. Also, non-Tweeters should read this.

Twitter works a lot like Facebook Status Updates, except that that those updates can be categorized, and are therefore searchable. For example, a lot of writers use the hashtag “#amwriting.” Let me use it in a sentence. “daycathy Just started using 750words again. Four days in a row! #amwriting.” The # means I, which translates to #amwriting. 

I quickly discovered the value of hashtags last year when my Novel Writing class participated in National Novel Writing Month. I started my first blog to share what I was learning in the course, and at first, I’d post the links to Facebook only. This is certainly effective, since most of my FB friends are creative writing teachers. But then I tried Twitter and started posting links to my blog using the hashtag #NaNoWriMo or #NaNo, and suddenly, I started hearing from lots of new people, strangers to me, who were doing NaNoWriMo on their own, looking for inspiration and guidance. Then I figured out how to search on Twitter and realized that, at any given time, I had direct access to thousands of people all engaged in the novel writing process.

Since then, I’ve found that Facebook is how I talk to people I already know, and Twitter is how I find (or am found) by potential new readers of my blogs and my books. I think of a hashtag as a party, a room full of people with the same interests, and you can either join a party by, say, live Tweeting the #VMAs or telling the world what you’re reading on #FridayReads, or start a party by creating a hashtag and then see if anyone comes.

I got this idea from following my super-smart colleague Brian McNely on Twitter. Last semester, I noticed him Tweeting with a particular hashtag, and he seemed to be talking with his students. He told me that #4E1 “gave us a concise, easily identifiable hashtag that could act as a ‘pivot’ for social interaction among fellow travelers.” That term, pivot, comes from Peter Morville, University of Michigan professor and expert in information architecture and findability.

Findability. It’s what young writers want and need: to find a writing community and to be found. It’s what brings them to the creative writing classroom. If you’re the cynical sort, you might think I’m teaching my students publicity, marketing, branding, and I’ll admit that yes, that’s a by-product of what I’m doing. But mostly, what I’m trying to teach them is how to find the writing communities that will sustain them once they no longer have creative writing classes to attend. 

If you’re a fan of books like Winesburg, Ohio and A Visit from the Goon Squad, and definitely if you’re engaged right now in writing linked stories, you can follow my graduate course by checking out the blog at iamlinking.blogger.com, or by following/using the hashtag #amlinking. (We also have a more private hashtag we’ll use to talk about stuff that might not be interesting to you, like how to download that pdf off Blackboard, etc.)

If you’re writing a novel or thinking about starting one, you can follow my undergraduate course by checking out our blog at iamnoveling.blogger.com, or by following/using the hashtag #amnoveling. (Again, we also have a more private hashtag we’ll use to talk amongst ourselves.)

What I like about using hashtag searches to communicate with my students is that we don’t have to be Facebook friends or follow each other on Twitter in order to communicate. Last week, I shared my social media policy here (“When Students Friend Me”), and the post seems to have struck a chord, given the number of reads it continues to get every day. Twitter is not a reciprocal relationship like Facebook, meaning, my students can follow me if they want to, but I don’t have to follow them, which I like. And with hashtags, neither party needs to follow the other at all. We really only have one thing in common anyway–the course.

Another thing I like: when a student asks me a question using the Twitter hashtag, I’m making my answer transparent to all–in essence, teaching all of them (and you, if you want) at the same time instead of answering questions one-by-one, privately.

Some of my students are already microblogging as writers, connected as they are with the vibrant and incredibly supportive indie lit community. But I want to show all of them how this can be done, and I want to show them how to connect with their preferred online reading and writing community, whatever that might be.

Teaching Writing

4 comments

  1. Laura Weber says:

    Thank you so much for making that clear! I have been a social user of facebook and recently started handling the twitter and facebook accounts at my work. I could not grasp what the advantage was of twitter until I read this. Maybe it is obvious to others, but I was missing the point. Thank you so much for turning on the lightbulb!

    I have a few novels, or parts thereof, in my head so I will be checking out you blog when I am at home.

    Thanks again!

  2. Patty Smith says:

    This is so helpful! I teach a Novel Writing class to high school students (Appomattox Regional Governor’s School for the Arts and Technology in Petersburg, VA) and so all of this is incredibly helpful to me.

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