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Literary Smackdown

Brian Francis vs. C.S. Richardson: To tweet or not to tweet

We've teamed up with The Next Chapter to present The Canada Writes Literary Smackdowns, an essay series in which authors sound off on various writing topics. No writers were injured in the making of this series. 

Battle Eleven: Are you a writer who thrives on Twitter? Or do you think Twitter is best left to those who have time to squander or revolutions to plan? What do you think—are you on Team Scott or Team Brian?

To tweet or not to tweet, that is the question. 


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Audio Icon You can also hear Brian and CS go head to head on The Next Chapter with Shelagh Rogers.


Brian Francis: In praise of Twitter

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The act of writing is about the art of communication. Social media, when stripped down the very basics, is also about communication. You’re putting your thoughts, feelings and perceptions out to an audience mostly made up of strangers. 

I like Twitter because, unlike Facebook, you “follow” people, as opposed to “friend” them. There’s professional distance. And Twitter limits what you have to say. Each tweet can only be up to 140 characters. It’s a good exercise for writers. Think of it as “precision communication.”

True, most of those 140 characters are used up talking about your dinner, or commenting on the weather or what you thought of last night’s episode of The Bachelor. But, in the end, you’re still communicating with people. And isn’t that what writing is all about?

Authors live in very cautious, controlled worlds. By that I mean, we control our imaginary worlds - the words our characters say, the places those characters live and the courses their lives take. We also have a team of people who make sure what we’re saying is as polished as possible. We have agents and editors and copy editors and publicists - all of whom scrutinize and help refine our writing. In other words, we have people who make us look better.

In the realm of social media, authors don’t have that luxury. We don’t have someone who edits our tweets. And sometimes, that’s frightening, especially for a writer who agonizes over her language, who second-guesses herself and who wonders what relevant contribution she can make beyond her fiction.

But writers who don’t tweet are missing out. They miss connecting with readers. They miss making virtual friendships with other writers. They miss having visibility between books. In short, they miss having a presence in the never-ending conversation that is the internet.  

Some could argue that there’s no true connection with social media. I’d say they’re right - most of the time. But every now and then, 140 characters can have an incredible impact, either on yourself or the people you’re speaking to. 

If Margaret Laurence had had a Twitter account, would you have followed her? How about Timothy Findley? Mordecai Richler? Carol Shields? I would’ve been incredibly interested in their tweets (yes, even what they had for dinner). Readers are interested in what writers have to say.  Some would love to communicate. And maybe there’s not much harm in communicating back.

Just make sure you keep it under 140.

Brian Francis is the author of two critically acclaimed novels. His most recent, Natural Order, was selected by the Toronto Star, Kobo and Georgia Straight as a Best Book of 2011. The book was shortlisted for a 2012 Ontario Library Association Evergreen Award and a CBC Bookie Award. His first novel, Fruit, was a 2009 Canada Reads finalist and was selected as a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers title. His fiction has also appeared in 07: Best Canadian Stories. Francis is a former recipient of the Writers’ Union of Canada’s Emerging Author Award.


CS Richardson: Against cybertouting, an essay of sorts 

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Best Quote Regarding Social Media vis-a-vis Writing

“It’s better, I think, for readers not to communicate too directly with an author because the author is, strangely enough, beside the point.”
- Jeffrey Eugenides, from his Facebook page (which his publisher set up on his behalf)

Why I Don’t Engage
- It’s not in my nature. At the risk of pigeon holing: I am an introvert. I’m friendly (so I’ve been told), approachable, and I generally smell nice, but I’m no gadabout.
- The thought of cyber-touting one’s wares leaves me cold.
- I prefer an in-person conversation. Readings. Festivals. Book Clubs. I like being invited to tout my wares. Face-to-face.
- My opinions are mine, unless asked for.
- Just because one can communicate doesn’t necessarily mean one should.
- I’m too busy writing other stuff. Like novels.

Why I Think Social Media is a Bad Idea
- Actually, it isn’t a bad idea. Look at Tahrir Square (at least its beginnings). Social Media is just a bad idea for me.
- Because it’s distracting.
- And it steals writing time (already stretched thin).
- And it’s unnecessary: I have a phone. I have email. I have the www.
- My work should speak for itself. For better or worse.
- I’m not organizing a revolution.

Why It Can Be Detrimental for Writers
- I wonder if anyone has ever asked an author to #SHUTUP&FINISHYOURNEXTNOVEL.
- Marketing, like painting, is an art. Unless you know what you’re doing, your “followers” could turn away as you splatter self-indulgent crap all over the canvas.

Why Being Disengaged Has Not Hurt Me
- Two novels under my belt, a third underway, and ideas for four, five and etc. lurking in the wings.
- Fourteen countries, ten languages, two adjectives: “international”, “bestseller.”
- My first novel won an award, my second made a prestigious longlist.
- I’ve attended more literary events than I can count, with more on the way. Connecting with readers all the while.

Best Reason For Not Worrying If Readers Respect Me for My Disengagement
They’ve never mentioned it. Every reader I’ve met or corresponded with seems more interested in talking about the work. Those have been great, ongoing conversations, and a lot more enlightening than 140 characters.

CS Richardson is a novelist and book designer based in Toronto. His first novel, The End of the Alphabet, was an international bestseller, published in fourteen countries and ten languages. It won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book (Canada and the Caribbean), and was adapted for radio drama by BBC 4. His second novel, The Emperor of Paris, was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and named to the Globe and Mail’s Top 100 Books of 2012. It will be published in Europe and the UK in 2013.


So what do you think? Are you on Team Scott or Team Brian? Leave your thoughts in the Comments section below.





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