Q. Firstly how long do you spend on Twitter a day? And how did writing short stories on Twitter come about?
I’d like to say “not a lot” but that would be a lie. It’s always on. I’m not always on it, but it’s running in the background, like a radio of sorts. The short stories came about purely by chance. I’d been on Twitter for maybe a week and I was still trying to figure out how to use it. I wasn’t convinced it was a useful medium, frankly. And then, for whatever reason, I wrote a story; an image popped into my head and I wrote it down. The story came in at more than 140 characters and so I edited it down and as I did, the character counter started to mesmerize me and the final story came in at exactly 140 characters and I had an “a ha” moment. A few hours later, I repeated the experiment. And then again. I’ve been doing this for more than 5 years now. It’s a sickness, really.
Q. You’ve got an incredible following of 162k people on Twitter. Do you ever think about the numbers?
Honestly, I stopped thinking about it after 10k. At that point, it became a complete and utter abstraction. You could have told me I had one million followers just now and I probably would have shrugged. Probably.
Q. Do you think now there’s an added pressure to keep going and to deliver the goods as it were, when the following gets as high as that?
No. It’s just writing, in the end. Twitter is, finally, a public notebook for me. Whatever creative thoughts I have now, go up there instead of in a notebook or journal. I love that so many people find some value in what I’m doing there. I don’t take it for granted. Having said that, I don’t think of them much. I realize I sound like the world’s most awful person. I’m really very nice.
Q. Your Twisters teach us that writing doesn’t need to be overly complicated, stories can be told in just 140 characters, with the simplest of words and phrases. What excites you about writing in this way and what does it mean for you to get that almost instantaneous response from your readers?
Like I said, my stories on Twitter are kind of an online notebook. It has helped my overall writing in many ways. It has shown me how to get to the point quickly. And the instant feedback is wonderful. Writing is a lonely activity at the best of times. Putting something out there, releasing it into the public, and having their feedback immediately, is kind of like catnip.
Q. What have been the highs and lows for you using social media?
I don’t know that there are any lows. Not for me, at least. And, of course, you can turn it off. No one’s forcing me to do what I do.
Q. Tell us about your debut novel, Waiting for the Man?
Waiting for the Man started with a series of quite disparate scenes and then became a study on living publicly and what it means to “own your story” in this day and age. The idea of “everyone’s a publisher” – something you hear a lot of from marketing people. We all hear voices in our head, so what happens when you actually listen to that voice? In the end, that’s what the story is about, about a man who is successful and not all that happy, despite that success, and follows the voice in his head and what happens. And being in a media-saturated world, this very personal thing becomes public. Another thing I was exploring was the idea of the “pursuit of happiness” and how my pursuit might clash with yours. It’s also, very simply, a road novel. An internal quest that becomes an external one.
Q. Where did the inspiration for the story come from?
It evolved. A lot. The oldest part of the book, the part I wrote first, is the ending. And that part has probably changed the least through the editing process. Once that part was written, I was curious to see how the character got there. And so I spent quite a few years figuring that out.
Q. How did you find the time to write a novel and manage your social media presence? Do you fight with yourself about spending too much / too less time in either space?
Yes and no. Honestly, I don’t spend that much time on social media. It seems like it, but I don’t. I understand your skepticism.
Q. Many writers only use social media to promote their book. Do you think that’s a mistake?
No. If it works for you, great. But social media is a demanding medium. It does involve a bit of back and forth. If you’re just selling something, the overall impact of social media might be muted. But if you dive into a community and take part in it, then when you get around to using it as a platform to promote your work will find a more receptive audience.
Q. What advice would you give to writers just starting out on Twitter?
Take a look around. Do a little homework before you make the leap. Ask yourself why you’re there. If you can’t answer the question, perhaps it’s not for you. And it is another form of media. And that means if you spend time on Twitter you’re not spending time doing something else. I don’t know if I’ve ever done something like a cost/benefit analysis of my time on Twitter but I do know the community I follow and engage with has given me much much more than I’ve given it. I mean that. I think I’m getting weepy….
Arjun Basu is a writer from Montreal, Canada. His first book of short stories, Squishy, was published in 2008. Waiting for the Man is his first novel. He is currently working on his second novel. And consuming quite a bit of bourbon.