what i’ve learned so far from writing a novel live on twitter. if anything.

“If there was a better way to go, then it would find me.” -Fiona Apple

I started writing a novel on Twitter because I have a young baby at home and it’s hard to find time to officially “write.” But I noticed that I have time to sit in the nursery and play with him and send text messages to my friends. So if I have time to text, I have time to tweet, and if I have time to tweet, I could be writing a novel on Twitter. Voila, The Place Below was born.

And like so many artistic works, The Place Below was born with problems. None of them are insurmountable, exactly, but each new story is a learning experience. (If viewed through the proper cardboard tube, everything is a potential learning experience.)

My biggest problem so far is size. Twitter is bite-sized by its very nature. A novel is a meal. Most of my novels turn into multi-course meals, even if I intend to keep them simple. So I’m not sure if the Twitter format fits my project anymore, if it ever did.

There’s nothing about my story that makes it relevant to a bite-sized format. In fact, the novel has grown extra points of view that I wasn’t expecting when I began the project. On top of that, practically every character now has a named pet with its own personality. The pets are there for a reason, but they add additional complexity to a format that is not all that amenable to complexity.

As problematic as the format is, I’m going to continue via Twitter. Writing a new story is like birth. You can’t stop midway — I learned that the hard way, several times. This work has to emerge. Once it’s out, we’ll see where it goes.

Follow The Place Below live on Twitter @theplacebelow, or follow the archives here.

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4 thoughts on “what i’ve learned so far from writing a novel live on twitter. if anything.

  1. Oh I didn’t realize you were actually tweeting the story to write it. Have you considered the copyright issues with that? From what I understand, Twitter has every single tweet filed away in the Library of Congress. Or is that just a myth? It doesn’t make your story less enjoyable, but it might limit what you can do with it later if it’s true.

  2. Hi Madison! I had heard that about the Library of Congress but I’m not sure it’s true anymore. My husband is into Twitter and he urged me to archive the story frequently because he says Twitter no longer saves them.

    As for whether or not Twitter owns the copyright to what you tweet, I sure hope not. But it had never occurred to me that they might. Thank you for pointing that out — that’s kind of important! I’ll look into it right away.

  3. If you find the answer to that, please post about it or email me…I’d like to know too! I’m glad I mentioned it if it wasn’t something you’d already researched. Someone had said something about it a long time ago and I dismissed it since I didn’t think it applied to anything I was doing on Twitter. But when you mentioned you were tweeting the story, it reminded me.

  4. The short version is this: you own the copyright to your tweets, as you do to anything you write, unless or until you sell that copyright or give it away.

    But of course, there are finicky details. Like Facebook, Twitter’s Terms of Service includes a clause saying that they have an open-ended license to use your tweets in any way they want. They can sell your tweets or use them in any way they want, even in future mediums that haven’t even been invented yet. So, I guess Twitter could publish the tweets that make up my novel and even make money from it, if they were so inclined. But so can I.

    But I do own what I put into a blog post. When I lightly edit the tweets and republish them here as blog posts, I own *that* completely. Twitter has nothing to do with it anymore. The re-compilation and changes make it even more mine than it would have been otherwise. So I’m okay with that, at least as far as I understand it.

    The part of the law that seems to be unsettled is whether you have an enforceable copyright around a single tweet. This might affect comedians who tweet a joke which is later re-tweeted without attribution by another Twitter user — or worse, printed on a T-shirt and sold by someone else without permission. It’s unlikely to affect people who wrote 140 character poetry on Twitter or 140 character short stories because there is settled case law around poetry and short stories. Whether anyone owns something like “Don’t tase me, bro” is a more open question.

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