How I Used Twitter to Write a Book

Donald Miller

Writing books is a no-feedback game. Certainly you can ask friends to review your work, but that’s dangerous. The truth is you know when it’s good and you know when it’s not and if you’re asking for opinions you’re likely not doing your best work.

That said, I recently used Twitter to find out what themes and ideas would stimulate thought. I would tweet an idea I was writing about, and if it got re-tweeted or stimulated conversation, I was more eager to use it in my book.

I found out many things using Twitter. I found out people are much more tough than you’d think, and I didn’t have to coddle them. I also found out I could speak with authority and nobody would be offended, that is, if I stayed within my areas of expertise.

I also found people really don’t like it when I go negative. Even if I tweet about how much I hate my stapler, people get upset. That’s mostly a personality thing. I’m sure Rush Limbaugh could get away with a little more than I can, but my audience generally doesn’t want to hear me gripe about things.



If you’ve got a writing project going, here are 4 ways you could involve Twitter:

1. Tweet a chapter idea and ask if anybody has given the idea any thought. If you hear crickets, skip that chapter.
2. Got a powerful one-liner? Tweet it and see if it gets re-tweeted. You might turn that one-liner into a complete paragraph or more.
3. Stuck on an idea? Tweet and ask anybody if they’ve read an interesting article about it. Twitter is a great resource tool.
4. Use Twitter to summarize an idea. The great thing about 140 characters is it makes you condense your thinking, which is often the essence of good writing.

How have you used Twitter to improve your writing?

-Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller is all about story. He helps people live a better story at creatingyourlifeplan.com and grow their business at storybrand.com. Follow Don on Twitter (@donaldmiller). To read more of his posts on the Storyline Blog, click here.

  • http://www.jamesprescott.co.uk James Prescott

    Some really good points here. If I find a memorable quote, useful link or have written a good line I can elaborate on, or might be an idea for a blog or book chapter, I favourite the Tweet or RT it so I can reference it if necessary, almost like a database I can refer back to.

    Thanks for sharing this Don. Very useful & insightful.

    • http://thejett.net Jett

      I retweet and favorite as reference also!

  • http://aparchedsoul.com Grayson Pope

    I use Twitter sometimes like I think of headlines for a blog post. If I can’t condense the idea into a headline or single tweet, then I know I haven’t thought it all the way through. Once I tweet something, I know if I want to engage that idea in a full post later on depending on the reaction.

  • http://www.twitter.com/stevenbill Steven

    Donald… I suppose it helps when you’re feeding into 120k followers. I suspect I’d be getting a lot of crickets regardless with my whopping 40.

    • http://unknownjim.com Jim

      41 now Steven :) I’d recommend to just start following folks and many will follow you back.

      • http://www.twitter.com/stevenbill Steven

        Thanks Jim!

    • http://www.twitter.com/rptheg RosePearl

      Exactly. I have 11. ;)

      • http://www.twitter.com/rptheg RosePearl

        *had 11.

    • http://DavidHelmsBlog.com David Helms

      I have 120 and I strongly suspect that some only follow me because I’m friends with a relatively popular (with young girls) Christian band and we tweet at each other allot.

  • http://whoiscolterdiehl.blogspot.com Colter Diehl

    I totally agree with the beauty of concise thinking that you are forced into when using Twitter. I’ve been trying to use it to get myself generating interesting thoughts on more regular basis and focusing on the power of word choice within limited parameters.

  • http://apologeticbloggist.blogspot.com Nathan

    Well as I’ve said before, I don’t belong to much of the online world. The only thing I use is my blog. I don’t know if its a pride thing, or a selfish thing, or a fear thing, but I just can’t bring myself to use Twitter or Facebook. Now that I read that, it sounds like I’m avoiding drugs or something. Maybe I’m just not completely sold on sharing every facet of my life, as so many people want to notify the cyber world they just got off the john, or just choked on their own spit, or saw the cutest little Pomeranian wearing a pink vest and sunglasses. However, Don, you make me feel like I should give something like twitter a chance. I mean lets face it, every writer wants positive feedback. Even when we pretend we don’t want it, deep down we want to know that our work is appreciated. I guess its also a way of creating a community that many people wouldn’t otherwise have. A place to share ideas and read others. The more I read this blog, the more I’m encouraged and challenged as an aspiring writer and the more I want to be apart of such a community. Thanks again Don.

    Grace and Peace

    • http://DavidHelmsBlog.com David Helms

      I was hesitant to try twitter for the longest time. Mostly the “I’m not an over-sharer, no one cares what I had for lunch” thing. But I truly enjoy it. And I have learned allot through economy of words.

    • http://thejett.net Jett

      I only use my twitter as an outlet for my blog/business. And for the most part my facebook does not see much personal action either. Neither has to be intrusive, they are tools for you to use as you feel necessary or unnecessary.

  • michael

    I don’t want to hear you gripe about how people don’t want to hear you gripe about things…..just kidding.

  • http://www.findingfruit.net Jen

    I fill up my Amazon wish list with books that are recommended on Twitter. It has expanded my reading repertoire and introduced me to some great books, things I might not read or hear about otherwise. Reading helps my writing – but then I write fiction.

  • http://enterthesilence.blogspot.com/ Jay Potter

    The problem I would have with Twitter research like this is that I only have 85 followers and most of them are generally inactive when it comes to retweets and responses to my posts. I’m sure it works great when you have 120,052 followers. Most of whom follow for your opinions and hope to make a mark with their own (like me).

    But you made a mark on people’s lives before Twitter existed. And that is what many of us are searching for now.

  • http://somewiseguy.com @ThatGuyKC

    Great application of Twitter. I like how you leveraged your audience to test content and ideas. Will definitely use this for a book I’m planning.

  • http://open-up-rosepearl.blogspot.com/ RosePearl

    When I read this post this morning, my first thought was to jump onto my laptop and respond, ASAP! This post relates directly to something that’s been floating around in my head for the past three days.

    I used to hate technology… well, the internet. I hated how people behaved online. I’ve had a Myspace, a Facebook, and a Twitter, all of which I deactivated/deleted at one point or another. I found the amount of deep emotion and random information that people share over the computer to be overwhelming. I also hated how it could become so addictive.

    Last Sunday, I got my first glimpse of the person that I could be if I let God work in me, and the person that I’d become since I’d been struggling against Him. I realized that I’ve lived the past 21 years of my life all wrong. I’m thankful this happened sooner rather than later, but, I’ve got a lot of making up to do.

    My views about life, and people, and God have completely flipped. I’m writing about them now.

    Don, you’ve had such an impact on my life, you don’t even know! I’d just begun my such for the truth when I first picked up one of your books. Another one of your books led me to understanding the truth. Your recent blog posts/tweet have helped me not to fear the truth. And I’m almost 100% positive that Storyline will help me to live the truth.

    All that to say, me and technology/the internet have finally come to terms. I realize now that my fear/hatred of it had to do with experiences from my past that I allowed Satan to use against me. It feels so good to be free of that fear! God’s given me all the resources I need to live freely for Him, and for the Truth.

    I’m free to be me! And God loves me, mistakes and all. Best feeling in the world.

  • http://www.twitter.com/rptheg RosePearl

    Oh, sorry, I never answered your question. How have I used Twitter to improve my writing? Well, if not for Twitter, I wouldn’t be to the place that I am now, as a writer. I use it to collect ideas. I can read through tweets faster than I can read through ideas scattered across old journals and blog posts. I suppose I use it for summarization every now and then, but most of the time, I just tweet (or re-tweet!) a seed of an idea. I don’t really use Twitter to connect with people, that’s what my Facebook is for. I tweet mostly for my own benefit. :0)

  • http://www.CharlesSpecht.com Charles Specht

    I wrote a nonfiction book about knowing God’s Will and then blogged the book, chapter by chapter and paragraph by paragraph. It supplied me with about 100 blog posts. It was a great way to see what resonated with readers and what bombed. Shortly after about 1/2 way through blogging it, I signed a book deal. ;-)

    PS: I downloaded Blue Like Jazz a couple of days ago. What a great book! I’m a bit late to the party, but there’s food still on the table for one more.

  • http://DavidHelmsBlog.com David Helms

    Don’s commercial for the twitters machine. I surprised myself by actually really enjoying twitter. The downside? Another distraction when I’m trying to get something accomplished.

  • http://www.earthbridgehomes.com James in Flannel Shirt

    But you wrote a great book w/o Twitter and Facebook. You had a cell phone! Social media is great sometimes. I think you wrote 3-4 good books w/o those media devices.

    It can add to direction at times like how you are using it.

    Perhaps the biggest problem with writing is completing your project. You have to become a *Completion Junky*.

    I have several projects I need to get thru this winter. Canceled my Satellite TV service. (Ouch College football season) Forget the bucket list…just complete what you start.

    Be a Completion Junky! I did not coin that phrase . . . my house painter did. But I like it.

    Funny Don, when you would tweet out questions I knew you were tweeting for direction on your book. I wonder if most your followers knew that?

    • http://www.twitter.com/rptheg RosePearl

      I didn’t know that’s what he was doing! Honestly, I never stopped to think about why. I just kept reading post after post, and thinking “this is CRAZY how all this relates to my life!” :0)

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