I’m a social-networker. Scratch that. I’m just a Facebooker. I must check Facebook at least ten times a day. I’m one of those people for whom Facebook may be replacing my social life, but that’s a post for another time, perhaps on a different blog. What I’m more interested in now is whether I can “use” my social-networking, let’s call them “observational” skills, to help me with my writing.
There’s an old exercise to sit in a restaurant and eavesdrop on the people sitting near you and then write down some of what you hear, using it to inspire a story or poem or as part of your own dialogue in a piece. There are people everywhere from whom you can hear interesting (and not so interesting) things–in public transportation, in restaurants, in workplaces, in college hallways, and so forth. My idea is that you can also find these inspirational snippets on Facebook, Twitter, and the like.
I’d ask permission to use someone’s line directly. In fact, that person would probably be proud and flattered to have you use their words, as they were intended for mass consumption anyway. However, if something inspires you, it’s just like being inspired by the clouds in the sky: interpretation is all yours.
Once, a singer-songwriter friend of mine took a sentence I uttered and used it in a song’s chorus. When I first heard the song, I was shocked and flattered at once. I asked him to put me in the liner notes, and he did not. He did not credit me verbally in shows, either. This is the other side of the “well, it was there!” debate: I was upset that he was using words that came from my mouth to make money. All I wanted was a little credit. I wouldn’t have been so upset if he’d only used the idea of what I’d said, but he used the line, verbatim. Even if it doesn’t end up being a gold-record hit, I still felt he’d stolen my intellectual property. But who can prove it, and does it even matter, since I didn’t write it down?
I’m now very careful about what I reveal. I don’t write lines on Facebook or Twitter that I think I might use in a piece of written work later on, and the same goes for blog posts. Having something published on the Internet, even self-publishing it, as in the case of a blog, can hinder a piece from being accepted in a literary journal, which is usually a stepping-stone for getting a literary book deal. Also, along with my previous point, I don’t want my work used for someone else’s purpose, at least not without credit given where it’s due. My last point here is that at least with a written form of social networking and its time and date stamps, it’s possible to trace something back to the person who originally wrote it.
Yes, I’m going to sound like a true English teacher here, but this is why it’s so important to cite your work. You want to give people the credit they deserve, just as you’d want credit yourself, and you also don’t want to be blamed for incorrect information that this other source may have published and that made it into your paper.
Okay, now back to social networking. How can we use it, fairly, to inspire us rather than simply as a means of procrastination and brain-killing? I have a few suggestions:
1. A found poem. A found poem uses existing pieces of writing to find a greater meaning. Writing one works like creating a collage. One can use recipe directions or fortunes from fortune cookies, for example. I suggest bringing together snippets of a day’s short posts and seeing what results before revising it, forming the jumble of phrases into a more meaningful poem. I suggest asking permission from the original writers to cover yourself.
2. Inspiration for dialogue. What if someone said what Lindsay just wrote? What if it was part of an argument between spouses? How might that turn out? An entire story could wrap around that dialogue. Again, ask permission if using a line verbatim.
3. Bring together your own short posts and tweets in a monologue. You can rearrange them, again as a sort of collage, and then consider who would say these things, who would say them all at once, who one might say them to, and why one might say them.
4. Take a link someone has posted along with the related comments and write a short story based on the link’s headline, including at least one comment. For example, if there is a link to a giraffe born with two heads, write about that, including a comment about how
“Photoshopped” the image looks. Maybe it’s real, and maybe it’s not. Maybe that’s not the point. As the writer, you get to decide.
5. Describe images you see, in photos or links, capturing the emotion the photo evokes, too. This is based on a pretty common creative writing exercise. However, with social networking you have the freedom to choose a photo of yourself from the past, a photo of someone else you know, one of someone you don’t know, or a bitpic or some other form of picture, including pictures from links to news stories or blogs.
6. Write to music. You can introduce yourself to the music that others post, especially if it’s new to you. How do you connect to this music, and how do you think a character might identify with it?
7. Offer your observations and opinions. This is another “inspired by” prompt. Are you disgusted with social networking, only keeping your profile because your mom wants you to? Are you a curmudgeon when it comes to social networking? Vent! Think of who the character venting might be, too.
8. Read short posts and then consider a character who might have written the posts. This can be difficult because you may know the person who originally wrote the post, but try to expand beyond that. This may take some time and space from the posts to separate their intentions and descriptions from the events and person. This you’d want to ask permission for, since you’d probably be using exact quotations.
9. Be inspired by others’ actions. Instead of wallowing in lonely misery because Sunday afternoon’s posts reveal that apparently you were the only one home on Saturday night, put yourself in your friends’ shoes. What was the event, and what would it have been like for a particular character?
10. What wouldn’t you write? Keep a journal of what you want to write but won’t. What keeps you from writing these things, if you do sensor yourself? If, like me, your mother is a Facebook friend, you might not want to write anything cryptic that might worry her. As I said above, you might have professional reasons not to write something, such as, with writing, the idea that publishing it once might mean that that’s it for that particular sentence. There’s also workplace politics to consider. Are you going to offend someone with this post, and, if so, do you care? On a different note, are you on the verge of revealing something possibly embarrassing, incriminating, or emotional that you don’t want others to know? I was once told, in a nonfiction class, to write about something that I’d never write about. Those confessional, scary-to-write pieces were my best, and I still write about those topics today. What you choose not to write, though you have the impulse to do so, might lead you to some great places.
The way I see it, if I apply myself, I can find inspiration everywhere I look or listen. As time progresses, we’re moving away from each other (such as with each of us sealed up in our vehicles in traffic and with our portable computers that we hide behind), and social networking has the power to bring us together or divide us further. It can keep us from writing, or we can use it to inspire us. Use it to your advantage, like anything else that can inspire us writers to reach the bone of human emotion and experience.