Dispatches | August 20, 2012

Twitter is a favorite medium around our office, both for personal and professional use. It’s quick, informative, witty, and the links are terrific. Unlike other social media devices, Twitter loads fast on mobile devices and its mobile platforms retain all the best of the site’s navigation and simplicity without coughing up any user functionality. It’s a terrific way for us to reach out to our audience and provide—in 140 characters—a good sense of what The Missouri Review is all about.

Last week, however, was not my finest week for social media clarity. I had an a nasty cold I had, which made me super congested, foggy, and cough-y (not a word). Misspellings, bad links, incomplete thoughts, and other missteps were all over the place. But there are two in particular that I think are interesting examples of Twitter mistakes, both for writers and literary magazines.

Goof #1. I tweeted this on August 15th:

I get embarrassed when I find a lit journal that’s been around for a long time … and I’ve never heard of it.

We receive several literary journals in our office: these are “exchanges”—we send our magazine to Journal X, and Journal X sends their journal to us. We probably receive somewhere in the range of thirty to forty exchanges, and since many journals publish on a similar schedule, there is usually a three week period when we receive a ton of magazines. Last week, we received a copy of a journal, an anniversary edition, that had been around for well over a decade, and as my tweet indicates, I had never heard of the publication.

Off Twitter, one of my friends wrote me and suggested I delete the tweet. He’s a good writer and a sharp editor, too, so he has experience with this and knows what he’s talking about. He wrote that while the tweet didn’t bother him, he noted that statements like that can upset people. You know, “Oh, big bad TMR hasn’t heard of MY journal, huh?”

I think one of the biggest problems with literary journals (and this is also true of other businesses, not just lit mags) is a lack of transparency and honesty. I believe it’s all right for me to admit what I do not know, and either laugh at myself for not knowing or be able to explain why I couldn’t reasonably be expected to know. Duotrope currently lists over 4300 markets for fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. 4300! I just can’t be familiar with all of them.

So I decided to laugh at myself. I see my friend’s point … and yet, I disagree, and I’ve left the tweet up.

Goof #2. I tweeted this on August 13th:

I’ve just used my ten free NYTimes articles this month. Nice job sending me to the @washingtonpost guys!

Another writer wrote to me and questioned my decision. He said, and I’m paraphrasing, that if I start with NYT, clearly then, it has value, and isn’t that worth paying for?

I’ll say this upfront: I don’t believe there is a mistake here, by me or by my friend. He wrote in response, I wrote back, he wrote back and apologized for being presumptuous, and I wrote back and said he wasn’t being presumptuous at all. He had a point that is worth thinking more about (a future blog post I hope to soon write).

Here’s the angle, though.

This tweet received a DM from a writer who doesn’t actually know me. We’ve only interacted through Twitter, and my sense is that he was worried he angered me: you don’t always know how your online friends and colleagues are going to respond to 140 characters. He also might have been worried about calling out me, and by extension, TMR. He doesn’t know if I’m a vindictive bastard (I’m not! Really!) and might blacklist him for crossing me.

I’m a firm believer that if I post something online, it’s fair for anyone to respond to it, and I must be able to defend what I wrote. Or admit that I screwed up. Both of which I’m perfectly comfortable doing. I find the New York Times is trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube, and this aggravates me, and there are terrific writers at The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times and The Guardian and a hundred other venues that don’t have paywalls.

Most people follow me on Twitter because I’m with The Missouri Review. When I post on my personal feed, regardless of any disclaimers, I’m representing my magazine. Even when I’m posting pithy comments or thinking about the Boston Celtics, I know that everything I write reflects on TMR. I understand and embrace that. I try, as best I can, to make my social media interaction as genuine as possible.

Charles Baxter’s “Dysfunctional Narratives, or: ‘Mistakes Were Made’ ” is one of my favorite essays on writing fiction. The phrasing he quotes demonstrates how social narratives, like the one Nixon pushed, created deliberate confusion and incoherence. “I made mistakes” is much clearer. And clarity—and transparency and honest—is something that I think all of us in the writing world need to fight for all the time.

I made mistakes. “I didn’t deny anything.” Let’s go from there.

Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye