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Twitter is my tearoom

Friday, November 13, 2009 by Marianne Elliott

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Like many other self-employed creative folk I work from home, alone. My biggest current project is writing a book. I’m done with research and until very recently the manuscript wasn’t ready for sharing even with my amazing crew of ‘first readers’. I’m pretty much in the ‘just write it’ part of this process at the moment so there is little need for me to be in touch with anyone about the project. So my working days involve me, alone, writing at the kitchen table.

The working alone part isn’t unusual. Lots of you probably do the same thing. Unlike many of you, however, I also live alone. My handsome devil sometimes makes it up the coast to spend the weekend with me in our magical cottage by the sea, but during the week it is just the seedlings, my PowerBook and me. I don’t even have a cat, for pity’s sake.

Some days I wander down to the village store to post a letter or to buy a loaf of bread (or some chocolate, more often chocolate than bread actually). These little outings may well be the social highlight of my day. Three days a week I teach yoga. On those days I get out of the house, I connect with good people and – not inconsequentially – I get to talk, out-loud, to someone other than myself. But apart from the yoga classes it is not unusual for me to go for an entire day without seeing or speaking to another person.

In this context, Twitter has been a godsend. I think of Twitter as being a water-cooler for the ‘work-from-home’ crowd. I didn’t come up with that metaphor. I came across it on Twitter but like so many water-cooler conversations I no longer remember exactly who said what so I can’t give credit where it is due. If the water-cooler image was yours please claim it in the comments and I’ll happily tip you my hat.

Actually, Twitter is my tearoom. I presume that in the mighty United States of America people actually do gather around water-coolers to chat. But in every office I’ve ever worked in, including those in the remote mountains of Afghanistan, work chit-chat takes place over cups of tea.

Twitter is like a tearoom but better. In most tearooms you have variations of the same conversation with the same person about the problems they are having with their manager/mother-in-law/teenage son. On Twitter I get to drop in on conversations between smart, funny people who are reading the newspaper (so I don’t have to), keeping track of developments in the publishing industry, talking about new forms of activism, sharing links to beautiful images or insightful writing or just being generally hilarious.

I also get to connect with other writers. I can cheer them on when they finally spit out the 1000 words they had promised themselves for the day or when – even better – they hit a major milestone in the life of their manuscript.  They do the same for me. I no longer have to bore my friends with endless Facebook status updates about word counts. On Twitter I've found a whole gaggle of people who think word-counts are a worthy topic of conversation.

Perhaps best of all I can connect with friends who live in the far-flung corners of the globe. Twitter direct messages are like a free, instant text message service that keeps me in touch with my people whether they are in San Francisco, Bath, Portland, Sydney, New York, Kabul or Amsterdam. Where once we relied on occasional lengthy phone calls and emails, now I can chat with them in real time about the trivial details that make up real life.

All of this is fantastic. I feel less isolated as a writer and I’ve learned more about the publishing industry via Twitter than from the whole stack of books sitting on my (unused) desk. I feel more connected to my existing friends and I’m even making new friends. It is great stuff, but it could easily consume my working day.

So here’s how I’ve made Twitter work for me. I literally treat Twitter like a tearoom. I turn the internet to my laptop off when I am writing or working and check Twitter only on my phone. I leave my phone in the kitchen sitting by the kettle. When I break for a cup of tea, while waiting for the jug to boil, I check in. I scan through the last 100 or so tweets that have come in while I was working. Inevitably I’ve missed some. I don’t worry about them. I see them as the conversations that took place in the tearoom while I was in my office. We can’t spend our entire day in the tearoom so we inevitably miss some of the juiciest gossip.

While the tea brews I retweet anything that is so good that I want the rest of the world to have more of it. I reply to any tweets that inspire me and I send direct messages to friends or people who have addressed me directly. If I have time I click through any links that look especially enticing (though never a link in a DM – there is far too much phishing going on for that) and make a note of any sites that I want to go back to later.

I have a giggle, usually, and a smile. I feel part of a community of people all over the world who are working away separately but in harmony with each other. I drink my cup of tea and then I get back to work. 

How do you use Twitter? How do you break up your work day if you work from home? How do you escape the isolation? How do you avoid being sucked into the online distractions?

PS: If Twitter is my tea break then taking the compost jar out to the compost heap at the back of the garden is my cigarette break. I don't smoke (any more) but I still enjoy a moment of quiet contemplation out in the fresh air, a few deep breaths and a little time to let whatever needs to float to the surface of my mind to do so.

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15 Responses to "Twitter is my tearoom"

  1. Tesni says:

    Ah yes I know what you mean about using twitter as a tea room. I am currently writing my thesis and so consequently spend pretty much all day every day in my office at uni, with my computer, all alone. My main social interaction is 15 minutes in the morning when I join the rest of the department for morning tea (which, to be perfectly honest, I don’t often make it to), other than that I can go hours without talking to anyone. Twitter gives me a break from writing and working (particularly vital when in the analysis phase!), it lets me find out what’s happening in the world, connect with people and keep up to date with social activism news – all without haveing to go looking for the information myself. Brilliant! I have to say though, it is difficult to disconnect and disengage from online distractions. I can ban myself from facebook for short periods of days at a time, but twitter is much harder. I may have to try your technique Marianne.
    Great post, and fun to think about my response.
    Tesni

  2. Brilliant post. And provoking, too.
    I’m still figuring it out and love hearing your insight. For now, during the brief school-time hours when I am alone to work, I am pretty all over the place online. FB, twitter, blogging, photo-editing, writing-all in bursts. I’m working toward a schedule and love the idea of only using the phone on breaks.
    and, i love the idea of sharing tea with you. even virtually.
    xo

  3. cath says:

    i’m trying to do the twitter thing. is it embarrassing to admit that i don’t even really know how to work it?? i’ve made an account – that’s kind of exciting!! it definately does sound like something that would be helpful in terms of building creative community – and i do like the sound of finding someone who is reading the newspaper so i don’t have to…. hmmmmm

  4. Megan says:

    Such a great post. Its so cute to be at my kitchen table with a cup of tea and stumbling over this juicy morsel. I felt a part of a giant pool of people living and working in this new way and it made me realise that I never, ever need feel isolated by my choice to work from home (or whereever i may be). Thanks for the tea break. Righto. Back to work.
    xx m

  5. sas says:

    It has been a joyous discovery, slowly revealed to me over the last few years, that I really enjoy my own company. My study is by far, my favourite room. And when I am here (like today), twitter is a life line. For me, logging on is walking into the office. Except it it unlike any office I have ever worked in – very clever people tweet 🙂
    This community rocks my face off.

  6. Susannah says:

    i love twitter, but you know that already 🙂 and on behalf of all Bathonians we are humbled to be included in a list of places that include Kabul.
    I also love that you mentioned you used to be a smoker – all ex-smokers do that. it’s like a badge of honour we wear for giving up
    and i do believe that i was the one who said the water cooler thing LOL because it really is, isn’t it. i LOVE twitter – did i mention that already? 😉 x

  7. Steffi says:

    Thank you so much for voicing this! I feel less alone now. I’d like to make twitter my tea- (or in my case rather coffee-)room. At the moment my life is a bit unstructured and I’m working on a working-connecting balance. I still do the cigarette breaks and they truly are a breath of fresh air to me (weirdly enough). Maybe I should get myself a compost heap.
    This post is such good food for my thoughts and my soul! Thanks again! ♥

  8. Alison says:

    This is my first time checking out your blog. Great post. Until I read this, I hadn’t thought of Twitter as the chat around the water cooler. But it’s so true. I work from home, and like you, I can go a whole day–sometimes two–without talking to someone who talks back…well, my dogs do bark at me, so maybe that counts for something. While I hope to never work in an office again, I do miss the chats.
    And I agree with what you said about learning more about the publishing industry from the people you follow on Twitter than you ever have in the books you’ve read. I’m working on a novel and it’s amazing the education I’ve gotten while procrastinating on Twitter. I feel a little less guilty at times because at least my procrastination from writing is teaching me something about writing and publishing.
    Good luck with the book.

  9. Swirly says:

    I still don’t know what to make of Twitter, and am thisclose to closing my account. I can totally see why it is helpful and enjoyable for people – and your post helps me see this even more – but I’m not entirely convince it is for me. The jury is still out!

  10. sassy says:

    Hilarious! And so true. I used to scoff at twitter, and then started doing it, but still not getting it, but slowly… it has been coming. And yes, it is nice, while working in solitude, to be a little less alone at times.
    I think I’m going to go downstairs and make a cup of herbal tea. Then I’ll come back up here and see what is going on in the tearoom. (:

  11. gypsy alex says:

    So good to hear your story and everyone’s feedback!!! 😉

  12. Bronwyn says:

    Marianne I love this post! I felt like we were sharing a virtual cup of chai 😉 i love your tweets and am delighted to connect with you. I have only just started writing lately and realise I simply love and can’t get enough. Your ideas of managing twitter are perfect for me and I’m looking forward to getting to know you more. Much love and light ~ I feel like I have found a kindred sister xx

  13. […] start enjoying it until very recently as well, but I remember reading Marianne Elliott’s thoughts on Twitter on her blog, and her description stayed with […]

  14. […] during the workday, scrolling and clicking links ad infinitum. I wanted to use Twitter as more of a tearoom, as Marianne says, rather than a constant stream of distraction that left me feeling frazzled and guilty for wasting […]

  15. It’s my first week on twitter and unabashedly hooked. I get to find out about people like you doing amazing things to connect us. I’ve started to get the word out about my next book, The Female Buddha: Discovering the Heart of Liberation and Love. I’m discovering a digital stream of female Buddhas everywhere!

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