Think Mark Twain would have used social media?

By | September 26, 2016

Mark Twain on Discovery

See my presentation “How Writers Can Leverage Social Media.” Quote from twainquotes.com. Image via AP.

For writers, social media is both a tool and a trap. If social media had existed when Mark Twain was publishing, think the American author and humorist would have used it?

The writer also known as Samuel Clemens put a 100-year embargo on his autobiography. Why? He was known to be fiercely protective of his reputation. He did not want the details of his private life to damage his reputation, to negatively influence the readers of his books, or to open up his family to attack. One of the pitfalls of social media is its blurring of the personal and the professional.

If Mr. Clemens had social media, he might have used it judiciously. He prized his privacy. It is one reason why he used a variety of pen names, the most famous being Mark Twain.

But the endorphin rush of likes, follows and compliments that social media can bring might have tempted Twain to jump into the Twitter and Facebook fray.

“Compliments make me vain and when I am vain, I am insolent and overbearing. It is a pity, too, because I love compliments. I love them even when they are not so.
My child, I can live on a good compliment two weeks with nothing else to eat.”
— Mark Twain, Letter to Gertrude Natkin, March 2, 1906

No doubt Twain would have hated all the mean-spirited criticism, and the rampant copyright infringement.

“I like criticism, but it must be my way.”
–Mark Twain, Mark Twain’s Autobiography, 2010

Because Mr. Clemens was so opinionated and freely wrote under a pseudonym, it is not unfathomable to imagine him engaging in some anonymous online trolling. I mean, Twain was a master at one-liners and zingers.

“Sometimes my feelings are so hot that I have to take the pen and put them out on paper to keep them from setting me afire inside; then all that ink and labor are wasted because I can’t print the results.” –Mark Twain, “The Privilege of the Grave,” published in Who is Mark Twain?

If you are trying to make your mark on the modern world as a writer, I do not recommend you partake in anonymous online trolling. But there are plenty of other things writers can do with social media for discovery, (distraction) and distribution. This presentation, How Writers Can Leverage Social Media is from a workshop I led at the Mark Twain House & Museum‘s 5th Annual Writers Weekend in Hartford, Connecticut on September 24, 2016.


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