Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Tweeting Teaches Writing Skills

Bring up social media in my company and you'll get an earful on why Twitter is superior to Facebook. 

I've been on Facebook since '06, and stopped enjoying it in '08. The post length increased until you could write a whole essay as your status. We swapped authentic life-sharing for political antagonism, trite quotes, and a culture where politeness is underrated. We can talk about ourselves, our views, and our experiences as long as we want.

Twitter, by contrast, maintains a 140-character limit: just enough for a sentence or two.

In a tweet, distilling your central message is vital. There's no time for commentary, wordiness, or self-involved monologue. I have to decide what's important to say, and then I'm done, like in a face-to-face conversation where you take turns speaking.

This taught me, first of all, that profundity exists in small nuggets of wisdom. You don't need long words and lots of paragraphs to communicate world-shaking truths.

Second, you don't need to repeat yourself. American speakers tend to be long-winded: topic sentence, thesis, example, re-worded thesis. But we don't have to use that formula. Readers only need a one-sentence thesis and an example. Trust your listeners to pick up on your meaning.

Last of all, every word is beautiful. My appreciation of that has grown. Don't use three words when you can use one. The secret is, you can always use one.

My short stories course in college had a 200-word limit on essays. We had half a page to discuss how Edward Jones manipulates readers' expectations in "Bad Neighbors," or whether Raymond Carver's editor masterminded his minimalist style. I learned the value of a single word and the weight of picking the right one.

Twitter is great practice for writing of any length. Good novels consist of thousands of tweets. Brevity is a lovely, undervalued skill.

Which is why I keep a word count: 307 words.