Twitter. What the heck is it? Why is everybody talking about it? And what can you do with it? Well writers, let me tell you, A LOT.
I had the same questions about a month ago and decided to figure out not just what Twitter was to other people, but how I, a writer, could use it - not to promote myself, but to free myself.
Twitter is a social networking tool, not unlike Facebook but stripped down to its core. You create a very simple profile and then begin Twittering, or Tweeting. A Tweet is a brief statement, a blurb of text, a snippet of words that is 140 total characters or less in length (including spaces and punctuation). Most people use these blurbs to tell us what they are doing, thinking, feeling, seeing. Most Tweets are boring, or irrelevant, or self-aggrandizing and many folks use Twitter for shameless self-promotion. I didn't want to do that. I wanted to use Twitter to actually write.
In Twitter you find people to Follow, and thus can view their Tweets as they post them. When people Follow you, they can see your Tweets. The goal is, at least in my view, to Follow people who frequently have something of value to say or share. So Following is the selfish part where you CHOOSE who YOU want to track. Being followed is a whole different thing. You don't choose who Follows you. You are CHOSEN, and the more value you create (meaning the better your content) the more Followers you get. You follow?
Okay, now that we have the nuts and bolts out of the way, let me tell you why Twitter is the most useful and compelling writing tool I have ever found on the internet.
My first thought was to start a collaborative story-telling collective on Twitter, by recruiting writers to build stories one Tweet at a time, sort of like the old Exquisite Corpse parlor game. But this proved difficult because A) I had a hard time finding willing participants and B) I had an even harder time figuring out how to collect all the Tweets for a given story in one place so that participants could follow the thread. My early experiments with hashtags (a keyword-based system of organizing Tweets) did not work so well, so I abandon this idea (temporarily) .
Next, I experimented with actually writing a story in Twitter. I sat down and wrote a revised and expanded version of Little Red Riding Hood, one 140 character Tweet at a time , in real-time. I didn't really like the results. The story itself was fine, but I didn't enjoy reading it from the bottom up inside of Twitter, and I didn't think anybody else would either. But, I really did enjoy the process of writing INSIDE of Twitter. Something about the spontaneity and limitations of this medium created a feeling in me I have not experienced in a long time. I felt the spark that one senses when your subconscious begins to open, that spark you sometimes feel in writing workshops or in classes when you're doing writing exercises on the fly.
So I began to experiment with small stories. I began to write, lucidly and without thinking or editing, tiny snippets of prose that could almost hold up on their own. I began to compose micro-moments, short little bursts of words that contained, or so I felt, the potential energy of a full novel. These kernels of fiction began to get stronger and stronger, better and better. Each, like a grain of Uranium, contained enough potential power to explode like a bomb.
Suddenly, it hit me. Twitter is not some trivial little status updater, an ego-feeding promotional gimmick, this medium, Twitter, is a bonafide writing tool that could actually help me write better, and generate ideas and more importantly feelings, from which to grow stories.
I am hooked on this, I admit it. Everyday I sit there at my computer and I will open Twitter and face that blank little box. Then I will allow an image to arise. I then write from that image. And what comes out is surprising. Some Tweets are stronger than others, but I find that the more I Tweet, the more my mind begins to open. The discipline I am learning as I adhere to such strict limitations to time and space is absolutely bearing fruit. And yes, I said time, because the key to this for me is to not think, to not dawdle, to not edit at all (except for spelling). I sit there and write these compact, perfect little prose gems and then (and my God this is so miraculous I can hardly believe it) I PUBLISH. An idea springs from the mysterious mind and then, in an instant, it's actually published for the world to see and feel. And knowing this, knowing that within seconds I WILL be published, CHANGES me, and it changes how I write. It makes me better.
So I say to you writers, consider Twitter. Don't think of it as some passing fancy worthy only of the technorati and the young mobile-phone-set. Twitter is a tool that you can use to tweeze out ideas, feelings, tone for your work. It's also an incredible tool for jarring things loose while you're working on something else.
If you're on Twitter already, follow:
I'll follow you if you'll follow me and maybe we can get that collaborative story-telling thing going again. Oh, and if you want to read that Little Red Riding Hood story, check out:
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