I used to lump Twitter together with texting, both responsible for a decline in language, both creating a generation of poorly-read teenagers, both causing my students to answer long answer test questions with the lower-case idk.
I frowned at emojis, shaking my head like a Wall Street Journal subscriber picking up the USA Today on his commute home. The Big Book quotes Herbert Spencer as writing that contempt prior to investigation is a bar to all spiritual progress.
I joined Twitter because I wanted to connect with people in recovery. How could I have known that it was Twitter that would make my blog a better read?
I like tweeting as a write. The hashtag #amwriting indicates a writer in his process. At first, frustration set in when my long-winded witticisms would run into the red, past the 140 character limit. “You’ll have to be more clever than that,” said the application. It was right.
Shrinking my thoughts to the common denominator of their expression made my writing better. When I was concluding “What We Hold When Lightning Strikes” for example, I composed a tweet:
I was at the end of the post, so writing “at the end of it all” was a needless phrase, followed by a passive construction that puts “we” after the verb. The second sentence had a good idea in it. But good ideas are like hammers, they need a sharp nail: “doesn’t matter one bit” is like a used nail that’s already been pulled out of wood. It’s bent so you can’t strike it straight.
In countless posts, there is a sentence that has been placed into twitter, altered, and replaced in the post. Twitter sharpens and straightens your nails. Use it to hammer your writing home.
Not that brevity in writing is some new concept. Twitter, like all technology is only modernizing ancient truth.
I’ve heard that Twain wrote, “If you come across an adverb, kill it.” I get that. An adverb is just a crutch for a limp verb. You won’t find much -ly on twitter unless it’s a web-link shortener.
Hemingway—the king of curt—credits Twain as the father of modern American Literature. While exposed as an urban legend, the story goes that Hemingway won a contest by creating the shortest story ever written: “For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn.” The briefer the language, the more your reader has to infer meaning and engage in the writing, or to borrow from Daniel Mauer, the bigger the canvas you give your reader to paint with.
I’m a big Cohen Brothers fan. If you’ve seen Hail, Caesar! you can relate: “Would that it ‘twere so simple” becomes “it’s complicated.”
Without fail, I am becoming a better writer when I have to doctor a sentence to make it acceptable to twitter’s brevity standard. What if I had put all my writing through that sieve? I like to pretend I have to.
When making a draft, it can be helpful to ask yourself the simple question: “could I tweet this?” If not, you’ll have to be more clever than that.