You’ve heard it before, I’m sure, and it’s likely you’ll hear it again: “less is more.” As so-called modernists, we accept this maxim for architecture, design, and just about any art form —so why can’t it be true for writing?
Why do so many lament the “demise of the English language” and curse Twitter as a propagator of obscurity?
I’ve argued earlier that tweeting itself is not a new art form, and that expressive fragments have existed for as long as writing has existed. But speaking of Twitter as an internet exchange, I have a theory that Twitter—if used correctly—can actually make you a better writer.
Now, I’m not talking about the “lol’s” and the RT’s and all other short forms that Twitter has spawned (though these are interesting as well, since these short forms are a code, a new discourse that Twitter is inventing—but that’s another article all together!) I’m speaking about the ways in which Twitter, by its very mechanics, can make you a better writer.
For example, we all know Twitter has a character limit: tweets must be 140 characters or less. Because of this character limit, users are forced to be concise and less flowery with language. The book critic R.Z. Sheppard once said that “adjectives are the potbelly of poetry.” Similarly, Stephen King once said that “The road to hell is paved with adjectives.” Twitter leaves very little room for adjectives: after all, why would you waste any of your precious characters on “very” or “really” when you could actually be saying something substantial?
Twitter, by its very form, discourages wordiness—but does it encourage obscurity, as critics have suggested?? This past summer, New York Times executive editor Bill Keller received much attention when he wrote an article for his paper entitled “The Twitter Trap.” The article worried that new technologies erode our ability to do things like remember directions or memorize phone numbers.
Keller explains that earlier generations were able to recite entire novels until the printing press came along, just as people used to memorize multiplication tables before the invention of the pocket calculator. He argues that new technologies encourage forgetfulness, and platforms like Twitter make you sound stupid—even if you’re not.
Admittedly, I’ve seen some pretty stupid tweets, but I’ve also seen some beautiful ones, like this one:
That’s from my favorite living poet, Andrea Gibson. Gibson uses her Twitter account to update her fans and try out fragments of thought. Oftentimes, I’ll see a tweet like the one above on Gibson’s tweet stream, and later, I’ll hear the line in one of her spoken word pieces. This means that Gibson uses Twitter as a kind of testing ground for her more developed writings.
Many journalists also use Twitter to try out ideas. In writing this article, I asked my followers what they thought about Twitter and its influences on writing. Instantly, I had several responses, one of which was from my friend, Sima Sahar Zerehi, a professor of new media. Zerehi tells me that when she was covering the Arab Springs earlier this year, Twitter helped her focus her ideas and get quick feedback.
And finally, Twitter makes you more aware of your audience as a writer. Since a tweet is essentially a thought “gone public” the best tweeters demonstrate a keen awareness of their audience. “The beauty of Twitter is the unfollow button” my friend and fellow journalist Fabiola Carletti pointed out to me earlier this week. “If you don’t like what someone’s tweeting, or if you feel they’re inauthentic, you don’t have to follow that person anymore.”
@AmandaCosco is a freelance writer, social media enthusiast & content queen.