Writing Prompt: 05/31/10

"Your phone rings. When you answer it, you make a startling discovery: the person on the other end is dead. What does he/she say and why are they calling you?"

Write for 15-30 minutes. My response will be posted 6/02/10.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Essay: How Twitter Helps You Write Better

Thomas Jefferson, one of our Founding Fathers, and a man who would definitely be ashamed of the current administration and their power-grabbing and excessive taxation, once wrote a letter to his friend John Adams.

At the conclusion of the letter, Jefferson wrote, "I must apologize for the length of this letter. I had not the time to edit for brevity."

In The Dragherian Chronocles, fantasy author Stephen Brust has a character declaim, "Brevity! Oh, but I could write for pages and pages on the need to curb the excesses of language and contain the wit such as to present the thoughts clearly, remarkably, and in such straightforward manner as to make obvious the need for brevity in speech."

In less tongue-in-cheek manner, William Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, "Brevity is the soul of wit."

If I have a fault other than my amazing good looks and blistering charm, it's that I never seem to be able to say in one sentence what I could just as easily say in a paragraph-- or six. Not forgetting that my first published work was a 423-page behemoth of non-fiction, I'm just one wordy sumbitch.

I'd like to introduce you, if you're not already familiar with it, to a site called Twitter. Twitter is a social networking site developed to take advantage of SMS; otherwise known as text messaging. For each post, called a "tweet," you are limited to just 140 characters, and you can mini-blog to your account from your cell phone. (Although it's difficult to follow the message stream and the "conversations" using that device.)

I've met some great people on Twitter. Julie Duck, an editor-turned-author. Kimberly VanderHorst, lovely and brilliant. Eric Krouse, expert at the short story. JM Strother, who brought us the idea of the FridayFlash. These are all people I met on Twitter and interact with every day. They've offered comments, criticism, and encouragement to my writing. (Guys, thank you so much. I really appreciate it!)

Believe me, there are others, but if I were to take the time to individually mention every wicked cool person on Twitter I'd have no time to complete this post.

Another thing that Twitter does is hashtags. By sticking a pound sign (#) in front of a tag, you can make it stand out and be easily searched. This allows you to create discussions. For example, the Young Adult Literature Chat hashtag is #yalitchat. At certain times of the week a dozen or more young adult fiction authors will congregate to discuss the problems and methods of that genre.

For a writer, this is free professional development, and I encourage you to drop in. I tend to follow anyone who follows me, so if you think I might have something worth saying now and then, you can check out my twitter posts by clicking on the link to the upper right of this blog window.

When I first got a text message capable phone I made a couple of promises to myself. The first was that I would never, ever, E-V-E-R, use text message abbreviations. I will never "C U L8TR! QT!" I may, "See you in a few, you sexy beast." I do not ever replace the words "to" or "too" with the number 2, and as much as possible I will stick to standard literary conventions with regard to when to type out numbers. (Anything under the number twenty-five should be typed and hyphenated, if memory serves, so that's what I do.)

As much as possible, I even try to stick to sentences that contain subject, predicate, and punctuation and only standard abbreviations like "lbs" and "Dr". This makes writing concisely something of a challenge.

Applying this to Twitter, I've noticed that some aspects of my writing are improving because of the way I approach the social networking scene. I'm more concise and more focused in my delivery. I rely more on impact statements, including a judicious use of the fragment. (Think of Hemingway: "He died. In the rain." The second, incomplete sentence is an impact fragment.)

I am coming to believe that using sites like Twitter not only connects you to other authors and even editors and agents while simultaneously allowing you to attract people to your blogs/pages/writing and increase interest, but it also helps you to improve your writing itself.

I even ran across one author who spent an entire Saturday writing the ultimate in flash fiction: 140 character stories. Could you condense your writing down far enough to tell an entire story in just 140 characters?

Yeah. Me neither.

Let's see if I can condense this blog into a Twitter post:

"Twitter is a social networking engine that allows you to network with other authors and improve the brevity of your own writing. Try it!" -136 characters.

Write on!

Christopher Rivan

Virgins Slain, Dragons Rescued.
Reasonable rates for all budgets!




  1. Chris,

    Thanks for the mention. I have a serious addiction to Twitter that has lead to meeting writers like you, as well as literary agents, editors and other glorious folk. It has proven to be an invaluable tool in finding my niche within the literary community.

    However, I am one of those sinners who utilize numbers and abbreviations in my text messages! This is because my phone, simply put, sucks. I strive to include punctuation whenever possible, but sometimes I can't be the anal retentive writer/editor I want to be with my texts! With this is mind, I think it's time to go get the Sidekick I've been wanting!


    - Julie

  2. Just today I saw a query contest that requires an author to condense their synopsis into less than 25 words. Yep. Those Twitter skills come in rather handy. Love how you explore that in this post. Well said.

    And thanks for the mention, Chris. It's been quite the education using Twitter and other social networking tools to immerse myself in the writing world. That immersion, while perhaps not crucial, is certainly an asset to my writing that I'm beyond grateful for.

  3. You hear all over the place how Twitter is lowering the tenor of the English language. And I'm sure it is, to some degree or another. But have to say I think you're right about Twitter embodying Shakespeare's brevity quote. I've read more well written, funny, witty, snarky, pithy, brilliant updates on Twitter than I have pretty much anywhere else. There's a lot of junk, to be sure, but most of those I follow use the medium well.