When I’m on Twitter, sometimes I have to refocus my eyes to fix on its assembly of hash tags, “at signs,” and emoticons. But amid the punctuation gone wild, writers can find a haven, innovation, and heart. What makes a certain tweet memorable, retweetable—and what does it mean to succeed?
It may be counterintuitive (considering the Bieberese and other dross), but Twitter offers a form that is potentially poetic. These precisely punctuated high-low moments, captured in a breath. In her book A Poetry Handbook, Mary Oliver talks about “enjambment”—the use of line for poetic effect. (Many of us at Popcorn recently have been posting about poetry. I was lucky to come across Oliver’s guide, and it offers amazing pointers that apply to all forms of writing.)
When I’m writing, I consider where in a sentence you really feel the impact. Does it resonate at the end? Oliver’s book has a section on free verse (p. 66), which introduces such matters as:
repetition of line, repetition of syntax, patterns of stress, a sense of inevitability, setting up a felt pattern of expectation and meeting that expectation, a repetition of enjambment…
This post from writer Anne Lamott plays with that expectation:
I feel that I could walk across Niagara on a tight rope wire, like the nice Wallenda boy, if it were not for this head cold.
Every medium has its conventions, and sometimes the restrictions really force us to think. In each tweet, whether it’s a tip or a quote or a look-at-this snippet, the writer spins deliberately.
Densely packed writing
In a well-furnished tweet, every word packs a punch. For humor and pathos, it’s a wicked rhythm.
From the divine comedienne Margaret Cho:
As a Coldplay fan, I enjoyed this one from Lily@LilythePurr:
You had me at YellowGwyneth Paltrow
Calls to action
Crafting one-liners for public consumption is a skill (one that I’m yet honing) and sometimes even an art. Verb-driven, action-oriented, well-curated tweets take you someplace: a great read, a piece of advice, a nugget of something fun.
Looks easy; hard to achieve. As a copywriter for an e-retailer years ago, I was tasked with teasing product features, benefits and promotions into tiny, 140-character spaces we called “showcases.” In as few keystrokes as possible, I had to spur that call to action, with succinct yet vivid descriptions that would motivate site users to buy.
On Twitter, what makes us take action? Here’s a frantic scenario @writefly that depicts data-loss disaster: a participant in National Novel Writing Month (NaNo) whose pages are in peril:
Also, a mischievous sense of mystery, as in this snippet from Jon Winokaur @AdviceToWriters, makes me curious enough to click through:
As a piece of punctuation, the pound sign was once the symbol of institutional aggravation. (“Please press the pound key.”) But the humble number sign has had an extreme makeover. Somehow the hash tag has become the “we are the world” of the internet, a common thread linking people who share a thought, interest, passion. The hash tag makes me think of a poetry collection by Adrienne Rich called “The Dream of a Common Language.” (Author Cheryl Strayed cites the collection in her unforgettable memoir, Wild.)
I also love the way a well-placed hash tag can convey a little attitude. In an oft-referenced New Yorker article, Susan Orlean gives a semiotic lesson on the use of the hash tag, and some tips on how tweeters can maximize their character count by using it as a tongue-in-cheek stylistic device.
Twitter gives you a tasting menu that serves you a media feast from publications all over the planet. You score the quickest bits of news, useful or frivolous: delish. And as a story unfolds, a writer can deliver a hit of wit, as posted by The Daily Beast@thedailybeast:
Report: Lohan Found Unconscious
UPDATE: She’s OK, just tired!
Steve Martin says he once made “a beginner’s gaffe” on Twitter: accidentally tweeting his own name. After some social anxiety, he crafted one of his favorite tweets:
Steve Martin oily muscles beach Speedo photo.
Sorry, meant to Google myself.
With every #keyword, people are connecting. The world becomes at once vast and micro, with so many voices sharing the contents of their minds on twitter’s ever-unfolding sounding board.
Three comments that hinge on #thinking are worlds unto themselves: funny, dramatic, romantic. They could serve as prompts for writing practice:
Seriously I don’t know how I’m going to have kids. I can’t deal with them. Especially when they’re screaming. No! #Thinking
The new age of storytelling
Each tweet provides a frame to shape content. Check out “Black Box” by Jennifer Egan, written for the New Yorker in paragraph tweets of fewer than 140 characters:
To re-tweet one reader’s appreciation:
The last word:
I’m reading Carolyn See’s Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers. I just read this sentence (p. 50):
We’re in a new century now. You get to define yourself and literature just the way you choose.
I’m working on it…What do you choose?