Travel Writing by Cory Hanson

How to Use Twitter to Improve Your Writing

 

Twitter is a powerful tool for writers, providing opportunities to share and market your work, connect with your audience, and build a network of other writers and publishers — all for free. But Twitter can, and should, be more than just a blind, boring marketing tool. Its character limit and its real-time interaction have helped me — and thousands of other writers — improve our productivity and the quality of our writing.

Get it said, and get it said quickly

Twitter’s post limit of 140 characters is beauty in limitation — like a four-part Bach fugue, constructed within the tightest of artistic constraints, but shining with originality through its chains. This limited format forces the tweet-composer to keep her message concise and to-the-point; there usually isn’t room in a tweet for extra, flowery adjectives (like the ones in the last sentence).

When writing — especially for the Internet — brevity is the soul of success. Contemporary clickers don’t often want big blocks of Dickensian text, but the information they need at a glance: be it a joke, a travel tip, or a political opinion that echoes their own.

Twitter is the perfect tool with which to practice these two-sentence skills. Work on getting your best ideas into 140 characters — your Internet elevator pitch — and you’ll find it easier to keep control of the word count on your blog.

Take short breaks to update your followers — and yourself

Writing is tiring work, even if we tend to do it sitting in comfy chairs and sipping coffee. I use a timer to keep myself on-task for forty-five minutes, allowing myself a ten-minute break between each work block. While the work clock is ticking, I shut down as many distractions as possible: Facebook, YouTube (video game soundtracks and Bach fugues excluded), and Reddit have to be shelved.

The one exception I allow for myself is Twitter. When I finish a particularly tricky paragraph or have to pause to rethink a complex joke with a Jim Carrey movie reference, I’ll pop over to Twitter and give myself a little update. Even though I don’t have enough active followers to spark a conversation — which would be too distracting, anyway — I find that the simple act of composing and writing an update helps me to refocus on my work. That Ace Ventura reference will work, after all!

Share the highlights

If your audience isn’t worried about spoilers (and if they are, count yourself lucky to have such an audience), by all means, tweet your highlights! Have you just crafted a beautiful paragraph? Landed a really nice punchline? Finished an action sequence with a one-liner on par with those in Robocop? Get it out there!

If it’s longer than the 140-character limit, follow accepted Twitter tradition and share a screenshot as a picture in your tweet. On a Mac machine, hold command-shift-4 and highlight the screen area you’d like to save; on Windows, press the PrintScreen key, open MS Paint, press Control-V to paste the screenshot into Paint, and simply crop out the text.

With the image of your text, compose a teaser tweet to your followers; most text-based images must be opened with a click to become readable in a Twitter timeline.

Interact with other writers

Never forget that you aren’t the only lonely writer out there on the Internet. Around the world, other unemployable bloggers and authors are sitting on park benches, in coffee shops, and in dreary studio apartments keyboarding away. Join the community of your fellow degenerates by following other writers (who will often follow you back) and interacting with them on Twitter.

Many writers use the hashtag #amwriting for just this kind of writing discussion. Those interested in writerly tweets can follow this hashtag (I like to set up a column for it in Tweetdeck, a free and very useful Twitter tool for managing multiple accounts and following multiple discussions) and see what others are writing at that moment. Like that Robocop reference? Say so in a reply tweet! Think it would be good for your followers to see it? Retweet it with your own addition or reply! Have your own proud paragraph to share with the wider nerdy writing world? Get that screenshot and tag it #amwriting.

If you’re only using Twitter to share links to your blog posts (like I used to), I challenge you to fire it up the next time you sit down to write. In fact, why not send me a tweet to let me know what you’re working on?

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