Twitter provokes strong reactions in people for good reason. Perusing the app is a game of emotional Russian roulette. It can be a great source of information, humor, and even humanity. It’s also a toxic hellscape that’s chock full of Nazis. I understand why so many people have stayed away or limited their time on the site. Nevertheless, I think tweeting helps develop good writing habits. Specifically, getting to the point.
In its pure form — each tweet limited to 140 characters — Twitter was a writing game set on challenge mode. The app culled all the throat clearing and filler writers lean on out of bad habit. Twitter forced economy of language on its users.
I can be long-winded in my writing. I’ve always thought in hypotheticals and contingencies, and legal training made me double down on the fence-sitting and hand-wringing. I’d been working myself out of those habits when I got on Twitter, and I struggled with the format initially. Over time, I began eliminating words and phrases that did nothing to add meaning or context and choosing more direct language, particularly my verbs. Good tweets have thrust, a momentum that takes you on an unexpectedly fast ride.
There’s a wittiness the best Twitter users bring to the table that I admire and envy. Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain would have dominated on the platform. Consuming that quick, sharp content has made my thinking and writing more agile.
Most importantly, though, there are valuable conversations taking place on Twitter every day. (Yes, really!) It’s very much about whom you choose to follow. I joined the platform very late, well after everyone was following everyone else back. As a result, my timeline is curated pretty well, and I’ve learned so much from the people I follow. In particular, I’m more sensitive to language that is excluding and ableist, and I’ve been exposed to many different cultural practices in a way that foregrounds respectfulness.
I write about race, class and politics a lot. It’s difficult work, much more difficult than the finished product suggests. Seeing some of the people I follow handle really ugly and exhaustingly bad-faith pushback with patience and dignity has been eye-opening. But so has been following people who always clap back viciously — they refuse to be pushed around or silenced. I’m still trying to find that balance, and that’s something else being on Twitter has made clear to me: we’re all works in progress who are muddling our way through life. It’s made me a more vulnerable and honest writer.
For whatever reason, Twitter culture weeds out much of the corny self-promotion that works on other social media sites. People are more willing to show their flaws than they are on Instagram and Facebook. If you interact with the right people, there’s plenty of room for growth.
Twitter is also kind of a scary place. Some people are always on the attack, and they turn up demanding to fight. The openness of social media has given new avenues to people who feel entitled to our attention and emotional and intellectual labor. This is something writers have to protect, and I’ve learned a lot about how to accomplish this on Twitter.
I don’t know if I can tell anyone in good faith to sign up for Twitter. It’s too messy. Then there’s the problem of the Nazis… If you’re on the site, and you’re a writer, I’d suggest using it with that in mind. Tweet to hone your craft. The 240 character limit has spoiled the fun, but tweeting as informal exercises in constructing good sentences is something everyone can do. Not all of us have to jump into the fray on the site.