Whether you are a writer by profession or not, one thing is true. We are all authors now. Every time we get on Facebook or LinkedIn or Google+ or Twitter, we are publishing something.
You might have heard the rumor that Twitter is dumbing us down, making us like teenagers who text on their cell phones. But good writers know how to have the same impact on their readers, with fewer words.
And isn’t that the same thing we need to do on social media, where our audience is attention disordered, distracted and click-happy?
It can be much harder to get our message out in less space. After all, Mark Twain once said, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I didn’t have time.” Using fewer words takes practice and, yes, sometimes more time.
Writing teachers, from second grade classrooms to graduate schools, know this. They use an exercise with their students: the six-word story. Can’t tell a story in six words, you say? Well, I bet you can. Ernest Hemingway wrote one:
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
Every word here is needed to tell the story, but there is not one extra. And we have a story. Now that is good writing. We may never be Hemingways, but we can learn something from him. I have blogged before about lessons from authors, like what Dr. Seuss can teach us about making every word count.
But did you ever think that Twitter might be a great place to practice lean, elegant writing?
5 ways Twitter can make you a better writer
Crafting a meaningful message or story in six words may be out of range for most of us. But Twitter helps us write cleaner and leaner. With just 140 characters, it’s excellent practice. Here is what you learn how to do:
1. Find the ‘big idea.’
In a blog post, or a short story, and especially on social media, a writer needs to have that one major idea. To get to the point—and quickly. Twitter makes us better at doing that because our tweets are flying through the stream and we have scant seconds to relay our idea.
2. Write with precision.
Will Strunk, co-author of the timeless classic The Elements of Style, says it best: “Omit needless words.” He compares two sentences: “A period of unfavorable weather set in” and “It rained all week.” Not only is the second sentence shorter (four words compared to seven), but it tells us much more: the bad weather was rain and it lasted one week. Twitter, with its strict word limits, helps us practice this.
3. Drop the unneeded adverbs.
You know, those pesky words that end in –ly? When I was a teacher, my fourth and fifth graders loved Tom Swifties. Their task was to find the adverb to go with a Tom Swift quote. “Who left the toilet seat down?” Tom asked peevishly. “Pass me the shellfish,” said Tom crabbily. The humor in the sentences had them falling down laughing.
But in real life, a strong verb trumps an adverb any day. So on Twitter, where every word matters, we learn to say the equivalent of “He slammed the door,” rather than “He shut the door loudly.” The stronger the verb, the fewer the words, the greater the impact.
4. Craft better headlines.
Now, with Google Analytics, we can see which blog post headlines we tweet are getting the best response, the most RTs, shares and direct visits to our sites.Good headlines, ones that surprise, make people curious or otherwise promise a benefit will always get more click-throughs.
5. Entice our readers.
I have written about the importance of writing Twitter teasers that make people curious enough to read our article or blog post (or visit Amazon to buy our book). Twitter teaches us to find the best ways to motivate our Twitter followers to read our stuff.
What about you?
Have you learned anything about writing better from being on Twitter?