Can Twitter really, really make you a better writer? It’s just texts, right?
I avoided Twitter when it first came out. It seemed trite. Silly. I had better things to do.
But… something gnawed away at me.
Maybe I was the one missing the point.
Worse, maybe I was missing out on business leads, sales opportunities, and other low-cost ways to promote myself.
So, I took at look.
Does Twitter work?
9,000 tweets later I’ve learned a few things. Maybe some of these will help you.
Four Twitter Writing Exercises
So, how can you use Twitter to sharpen your pen? Here’s four:
- Break it down – I’m stealing this idea from @JonMorrow who suggested you write one hundred tweets. After you’ve done this, look at the stats. What was retweeted the most? Why created the most engagement? See any pattern?
- Learn to condense information – for example, as a writing challenge, look at a technical or industry magazine and see how you can distill one of its longer articles into less than 140 characters. At first, it will seem impossible. After twenty attempts, you’ll get the hang of it.
- Create your own writing voice – Gene Marks has a very distinctive writing style on Twitter. Actually, it feels like he is talking to you across the table. But not in a folksy or condescending way. See how he does it. Looks easy, right?
- Create dialogues – watch how Paul O’Mahony brings others into exchanges and opens dialogues often by sharing a series of tweets on a specific topics. Asking open-ended questions is another way to do this. Would you agree?
Twitter Rewards Brevity
In high school and college, you’re often rewarded for page count. A ten-page thesis doesn’t make the grade. How many times were you told to write something that had to be, for example, at least twenty, thirty, fifty pages long? The emphasis was on quantity, not always quality.
This encouraged us (at least me) to write lengthy, rambling, circuitous essays that dragged on and on… If you’ve ever had to grade business proposals, you’ll know what I mean.
Twitter is the opposite.
It rewards brevity. It encourages a lighter, more conversational writing style. And you have 140 characters max.
This means you have to distill your text (usually a headline and supporting text) into less than 140.
Why less than 140?
… because you want others to comment, retweet, and add their own hashtags. I aim for 45-75 characters.
Twitter Makes You A Better Editor
To distill your tweets down to 100 characters (or less), you need to develop a writing style that compliments the technology.
How can you do this?
- Write the headline first
- Remove any filler
- Add text that generates curiosity, attention, or conflict
Ironically, some of the most self-indulgent tweets are from best-selling authors.
Why? They don’t need to – and don’t have to – update their writing style for the medium. Their followers will read their broadcasts anyway. I say ‘broadcasts’ as it’s mostly one way traffic with celebrities. They don’t have to engage. But there are exceptions.
In some ways it’s harder to ‘classically’ trained writers to adapt to Twitter (and social media writing in general) as they keep trying to bend it to their will. It doesn’t work like that.
Twitter is instant messaging on steroids. If you see it in those terms, you get the hang of it very quickly.
Twitter Tests Your Writing Skills Instantly
After you’ve tweeted for a few weeks, look at the stats (I use Hootsuite) and see which tweets get the most:
- Click throughs (visits) to your website
Keep this up for a while and patterns will emerge.
Tweets that start with a question:
‘Want to be a better social media writer?
… generate curiosity. We all want to better 🙂
Tweets that ask for an opinion:
Which is best for writing? MS Word or Apple iWorks?
… create a little conflict and tap into loyalties and prejudices.
Twitter Challenges your Writing Skills
Unlike other writing formats, you can examine the performance of your Twitter writings very quickly. You can see what writing structures work best (e.g. lists, questions, opinions, quotes) and then use these to refine for social media efforts.
So, who’s doing it right?
I’m going to super-glue myself to the fence and say, ‘no-one’s doing it right but…’
I read, follow, and study how the following use Twitter. They all have different writing styles, objectives, and readerships.
Don’t get hung up on the grammar or split infinities. Instead, look at how they:
- Encourage a dialogue with others (often tweeps passing by)
- Stay positive (negativity doesn’t work on Twitter. Neither do jokes, so be careful with those puns.)
- Direct readers to their site, Facebook page, OR a ‘useful’ article they’ve found.
- Share tweets from other trusted sources.
- Big up their friends, affiliates, partners, and others in their social circle.
How has Twitter changed the way you write?
What have you learned from using Twitter?
Does it make you a better writer or… has it lowered the bar for other writers?