Photo courtesy SXC.
It seems everyone is doing Twitter these days, from Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Microblogging, the art of condensing your thoughts into 140 characters, has hit the mainstream, and many people are wondering what this service, which continuously asks users to post an answer to the question “what are you doing?” is good for.
One thing I strongly believe Twitter is good for is improving the craft and skill of non-fiction writers. I freely admit I am not a “power tweeter” yet (I still haven’t got the hang of the interactivity of Twitter yet), but as an editor, I see many ways in which microblogging can provide opportunities to tune up one’s writing ability.
Less is More
I’ve blogged a bit about this before, and today it’s the main point of my post: non-fiction writers can learn a lot about economy of words through poetry, and one emerging trend in Twitter-land is the popularity of posting poems or lines from existing or potential poems in one’s status line.
The main advantage poets have on Twitter is that they know how to say a lot in very few words, and pack their content with descriptive material that appeals to both the reader’s eye and ear.
Some of my best freelancers have been poets, and I find that poets who write nonfiction tend to be extremely careful and precise with their word choices. Also, along with former advertising copywriters, poets who write for journalistic publications almost never complain about the word count they are assigned—I imagine that after mastering the rigors of poetic structure, meter and rhyme, just having to worry about how many words to use is a snap.
Making your tweets “attractive”
One popular trend in poetry over the past decade has been magnetic poetry kits, and the Twitter Magnets site combines digital renderings of magnetic poem kits with the interactivity of social media. Go to the site, and you’re presented with a set of words and encouraged to move them around on the cyber-fridge to make a poem, which can then be broadcast via Twitter to those following their feed.
While you can choose another set of words to make poems out of, you are limited to using the words and letters presented, and that extra layer of constriction is a great tool for calling forth even more creative effort to make oneself understood.
5/7/5 = the formula for Twitter profundity?
Another poetic form that has built-in restrictions is haiku. Many poetic tweeters have written in the 5-syllable/7-syllable/5-syllable form and made amazingly interesting, compact statements. Here’s one example of what many have come to call “twiku”; and here is a Twitterer bold enough to take the name “Haiku” as his/her handle, who posts mostly funny stuff.
Even writers who work in marketing and other non-journalistic fields recognize the power of Twitter haiku to shape one’s writing for the better. Marty Weintraub, writing on the aimClear Search Marketing blog, posted a couple of months ago about the “imposed brevity” of Twitter and phone texting, and made the haiku comparison:
“It’s nothing short of cultural revolution, as our increasingly plugged-in populace evolves to more succinct communication. In my opinion this efficiency serves to counter ever-escalating online cacophony … I caught a tweet from respected SEO Michael Gray (@graywolf) which still has me thinking. He tweeted, ‘if you learn to be brief clear and easy to understand Twitter becomes very powerful even with the 140 character limit.’ In the next few minutes as we chatted briefly, he likened the process to skills required to write a Haiku.
“Haiku is an epigrammatic Japanese verse crafted of three short lines with restrictive syllabic syntax. Yet some of the most beautiful poetry on earth flows from within the imposing structural requirements … The core skill necessary for Twitter & texting is brevity. Chatting in bite size chunks forces a writer to eliminate unneeded and voluminous verbosity, a valuable lesson for any artist.” (emphasis in original quote)
Well said. If you want to discuss this Twitter Haiku movement with others, there is even a Facebook group dedicated to it.
Try it yourself
If you have a Twitter account and tweet with any regularity, make it a point this week to post at least one tweet in which you describe your day, your surroundings, or your thoughts about world events in a poetic way. You can try using the haiku syllable formula of 5/7/5 if that suits you, or adapt a more sophisticated poetic meter if you’re familiar with how to do that.
Notice your writing process as you attempt this. How did you decide what to say? How to describe it? What mood or tone to choose?
How might this selection process inform your prose writing?
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