I'm a writer, and I'm in love with Twitter. For the longest time I couldn't explain why I -- a person accustomed to dealing with word limits of 90,000 words or higher -- am so enamored with a platform which limits me to only 140 characters -- or approximately 19 words. And last night while trying to sleep while stressing about the upcoming deadline for my new book Content Marketing, it dawned on me. Twitter makes me a better writer.
Here are five writing lessons every writer should take to heart -- all of which Twitter reinforces.
Strunk & White's The Elements of Style taught us all this lesson in 1919. It is more clear and more powerful to tell your readers, "The sky is blue" than it is to tell them, "The heavenly orb above radiated cool azure." Writers often compensate for a lack of confidence or the lack of a clear idea by stuffing their sentences with puffery. Be clear. Be direct. Short sentences are confident sentences.
Twitter, with it's unavoidable limitations, forces writers to avoid puffery in favor of writing clear sentences.
With only about 19 words to work with, it is important that every word you use in a tweet contributes accurately to your message. There is no room for circling back to make sure your readers understood your intent. Nor does Twitter allow for stylization of your words (bold, italics, underlining) as a way for writers to influence how the reader receives the message. Tone cannot be massaged into a tweet. The only tools at your disposal to convey your message are the words -- stark and naked.
This may seem counterintuitive to some -- as adverbs are often meant to intensify verbs -- but there is no other rule I believe in more firmly than this: adverbs are inherently weakening. Consider these two sentences:
"I totally agree with you."
"I agree with you."
By adding "totally" as a modifier to "agree," the writer is implying wiggle room. This places in the reader's or recipient's mind that there are degrees of agreement. "I agree with you," on the other hand, is stone cold clear. There is no wiggle room.
Twitter's limitation forces writers to consider the value of "totally" or "entirely" or " very" or any of the other non-essential modifiers.
Twitter is fast. Messages scream through a viewer's stream of attention. If a writer is trying to capture attention -- and then often turn that attention into action -- writing in the active voice is more effective -- as it is in all writing.
"I wrote this blog post," is a stronger and more clear sentence than, "This blog post was written by me." It's shorter, as well. The logical steps your reader has to navigate to find the meaning of your sentence is more difficult if you use the passive voice. The active voice saves your readers some time -- albeit a microsecond -- and a flash of frustration.
Twitter is not a private journal. It is a public forum. Therefore, writers must be aware that there is the possibility of backlash with every single thing they write. This awareness results in better editing. I write 40 tweets a day and end up sending about half of those.
Some of the best writing advice I ever got came from my 8th grade English teacher, Mr. Irving. I was nervous about a writing a speech I had to deliver to our small town at graduation. I was waffling aloud about whether or not to include this bit of sophomoric advice or that bit of sophomoric advice, and Mr. Irving stopped me short, looked me in the eye, and said, "Jesse. Write from your gut."
My gut is my editor. If it's uneasy about something, I cut it. If it's confident, I let it fly. Edit. Edit. Edit. Just because you've had an idea does not mean it's worthy of publication.
This post was originally published on my blog where I write about content marketing and book publishing.
Follow J.S. McDougall on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jsmcdougall