A lot of times when I mention Twitter, my friends and family respond with rolling eyes, blank looks, or comments of, “I don’t care what other people are eating.” Although I explain to them that people tweet about more than food and that Twitter can be a useful tool, I know it’s not for everyone.
But I do recommend it for writers. Not just for networking, or promoting their work, or the plethora of writing-related articles tweeted each day. I recommend writers use Twitter for one simple reason: it teaches you to be concise.
Thomas Jefferson once said, “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” The Elements of Style by Strunk and White explains a bit more:
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.
Easier said than done. Whether you use a computer or prefer pen and paper, when you sit down to write, blank spaces stretch out, waiting for your every word. Using a word processor? No problem! It adds another page when you reach the bottom. Going low tech? Just as easy! When you fill one page, flip to a new one. You’ve got plenty of room! Nothing’s stopping you from writing “owing to the fact that” instead of “because” or “in spite of the fact that” instead of “although”. No reason not to let crutch words like “just” or “such” or “very” slip into a sentence.
Not so with Twitter. With a 140-character limit, every word counts. Every letter counts. “Just” and “very” get cut fast; you need those four characters for nouns and verbs. Sentences like, “The thing we’d originally planned to do to celebrate our anniversary today got rained out, but we’ll come up with something else that’s fun,” get trimmed down to, “Our anniversary plans got rained out, but we’ll find something fun to do.”
I use the delete key a lot when tweeting, cutting out unnecessary words or replacing long words with shorter ones. Twitter, or at least some Twitter apps, has added functionality so you can go over 140 characters now, but out of respect for my followers who don’t have smartphones, I don’t.
After almost two years of tweeting, my fiction is getting more concise, too. Yes, first drafts are allowed to be sloppy, ugly, bloated messes where you’re just getting the story down on the page so you can fix it later. And I don’t worry about trimming the fat when I’m scribbling my first drafts. But now when I edit them, I don’t find as much fat to cut. Wordy, convoluted phrases? Not as common. My sentences are naturally more concise. Crutch words? “Just” used to litter almost every sentence I wrote. The other day I caught myself as I started to write it in a draft, and it didn’t make it on the page.
That’s not to say some wordiness doesn’t creep into my writing, or even that I find it all during revision. But it’s getting less common. So if you’re a writer and you’re not using Twitter, I encourage you to start. Even if you never follow anyone, even if you never get a single follower yourself, being forced to trim your posts to 140 characters or less will train you to be more concise when working on short stories, magazine articles, or even that novel you know you’ve been dying to write.