To Tweet or Not to Tweet?

Before motherhood, Emma Strong worked in legal publishing, the youth homelessness voluntary sector and local government. Currently, she’s completing her Creative Writing MFA, going backwards at Bikram and singing slink a ma rink a dinky doo with her toddlers, out of tune. Twitter with her @emmastrong72.

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To tweet or not to tweet, is a 21st century question for writers and for teachers of creative writing, in the digital age.

Vanderslice (2012) argues creative writing (CW) students, armed with key skills including telling story and empathy, are poised to dominate the online cultural landscape, if they are digitally literate. As Cross (2011) describes it, the ‘tsunami of electronic media’ has created an online ‘global village’, accessible to all. Any message, banal or profound, using no more than 140 characters, can be posted on Twitter. Introduced in 2006, by 2011 there were 200 million users a month on line, posting 140 million tweets a day.

As Cross (2011) argues, at best, Twitter creates a new frontier of expression and connection, using emoticons, abbreviations, acronyms (LOL), slang, hash-tagged trending, hive-mind #thinking and #sharing. At worst, the hive-mind can be an ungrammatical, unattractive swarm of belligerent #ranting.

Could CW students hone their reading, writing, and critiquing skills using Twitter? Could their online connections and conversations, the responses they received to their postings, be construed as formative feedback?  Or is Twitter just a narcissistic time-waster, best ignored? Guided by Race (2007) that we learn by doing and making sense for ourselves, and by Vanderslice (2005) that CW teachers should model the skills and ways of thinking they want their students to develop, way behind the curve, I became @emmastrong72.

Fellow MA/MFA students, @sineadkeegan, @lucyfurleaps and @lisajanedavison, invited me to join in a challenge they’d set up: #30days30stories. The idea was to tweet an idea for a story or tell a story, every day, for 30 days, in no more than 140 characters. Or rather, after subtracting 16 for the # link, no more than 124 characters.

Having taken time to read and study posted tweets to understand the form; I spent around twenty minutes composing my first story in tweet form. With just 126 characters to play with, careful consideration of word, image, and sentence construction was required. I had to edit and revise. It was a useful work out for me as a writer and I felt it could also be a great challenge to set as a CW teacher for students. But how was it received?

Going to @connect I could view responses. I got a retweet (RT) and a favourite (*), which I took as positive feedback. I read the others’ stories, RT-ed two and *-ed another, to share the feedback love. Seven days and 28 ideas later, the RTs, *s and comments, generous all round, provided relaxed, supportive and helpful peer feedback and engagement. Formative, in that it allowed me to see what was received well. It was also interesting to observe that across subject matter as diverse as hip hop DJs asleep for 100 years, knitting circle blood baths, and a boy scooting into hollow trees as Mrs Owl told him to, we each had a clear voice and developed our own approaches to the form.

Engaging with Twitter, as a platform for experimental literary short forms, such as the ‘Twiller’ being written by @mrichtel, influenced  by the Japanese literary subculture trend, Keitai Shosetsu (cell phone novels) (Yourgrau, 2009), feels enticing. On the downside, a rash tweet, taken out of context, could get you into trouble years after you tweet it, as Paris Brown, the short-lived youth police commissioner found out (Telegraph, 2013).

The #30days30stories exercise echoed the benefits of the traditional creative writing workshop: like-minded souls coming together in a safe place to try ideas out and share feedback. It provided a useful and fun learning environment. I was strict with my activity, to avoid losing too much time within the Twitter-sphere, going straight to the #group. In that way, I could use it as a useful 30-minute daily warm up writing exercise. A less focused engagement could risk eating up a lot of time. As a teacher, a large group of students all engaging with the exercise could be time consuming if attempting to feedback to each student every day. However, the exercise facilitates peer and teacher feedback, and doesn’t need to be given to every individual, every day. Getting an RT or a * here and there is a more discerning indicator of what works. Among four of us, we were each receiving feedback most days from at least one other participant. A larger engaged group would generate plenty of feedback for all. The teacher’s role could be more supervisory, encouraging students to engage with the exercise within boundaries aligned with those set up within their weekly workshops.

As Vanderslice (2006) argues, the three ways of thinking a creative student must develop are reading as a writer, critiquing as a writer, and writing and re-writing. A Twitter exercise such as #30days30stories could be a smart additional writing exercise for any writer, developing those three ways of thinking on a daily basis. And a daily writing habit is a habit a writer needs. If you’re up for the challenge, want to acquire a daily writerly workout, then check out #30days30stories, @sineadkeegan, @lucyfurleaps, @lisajanedavison and @emmastrong72, and #ff.


 

REFERENCES

Cross, M. (2011)  Bloggeratti, Twitterati: how blogs and twitter are transforming popular culture. KUS: i-Cat [Online]. Available at: http://ku-primo-prod.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo_library/libweb/action/search.do?vid=KU_VU1&reset_config=true (Accessed: May 2013).

Ensor, J. (2013) “Paris Brown: Youth police commissioner warns of dangers of social networks as she resigns over ‘racist’ tweets”, The Telegraph, 9th April 2013 [Online]. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/9982146/Paris-Brown-Youth-police-commissioner-warns-of-dangers-of-social-networks-as-she-resigns-over-racist-tweets.html (Accessed: May 2013).

JISC (2009) “Effective Practice in a Digital Age”, JISC [Online]. Available at: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/publications/programmerelated/2009/effectivepracticedigitalage.aspx/ (Accessed: March 2013).

Race, P. and Pickford, R. (2007) Making Teaching Work: Teaching Smarter in Post-compulsory Education . London: Sage.

Vanderslice, S. (2006) “Workshopping in Harper, G. (ed.) Teaching Creative Writing, 1st Edn. London and New York: Continuum.

Vanderslice, S. (2012) “A Whole New Creative Writing Classroom: Daniel Pink, Digital Culture and the Twenty-First Century Workshop” in Perry, P. (ed.) (2012) Beyond the Workshop, Kingston Upon Thames: Kingston University Press.

Yourgrau, B. (2009) “Call Me Ishmael: The End”, Salon [Online]. Available at: http://www.salon.com/2009/05/14/cellphone_fiction/ (Accessed: 13 May 2013).

[Editor’s note: All referencing done by individual authors. While every effort is made to ensure that resources are appropriately referenced, neither this website and its editor nor Kingston University accept responsibility for incorrect or insufficient citations.]

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