Long form writing, as first published to Twitter

I’d like to do some long form writing, except that I’d publish it on Twitter. I’ll write essays as I’d normally write them, making sure that sentences are 140 characters or less. The goal would be to encapsulate an entire argument in pithy sentences and make each one stand on its own. I have no doubt that it would be possible to write quite a few words this way, though you might lose some followers in the bargain.

The change of pace is that you’re not trying to write your whole idea into any given 140 character fragment. You’re looking to spin out a story that holds together over dozens of tweets, without being too distracted by the net you’re writing within. Writing with a net watching can be distracting, but it can also be enlivening; somehow you must make use of the diversions. Some side conversations will give you ideas that you can later reclaim and recast as your own, when the time is right.

Twitter is a new medium within which to compose original writing, as every sentence you write there has its own URL and feedback loop. By publishing every sentence individually, you can write and then see feedback one line a time – a thought both inspiring and terrifying.

Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man under Socialism, 1891.

The fact is, that the public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing. Journalism, conscious of this, and having tradesman-like habits, supplies their demands.

I’ve been drafting first versions in vim so that I have a record of the whole context of what I’m writing outside of Twitter. Drafting in vim gives me a chance to write a whole paragraph and then push it to Twitter as separate sentences, once it makes sense. I always edit again within Twitter, where every character is counted for you forcing you to make tough decisions about what not to say. The short format of Twitter leads to better writing, since you must omit needless words to make a complex idea fit into its allotment.

My writing is slower when I feel the compulsion to construct an argument that still makes sense when divided into pieces. It’s easier to write quickly when you don’t have to think about the reaction to every word and phrase. The feedback has prompted a handful of offline drafts before committing to publishing – even “just” to publishing to Twitter.

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