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A Twitter conversation might begin this way: “Art critics are often frustrated artists grinding their axes on new artists seeking approval from them. Do you agree?” That’s a bit under 140 characters, but it’s a conversation starter that will get other people going, meaning they will tweet back a response. Or someone might forward your tweet, or “retweet” as it is called, sending your question out there for a response.
Twitter as a Powerful Tool for Social and Political Change
Initially, tweets were mocked by journalists as meaningless clutter. But after the disputed presidential elections in Iran in June of 2009, Twitter enabled protesters to mount huge demonstrations and coordinate their efforts. It was such a valuable tool for the protests that the U.S. State Department called the founders of Twitter and asked them not to do their scheduled upgrade—which would make Twitter unavailable for several hours—so that Iranians could continue organizing protests around the disputed election. When it was suggested that the U.S. was meddling in Iran’s affairs, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said, “This is about giving their voices a chance to be heard. One of the ways that their voices are heard are through new media.” Since then, Twitter has been seen as a powerful new tool for getting messages out to the world and even changing the world as a result. Now news agencies and just about every celebrity has a Twitter account.
In the world of literature, Twitter has also given rise to new forms of writing that are now considered legitimate, like the Twitter haiku, or “twaiku.” Some major writers, like John Wray, have used Twitter to create serious literature.
For two years, John Wray, the author of the well-regarded novel Lowboy, has been spinning out a Twitter story based on a character named Citizen that he cut from the novel, a contemporary version of the serialization that Dickens and other fiction writers once did.
“I don’t view the constraints of the format as in any way necessarily precluding literary quality,” he said. “It’s just a different form. And it’s still early days, so people are still really trying to figure out how to communicate with it, beyond just reporting that their Cheerios are soggy.” (Mr. Wray’s breakfast- food posts are, at the very least, far funnier than the usual kind: “Citizen opened the book. Inside, he found the purpose of existence expressed logarithmically. From what he could tell, it involved toast.”)
—The New York Times
So Twitter is now recognized as a tool for creating art and literature, and is thought of as part of that world. However, whether writers and artists play with it or try to rise above it, there is the daily-nonsense aspect of Twitter. This usually consists of Twitter users’ domestic minutiae (or worse), which is the opposite of good literature. Since both types of tweeting—the artful and the mundane—can draw huge numbers of followers, it’s important to consider both to be valid.
Having said that, it falls to you to decide at some point how you will use Twitter. You can start by experimenting. Send out anything at all, and then look at what other people are sending out. As you’re looking through other people’s tweets, you might find some that you like. You have the option of resending these as your own; that is, as mentioned above, you can retweet someone else’s tweet. Once you’ve grasped that, you are well on your way to becoming conversant. It may seem difficult, but it is really a very simple system to use for passing tiny bits of information around.
To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here. To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.