With Kate Drabinski
We write all the time. We’re academics, so it’s sort of our job. And then there’s twitter. Why bother tweeting? It isn’t real writing, and it will never make it in our tenure or promotion files, so isn’t it a waste of time? Not at all, we say, and here’s why.
1. Twitter keeps us thinking and learning. Real time online conversations keep us moving and going and thinking and seeing others being productive. It is a place where academics can feed for ideas and spurs our micro-creativity. Compared to the traditional academic timeline in which feedback and interests can be months or even years—let’s be honest, Twitter real time conversations enables real time feedback. This feedback and interest in what we, and others, are thinking about inspires our writing.
2. Twitter keeps our offline writing projects moving. Because of those real-time conversations, we stay motivated to keep writing and thinking when we log off. It can also help us to make decisions we might otherwise stew over. Twitter keeps us productive and can jolt us out of those negative phases when we get blocked or discouraged. Sometimes it just takes a single tweet to help get out of bed. Also, a response or favorite from a follower can help us to not feel so alone when we are discouraged or moving slower—to recognize it all as part of the process. “@drcompton @kdrabinski I feel this!”
3. Twitter forces us to think about audience, something academics are notoriously bad at doing well. We both tweet to multiple audiences–academics, sure, but also activists, students, personal friends, family members, Ashley Judd, Dr. Ruth, fellow bicyclists in the case of @kdrabinski, and fellow sneaker enthusiasts in the case of @drcompton. Tweets go out to all these followers, and part of tweeting well is remembering this and writing in clear ways that will resonate with these different audiences at different times, but never with everyone at all times. These are important skills to remember as we write offline for similarly diverse audiences, and twitter makes us practice on a daily basis.
4. That tiny character count makes us be precise in our writing, another thing academics are notoriously bad at. We’ll leave it at that, for precision’s sake.
5. Being precise means revising, deleting, rewriting, and revising again, the very most important parts of writing well, and the parts too often left for later until forgotten altogether. 140 characters isn’t a lot, and rarely is our thought fully formed the first time we try to force it into that tiny space. We must focus, focus, focus—focusing on what is really necessary and important. We find ourselves deleting, trying again, figuring out what can be saved for another tweet, and what our central point really is. Twitter forces us to revise on the spot, and real skills are developed that translate to our offline writing. After all, a first draft is simply writing to the starting line. The real work is in the revision, and twitter won’t let us forget that.