Writing on Twitter

(I’m helping someone with their PhD research by keeping a writing diary for them about this blog and other writing I do; this post was written for there originally but got so long and seemed like it might be interesting enough that I thought I might as well put it here.)

At the time of writing (7-8am on Sunday morning) I have made 11,418 tweets. Before the day is out I imagine I will have made many more. At an average of 13 words per tweet (which I calculated by counting the words in about a dozen recent ‘average’ tweets) this amounts to 148,434 words. At 300 words per page, a 300-page novel would comprise of 90,000 words. So, since the start of 2009, which is approximately when I started using Twitter, I have written enough words to make a 500-page novel, give or take. Clearly this is a pretty substantial amount of writing, and it should probably be considered with as much rigour, perhaps, as my long-form writing, be that blogging, reviewing, or anything else. Whether or not it’s possible to analyse my tweeting in quite that depth, I’m unsure.

Some quick facts about my tweeting habits. My Twitter account uses the same online identity or ‘brand’ as my blog (www.twitter.com/sickmouthy). I currently follow 533 people and I have 736 followers. I tweet from wherever I am using whatever tools are to hand; often this is my iPhone when out-and-about, my work computer or our home iMac when sitting at a desk, but most commonly it is probably the iPad while sitting in the house on the sofa or an easy chair. On the iPhone, iPad, and iMac, I use the official Twitter app to tweet; from work I use the Twitter website via the Firefox browser for my own account, and software called Hootsuite via the Chrome browser for the work account I run (685 Tweets, probably 600+ made by me, 623 following, 503 followers). I have tried several different Tweeting applications over the last two and a bit years and now settled into a comfortable routine for the time being.

My tweets have essentially four different types: conversations, observations, participations, and repetitions. Conversations are replies to and comments at people I know about subjects I’m interested in – most commonly music, but also film, football, cycling, television, cooking, and anything else you might talk about in person or online. I suspect this makes up the bulk of my tweeting, and most of these tweets are between myself and people I know ‘outside’ of twitter – my wife, two key work colleagues / friends, my brother-in-law, a handful of fellow music geeks / writers / fans who I have met online and in person over the last decade or so, many of whom I consider to be friends, plus a few other friends who use the platform.

Observations are (hopefully) pithy, witty, insightful, or clever remarks made at no one in particular, in the hope that people will find them interesting and/or that they will spark conversations. A recent example is the sentence “I am helping Adele to pay less tax by not buying her records” which I adapted from something someone said on a music forum that I agreed with, in relation to the singer Adele’s recent reaction of displeasure to having a big tax bill due to having sold millions of albums.

Participations can be both conversations and/or observations, but they are related to specific cultural events, usually occurring at the time they are being tweeted about. Essentially they are the Twitter ‘buzz’ that gets talked about in media channels, the ‘flurries’ of comments on and discussions about current affairs, be that superinjunctions, the Arab Spring, X Factor, the European Cup Final, or anything else that happens in the world. If enough people talk about these things, marking their tweets with a hashtag to mak them more easily findable and associable with the given topic, they can become trends, locally or even globally. Trends are exactly what you might imagine; lots of people talking about one issue for a time. Trends, and therefore participations, may not be about current affairs, and may just be random memes that have caught favour and inspired amusement amongst people; I don’t tend to participate in these as much as more current affairs based participations. Emma and I both agree that live TV occurrences, such as X Factor, become almost exponentially more enjoyable if you participate via Twitter, chatting with friends, watching the comments of celebrities, and generally being ‘swept up’ in the moment, in the event. While BBC iPlayer, personal digital TV recorders like Sky+, SkyAnytime, and other internet streaming TV solutions make it possible to watch what you want, when you want, where you want, many programmes totally lose their sense of occurrence and enjoyability if you watch them after the Twitter buzz has subsided.

Repetitions are just that; ‘retweets’ of what other people have said that I agree with, or would like the people who follow me to see; these tweets are therefore not actively written by me. I’m not sure what proportion of my overall tweets this makes-up, but it’s not much – I do considerably more of it for the work account I run.

Why do I tweet? Because I like talking to people, I like expressing my opinions, I have a compulsion to write on the internet in various forms, and I like the microscopic sense of affirmation that comes from people replying to you, retweeting something you’ve posted, or deigning to follow you.

How do I compose tweets? I’ve got pretty good at this, meaning that I seldom have to think about truncating things I want to tweet or even use internet shorthand symbols etcetera; I seem to be able to compose thoughts into 140-character chunks without much effort. I guess I’ve had plenty of practice… I rarely if ever compose a tweet and then fail to publish / send it, which is probably why I have posted so many. It would seem like wasted time to me; and I’m not particularly precious about my writing – once it’s written, it might as well be read. Twitter encourages a definite sense of ephemerality in writing.

Replies in conversations come very organically; standalone observations sometimes occur to me in advance and get mulled around a little before being typed, but not by much – I’ve generally got a device I can tweet from to hand. I don’t think I’ve ever emailed my self a reminder of something I’d like to tweet (except for my work account) or ever made a plan of a series of tweets or tweet subjects I’d like to engage in (again, except for my work account, which is approached more ‘strategically’ than my personal account – although, clearly, the fact that I consider it to be part of my personal ‘online brand’ suggests an amount of strategic thinking!).

I think that’s about it…

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4 responses to “Writing on Twitter

  1. Pingback: Writing on Twitter – my blog « My Writing Diary

  2. It’s been pointed out that quite a few of my tweets are auto-generated by Endomondo as I track my cycling (and occasional running / walking) workouts; I’ve just had a quick look and over the last eleven months I’ve recorded 268 workouts, and probably had an average of 1 tweet for each, so a drop in the ocean really!

  3. How about the gazillion Canabalt runs???

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