National Writing Project

Learning to Write (Again) on Twitter

By: Keri Franklin
Date: March 6, 2012

Summary: Ozarks Writing Project Director Keri Franklin describes how learning a new genre—whatever the form—can remind us of what it means to learn to write. Through Twitter, Franklin is reintroduced to writing lessons, such as reading within the genre and writing to a specific audience.


Excerpt from Digital Is Resource

My experiences with Twitter made me revisit important lessons as a writer and as a teacher of writing. What I learned through tweeting has applications for each writing teacher and writer.

Whether writers write 140 characters, a five-paragraph essay, or a novel, they need the following to be able to attempt this new genre:

  1. Support: We all need support as writers. It helps if we have someone more experienced to explain the whys and hows. In my case, @tmmaerke and @stevejmoore were more experienced peers who offered suggestions and encouragement as I learned how to engage in conversations and write on Twitter.
  2. Read Widely: We need the opportunity to read within the genre, first for fun and without aim. Later, as we become more knowledgeable about the genre, we can read with an eye toward analysis to learn the author's craft.
  3. Audience: Writing for a group of people, especially some that you do not know, changes your approach to your writing. I was more careful. I considered my identity. I considered the topic and not only my audience but the multiple audiences that would view a tweet if it happened to be retweeted. Whatever the age of the writer, audience is the ultimate test for good writing.
  4. Learn the Language, Eventually: We sometimes have to learn new vocabulary and conventions for writing in particular genres. I learned new vocabulary and conventions through reading tweets and talking to peers. There were no worksheets. It was through reading, writing myself, and talking. I did not learn the vocabulary and conventions prior to beginning to tweet. If that were the case, I never would have tweeted to begin with. I needed to make mistakes, make corrections, and ask questions within the context of my own tweeting.

I did not go into tweeting expecting to learn lessons about writing. But, I learned as much about audience, purpose, conventions, and handling writing apprehension as I have learned from writing much longer pieces. The pressure we feel when we learn something new is immense. To be in the position to have to ask questions, to show that you do not know, is uncomfortable. It's even more uncomfortable to try something when there is a good chance you may not do it the "right" way.

I encourage all of us to write in a new genre and revisit those feelings of new writers. Digital tools provide the perfect opportunity to write in new ways. Find a genre you feel uncomfortable with—it may be Twitter or something else. Find support from a more experienced peer. Read widely in that genre. Write for a larger audience. Most important, write so you make mistakes. Be open to sharing those mistakes. Experience the feelings that come with those beginning moments and experience the feelings of success. Share that with students.

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