Writing For Craft, Not Clicks

March 21, 2023 § 15 Comments

Social media often feels like a distraction from our writing work, or weirdly transactional (I posted 10 minutes ago, did anyone like it yet?) But mindful social media makes us better writers. Ignore follower counts and clicks—instead, consider Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, blogging and newsletters as literary forms.

One of the world’s greatest short-form writers contemplating the delivery of his next publicly-available serial content.

A great Facebook post is a 100-word microflash essay with a beginning, middle, ending, and a strong premise that engages readers. A great Tweet is a great sentence—whether you follow or violate traditional writing “rules.”

Sharing our work publicly and regularly also keeps us in the habit. Writing advice often starts from the premise that we’re all going to sit down and bang out our word count for an hour every morning—or we should be. But not only do you not have to write every day, a lot of writers can’t write every day. They have families. Or they’re caregivers. Or demanding jobs consume their creative brains. This does not make them—or you—any less a writer. Plenty of excellent books have been written in short spurts. Books are built from blogs. Or from texts. Or from writing a little at a time. Social media lets us write in short, manageable chunks on busy days.

But if I write something every day, what if it’s not good? What if it’s not a diamond-sharp, multiply-revised presentation of my Best Thoughts Ever?

That’s kind of the point. Whether or not the 10,000-hour theory is correct, the number one thing that makes us better writers is deliberate practice. Social media is a place to practice publicly, to raise the stakes just enough to make each sentence count, while not becoming a permanent record. Social media is brief. Brevity helps you write more often, using your available time. Don’t feel guilty if you don’t have an hour—feel good that you got out any amount of words to share. Remember that the medium is the message: readers don’t expect literary genius in an email. Write your best, but don’t worry about perfection.

Great short-form public writing, whether an 850-word blog or a 400-word newsletter or a 280-character tweet, has key principles:

Practice writing at the sentence level. Anchor your sentence beginnings and ends with concrete nouns and strong verbs. See what word combinations have punch.

Share a moment that is a whole moment. Stay in one scene or a single thought.

The medium is the message: there is no “and then I realized…” because the venue says that for you. Publishing on a social platform already establishes, “I thought this was important to crystallize and share with my readers.”

Both literary and commercial constrained forms depend on vertical takeoff. How fast can you bring a reader into your mood? How much emotional impact can you create in under a minute? Can you draft a killer first sentence that makes readers click to read the whole thing? That’s a skill all writers need for work in every medium.

Social media often feels random and chaotic. We’re stepping into a room where a million people are practicing their voices, trying out what they have to say and waiting to see who’s listening. Limit your time and figure out who you want to listen to. At the same time, find your own audience. It’s not weird to make online acquaintances and spontaneously participate in their conversations. They can directly respond to your joke, question, micro-essay or impassioned political or emotional point, and you can block them if you don’t like what they have to say.

When I’m posting regularly on social media, I see more stories in the world. I’m more likely to ask questions of the people around me, and truly listen to their answers. This spills over into my longform writing, making me more curious about my characters and more conscious of the circumstances that make people who they are.

One of the most beautiful essays I’ve ever read (in any medium) is Tucker Shaw’s fragmented recollections of the AIDS crisis, triggered by an overheard conversation on the subway. The nature of Twitter—short, sequential, slightly-but-not-really disconnected suits this essay. Each tweet feels slightly forced out, excavated from the pain of memory, heightening the meaning of the work. Did Shaw write it in advance and piece it out in 140-character bursts? Maybe. Did he write it as he tweeted it? Also possible. Either way, he’s used a social form to advantage, not only creating a beautiful and meaningful work, but also reaching thousands of people who either don’t read literary magazines or wouldn’t have subscribed to a particular one that published the piece.

Sure, an MFA is great, but have you made a joke land on Twitter? When we explore literary forms deliberately, not as “content creators” but as writers, we practice craft. Share writing news, personal stories behind your work, strange happenings and moments of joy and poetic wonder. Don’t sacrifice your writing time to random scrolling. But by all means, pick a platform you like, set a specific amount of time for reading and writing there, and use it to practice your craft and read meaningful work to inspire your own.


Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor. Find her on Twitter & Insta @GuerillaMemoir. Want to write better with Social Media? We’ve got a webinar for that. April 5th, replay available.

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