When I was 15, I spent a week of work experience at the Watford Observer, the paper locally published where I was brought up. In between trips to the local Crown Court to watch proceedings, and time spent looking for ambulances to chase, most of my time was spent taking rather verbose press releases from local community groups and distilling them down into a short sentence that could be used as “column fillers” to pad out space around advertising.
Time after time I’d take my latest composition to the sub-editor to be told, yet again, it was too long. I realise now that this was wonderful training for entering the world of Twitter some 23 years later.
Being able to get a point across in short form is quite an art form. It’s not something that I would profess to be expert in, but that training at the WO certainly gave me the background on how to precis. It also leads one to, potentially, be more creative.
One interesting reflection from Jonah Lehrer’s wonderful book Imagine is how artists often use the constraint of a set form to be able to help make themselves more creative. Poetic forms like the haiku or the sonnet, musical forms like either ensembles (string quartets, chamber orchestras, etc) or forms (the symphony, the waltz etc) can force more creative thinking than having no structure because you have to be innovative to fit into the standardized format.
And so it is with good Tweeting: getting a point across in 140 characters (less if you want to be retweeted) means that you have to think far more carefully about every character than if you didn’t have such constraints. Modern-day electronic haikus, I guess. It’s also why my head drops a little whenever I hear people talking about longer Tweets…