7 Lessons A Writer Learned from Tweeting


An uncommonly excellent marketing firm in Atlanta needed to hire a writer. In keeping with their culture and style, their help-wanted ad read: “Wanted: Defender of the English Language.”

As a stalwart defender of the English language myself, I applied for the job. They asked me to come to their offices one rainy Saturday morning for an interview and testing.

Ten or eleven hours later – not having left their enclave all day – the owner, senior staff and I were on a conference call. Our newly compiled team was speaking with a friend of mine who had spent many years in radio and as a voice-over artist. He was asked – with zero time to prepare – to “do voices” that might fit a TV commercial we had composed and polished about historic Texans.

My friend deftly slipped out of reality and realistically led us into the Battle of the Alamo. So much so that we feared General Santa Anna was about to burst through our conference room doors … bugles, cannon and guns ablaze.

We got the gig. The marketing folks nailed what they feared was an impossible deadline. Jim Bowie, John Wayne and/or Davy Crockett lived again. Most importantly, we were all handsomely rewarded for rescuing an otherwise doomed project.

I have no problem with Defenders of the English Language; especially when they pay me to write for/with them. Someone must defend our language from the onslaught of ignorance and sloth from those who abuse it through insidious means, such as Twitter.


I love Twitter. As @RJSutherland I share random thoughts, deep-seated anxieties, profundities and careless quips.

As a writing exercise – as compared to a form of social networking – Twitter is fabulous. The limit of 140-characters is exactly what some writers need in order to learn to choose their words and make each one pop. The vast majority of tweets, unfortunately, are a waste of seemingly random keystrokes.

The first line of the Bible, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth,” could be tweeted with 85-characters to spare. That means you and I can neatly wrap our deepest thoughts into 140-characters too.

Some writers are so garrulous their meandering, overflowing prose seems to babble into infinity, as in the opening of a Star Wars movie. The common response when I edit their work? “Well, that’s the way I talk.”

Have you ever read the transcript of a speech (the Gettysburg Address notwithstanding) or perused notes from a Senate hearing? Talk about boring. Who would say it is interesting because “That’s the way they talk?”

Reading someone’s printed thoughts should be easier to understand than hearing them once and only once, even without vocal inflections. Excellent writers choose their words precisely and thoughtfully. So do effective speakers, but written messages provide the opportunity for readers to review.

That, in my humble opinion, is the beauty of Twitter: we are forced to choose – or abbreviate – our words. We are forced to consider what we are writing to get the most bang for our letters.

Tweeting reminds me of a fascinating word puzzle where composing the most profound thought with the fewest characters wins the game.

Do you think you could write a film review of the movie, Gone With the Wind, in 140 characters? Try it. Here’s mine: “Southern Belle Scarlett O’Hara rose from the ashes of the Civil War to vanquish everything in her world, except Rhett Butler.”

Years before Twitter ruled, I loved the website Four Word Film Reviews.  Is it possible to compose a movie review on a film as complex as Gone With the Wind in four words?  Yup.  Here are a few of my favorites from Four Word Film Reviews:

  • House loses its Gable.
  • Angry Scarlett sees Rhett.
  • All’s unfair. Love. War.

Click here for even better examples.

Every sentence in this article could be tweeted – not one is over 140 characters.

Does that make my writing better than if I used longer sentences? Not necessarily; we can communicate as poorly in a tweet as we can in a bloated tome.

I have, however, applied seven lessons I’ve learned from tweeting:

  1. Clearly define my message.
  2. Choose my words carefully.
  3. Edit my work more rigorously.
  4. Reread and rewrite more consistently.
  5. Be succinct.
  6. A vapid message – of any length – is worthless.
  7. A pithy tweet is a masterpiece.

Defend the English language!



  • Steve Burge

    Steve is the founder of OSTraining. Originally from the UK, he now lives in Sarasota in the USA. Steve's work straddles the line between teaching and web development.

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