How Social Media Changes the Way We Write

Social media has changed the world. In a few short years, it transformed from a novelty for angsty teens into a force that literally topples governments. It changes the way we maintain friendships, the way we look for love, even the way we eat. Now, it is about to change the way writers craft their stories (if it hasn’t already).

Some writers are still hesitant about social networks. To them, Facebook and Twitter are part of the vanguard of an invading army seeking to destroy the traditions of the craft. They worry that readers are less likely to read a book when they have the infinite distractions of the sharable web at their fingertips. They worry that social media undermines grammar itself and dumbs us down. But where they see an attack, I see an opportunity.

Social media is a gift to writers for three reasons. First and most obviously, it levels the playing field, allowing writers to publish without a brick and mortar publishing house. Anyone can be an author. There is instant access to millions of readers and you can skip the middle man entirely. You can discuss your work with readers or co-create new pieces in real time with collaborators all over the world.

Second, the limitations of the technology itself could give rise to new forms. Currently, Twitter only allows you to post 140-character messages. How do you tell a story in 140-character increments? I don’t know, but I like the challenge. There’s a little more wiggle room on Facebook and sites like WordPress and Tumblr that make it possible to post entire novels on the web. All we have to do is learn how to write for these new media. In the near future, there may be an explosion of tweet-length poetry or status short stories.

Third, the denizens of Twitterverse and the blogosphere are voracious consumers of the written word. There is a lot of bad writing online. Those few people who can actually string together a coherent thought with accurate punctuation are becoming increasingly popular. If you can use the medium and write for it effectively, you can and will find an audience waiting to devour it. If nothing else, the sheer volume of terrible content makes some people more appreciative of the good stuff.

By our very nature, humans are storytellers. All of our great inventions were designed to help us share our stories and social media is no exception. The ways in which a writer can spin his or her digital yarn is literally without limit. The future of social storytelling is especially exciting when you see the new networks that are slowly gaining traction. Services like Storify allow you string together photos, videos, audio, tweets, Facebook posts and a host of other social content to tell stories on a multimedia platform. Imagine a whole new way to write that curates photos to establish setting and tweets for dialogue. Think of the possibilities for creativity.

Now, don’t get me wrong — I love books and I don’t think they’re going away any time soon. But I foresee social storytelling establishing itself as a beautiful compliment to the traditional hardback novel. Within the decade, a new generation of writers will develop a whole new art form that combines the new and the old in ways we cannot yet begin to dream of. It’s a brave new world just waiting to be explored.

— 30 —

When I’m not busy blogging, I’m a social media manager and an incessant tweeter. If you have thoughts, responses or opinions you’d like to share, please feel free to do so in the comments or over on Twitter, where my handle is @jonnyeberle. Thanks for reading.

UPDATE: The New Yorker is serializing the sequel to Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Visit from the Goon Squad on Twitter. Follow the story on their feed at @NYerFiction and learn more about Egan’s decision from the Mashable article.

Published by Jonny Eberle

Writer, photographer, blogger and filmmaker in the City of Destiny. You can find my blog at www.jweberle.com.

7 thoughts on “How Social Media Changes the Way We Write

  1. It is refreshing to hear a perspective on the digitization of media without any fire or brimstone. I hope, for our sake, that you are right. I have always shunned social media on the basis that communication in 140 word increments often lacks the intimacy and emotional substance of a long letter or conversation. Writers need not only convey facts and ideas, but emotions and truths as well. Do you think we can write soulfully in short bursts of thought? What say you to the efficacy of the written word in a such limited capacity?

    1. Thanks for reading, Ryan. You raise a very good point. Most great ideas take a long time to say, but I don’t think they have to. We don’t look at 140-character messages as great works of art because we don’t think about them as an opportunity to take advantage of the form. We think about them in terms of utility, but I think future writers will be excited by the limitations. When every letter counts, you can craft a powerful, punchy message. It will never replace the beauty of Shakespeare, but it stands a chance to change the way we think about social media and social literature.

  2. Very much enjoyed your take on social media writing and agree that storytellers will take any opportunity, medium and audience to tell their stories. Writing for social media forums is still essentially writing and provides those of us who are not (yet) so fortunate to have their writing published in a traditional forum with a most welcome audience but also with the equally welcome company of other writers. I do very much enjoy those (few) who do write/blog well, taking time and effort to polish their work and obviously making it part of their working day (as you do) to keep their blogs interesting, well researched and engaging. How will social media change our writing? Will it change our reading? In my observation it does and I am actually always feeling hesitant to use the opportunity to publish excerpts and ramblings for fear of contributing to something that I see as a competitor to peoples’ traditional reading time. Already, traditional reading is a generational habit, starting to loose the audience under 30 if for no other reason than just a lack of time. Storytelling and reading of traditional stories does take up real time, it also takes a willingness to accept a certain reclusiveness that reading in social media forums never requires – the next diversion always being just one click away. There is something about the whisper of the page, my own breath, the loneliness of reading that I find necessary for engaging in a text whereas I often leave digital reading with the often not followed up upon wish to return to the thought or the writing – later. This is my main reason for still striving to see my work published elsewhere in traditional form.
    Yes, I agree that 140 characters are as much of an intellectual challenge as a haiku. certainly, the length of a piece does not say much about its quality – and sometimes quite the opposite. But I am tired of hearing that something I have taken time to write is too long to enjoy reading. We have to be careful not to cut down our reader’s ability to process 140 character bits.
    Thanks for your great blog, by the way. I am a frequent reader and fan of your writing … Namaste, Kristina

    1. Hi Kristina,

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I heartily agree with your point of view. There is something timeless about the feel of a print; the weight of a book; the smell of the pages; the crack of the binding. I don’t think that will ever go away. Humans are a very tactile species.

      I do think that there is uncharted in these new media, like Facebook and Twitter, that provides exciting opportunities for writers. Like you, I’m hoping to see my name and words in print someday, but I’m also excited to try these new avenues of publishing. I don’t think it will supplant older forms, but I do think they must coexist.

      Thanks for keeping the conversation going.

      Best of luck,
      Jonny

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