Sunday, February 22, 2009

Size Matters: Status, Tweets, and Prescription Pads

Overheard at the last SoMA writer's Meetup:

What's with Facebook status? Do people think I care that they went
out for a cup of coffee? I'm sorry, but I don't understand
Twitter...people have too much free time.

I guess I can understand this frustration--there's about a gazillion cyber trends we're supposed to be hip on right now. (Yesterday on "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me" a contestant nearly missed a question on Twitter, but completely missed a question on Starbucks, which has to make you wonder.) I just discovered a couple of Google items--the Reader and Latitude--so I have no real room to speak much to squelch the frustration, but it reminds me of other statements to writing culture...

When I write, I try to cover the gammit of formats. Natalie Goldberg writes that the size of your paper has the capability to shape your thoughts. Write on a humungous sketch pad and you have big thoughts--with her focus on meditation, she writes that you have to have a big intake of breath to get across a sketch-pad page. If you want to go tiny that's okay by her too, but it will create small thoughts. Here she points to one of my favorite poets--William Carlos Williams--and how he wrote his poems on prescription pads. Williams was a doctor and most of his subject matter was about doctor visits to his patients. Williams also wrote short stories, which weren't miniscule; "The Girl With a Pimply Face" was a fair-sized piece of short fiction. I don't know what he wrote his fiction on--seems a short story of that size would take up a lot of prescription pads--but the point of Williams is that either by brief snippet or lengthy pagination, he wrote. He didn't care what the format was.

Back in the 1800's and early 1900's, there was this wonderful thing called a telegram. "BABY BOY BORN STOP CHARLES ELMER ATKINS STOP SEVEN POUNDS AND FOUR OUNCES STOP MOM AND BOY FINE STOP." Flash-forward about hundred years and you have text messaging, with a language all on its own. There was the worry among the grammarians of the West that text messaging was ruining our use of the English language, until some of the grammarians pointed out that our English skills weren't ruined by the telegraph. And I have found in the workplace that the more you utilize colloquial and formal language in balance, the more you are seen as a deft communicator. If you know how all language works in terms of English, you can communicate with more people. Sort of like writing for any audience--be it Twitter, Facebook, or blog.

There's great site on the web called Six Sentences, a blog devoted to six-sentence stories or anecdotes. The best posts on that blog are those that tell the most intricate story from start to finish in six sentences, as tightly and completely as possible. I've seen stories that have six very short sentences where the post takes only three or four lines of copy on the screen, and then I've seen posts where the sentence length was long enough to make that post gray with copy and a large block. Drifting back to my meditative teacher Ms. Goldberg, I think of Hemingway. Goldberg was enamoured by the length of Hemingway's sentence structure, and particularly amazed because he word choice was so simple. You can glower at Hem for his views on women, but he could write a sentence that was so easily readable but was winding-train-in-the-woods long, without making it seem like a run-on. Some of the Six Sentence authors pack punch, shortened jabs in the dark. Some take a deep breath and control-dream out a whole wish, as though blowing out a sheetcake full of candles. Either format is impressive and successful.


Here are my takes on the formats, and what I strive for:
  • Facebook: I try to post a status that cracks people up. My sense of humor can lean toward the dry, so I don't always succeed, and other times people are all smiles.
  • IM status: See for Facebook, above. I do this for work or home.
  • Twitter: If I have a little story to tell, sort of like Six Sentences, then I put it on Twitter. Twitter is my best friend on the cell phone for quick stories on the rails or road. (I can blog on the Blackberry, but typing it is tedious--Twitter is more managable.)
  • Six Sentences: I hope to submit someday. Right now, I'm too wordy for that format--I can't control myself.

All these things are one more thing to follow, yes. But occasionally, in the litany of words, they shed gems. All I can think of when I hear the itty bitty bits here and there is of one of the worlds longest pieces of fiction, stream-of-conscienceness, found in Joyce's "Ulysses."


I said yes.

I will, yes.

[Editor's Post Script: Found another lovely little site this past week called quillpill, which allows you to write a book or story with Twitter-like capability, on steroids. I've signed up for an account and hope to put a short story on there sometime in mid to late June. Stay tuned...]


Robert McEvily said...

Looking forward to your first submisson, Jo!



Jo Jardin said...


I've been challenged! :)

Hopefully someday, Rob...