When the social networking site Twitter launched in March of 2006, teenagers received it with a resounding mixture of confusion and dismissal. “What’s the point?” and “I don’t understand it” became the most common response to Twitter-focused conversations in the cafeteria. But beyond the walls of high schools around the world, professionals—musicians, politicians, and actors—signed up to self-promote.
A longtime fan of standard blogging, I found Twitter and fell instantly in love. Many of my peers scoffed at my new toy, and when asked why I “wasted my time” with Twitter, I had no response more eloquent than “because I like it.”
Beginning writers take great pride in their individual spaces on the web, whether it is their Facebook page or their Gmail inbox, and I’m not exception. I meticulously plan each of my blog posts, always sure to use proper grammar and appropriate word choice. During my sophomore year, however, between final exams and the Polyphony HS submission deadline, I couldn’t find time to post. I had no new words to give my small virtual following. School had zapped my creativity, like it so often does during the busy months. I didn’t write for weeks.
Even after school let out for the summer, though, I didn’t rediscover my stories or characters. It seemed they had left me, and the emptiness rested, heavy in my chest. Even the arrival of summer camp, the one event I felt positive could change even the worst situation, didn’t help. Disillusionment hung over me until a girl from my cabin asked for my help with one of her stories. The mild surprise I felt at discovering her shared desire to put pen to paper sparked something—a sort of warmth. I approached her story with my hypercritical eye, and that’s all it took. Her words filled the part of my brain that, for months, I had considered dead. I began a list of suggestions for her. I imagined possible subplots for her characters, too, though I didn’t write them down. I felt so in touch with the writer I had been just a few months earlier that I picked up my cell phone and tweeted.
The first tweet was about the look on my cabin-mate’s face when she saw the long list of suggestions in my hand and the red pen marks all over her story. At first, I felt guilty, but as I continued tweeting about it, I found myself becoming more engrossed in the thoughts that may have gone through her head at that moment. I had begun a short story based on her reaction when I realized the power behind those 140-character status updates. Writing begins with casual observations, and Twitter allows people a place to publish them. Each tweet had reinforced my obsession with human emotion, which led to the creation of that short story.
To a non-writer, careful observation may not seem so important, but I pray that other young writers don’t think that way. In elementary school, I always asked visiting authors where they got their story ideas, and the answer was always the same. “Everywhere,” they would say. Then, I considered such an answer a cop-out, assuming they didn’t want to share their secret, but now I understand. My story, which focused on the intricate relationship between stepsiblings, emerged from my cabin-mate’s disappointment. Ideas are everywhere, and taking careful note of the life around me helped me discover that.
Back on my feet now, it would be easy to knock Twitter, but I don’t. My friends still say I’m indulging myself, publishing my thoughts on the Internet for an audience of strangers. My friends have asked who reads my tweets, and honestly, I don’t know. I have 71 followers, and I haven’t met most of them. But their anonymity isn’t important—their presence is. Not knowing them allows me to publish my tweets without fear of judgment, and although that was just as essential to my development as a writer as that first tweet in early July, but I won’t dwell on it.
That’s a lesson for another day.