By Susan Rogers
Recently I got a bit worried because I couldn't come up with new tweets. Big deal, you're thinking - one less tweet in the world is hardly a crisis. But I've been using these nano-stories as a kick-start to my writing.
Here's how they scraped the side of the car: the wife gave directions, while the husband--blind--drove it into the garage. #cnftweet
That’s one of my stories in 140 characters. Actually, it’s only 131 to allow for the #cnftweet hashtag.
Creative NonFiction, a quarterly magazine, sponsors this daily contest of “Tiny Truths”, re-tweeting its favourites and publishing a select few. I was delighted when the following tweet was featured in Issue 57 last fall:
Tent, foam mattresses, wine and chocolate all packed. Ready to rough it in a government-run campground.
For a while, I was a tad obsessed with writing these tweets—CNF calls them ‘micro-essays.’ As I walked or swam or snow-shoed, I turned almost every bit of overheard conversation, observation and experience into a sentence or two in my head. I submitted a tweet almost every single day. I’ve scaled back now, but still love the exercise. It is an excellent way to practise writing strong sentences where every word matters. I know every word should always matter, but when you try to add plot, voice, description and maybe a simile into a tweet, it’s like cramming winter clothes into a carry-on suitcase. You can only pack the essentials.
I had a university professor for a Charles Dickens course who put a three page maximum on assigned essays. Whereas the author is quite verbose (in a good way), we were trained to be succinct in our analysis. What I learned in that course is that it’s much more difficult to write short than long. That professor taught us concentration, concision and clear thinking. Writing story tweets does the same.
Creating these #cnf tweets is the appetizer to the main course of my writing. It is the crumb that becomes the cake. The warm-up before the marathon (not that I do marathons). Above all, the exercise has made me hyper-observant—engaging all senses—so important to telling stories.
Here are some ways I believe writing these compact truthful tweets can provide a springboard for longer-form creative non-fiction (and fiction too), followed by some of my #cnf micro-essays:
1) The ears tune into dialogue, making us aware of how people speak. Whether in the pool or on an airplane, I’ll hear nuggets that translate into story tweets.
"If you pee in the pool, the water will change colour," the man warns the boy. Later: "Hey, mister! I peed and nothing happened."
2) Observational skills are honed: the eyes notice objects, maybe in unusual locations, or spark a memory, or hint at something else.
A woman’s blue sandal, wedged in the rocks on the shoreline at the edge of the forest, holds a story. Was she chased or careless?
3) Sounds and smells are stimulated, adding another layer to our writing.
An eerie groan slips through the slapping of snowshoes. We stop. Snow-burdened spruce trees sway. Their branches rub and complain.
4) It challenges us to paint stories with similes and metaphors.
The men on both sides claim the plane's armrests. One moves. I flick out an elbow like a lizard's tongue and take what's mine.
5) It’s a way to play with voice and point of view. The tweets don’t always have to be first person.
”He sleeps a lot,” she says about her husband with dementia. She smiles and adds: “But at 4 p.m. every day he speaks Italian.”
6) I appreciate humour and like to use it in my writing whenever possible. So if I can capture a funny bit and tell it in a tweet, I do.
The husband can’t breathe with the cats in our bed. I look into their expectant faces and decide it will have to be a coin toss.
If you’re looking for a window into writing, or want to distil your writing into its essence, I recommend trying these tiny truths. There’s also the potential for a tiny success by having one of your tweets re-tweeted by Creative NonFiction or published in their magazine.
How do you kick-start your writing?
You can follow me on twitter: @SusanRogers6 and check out my blog: https://jubilantjubilada.wordpress.com