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Follow Friday: Teju Cole (Writer)

Blaise Pascal once wrote that writing succinctly can be hard. It’s something many of us aim for, yet few of us master. As awriter who is often guilty of rambling on and subsequently going off on tangents I couldn’t agree more. Writing succinctly is hard for me. My words are my babies. I want them all to shine on the blank page. After the first draft is done I find it difficult to edit out the unnecessary words. Brevity has never been my forte. Neither has been simplicity. But that is something that I continue to work on improving.

To be able to condense an idea into as few words as possible without compromising it requires clarity of thought and a ruthlessness with words that eludes me on most days. And that is one of the reasons I like Twitter and admire those who I regard as masters at tweeting. A tweet gives you only 140 characters to express yourself. It is the perfect training ground for writing succinctly in that regard. Especially for someone like me who needs the practice. But it’s not just having a platform to practice on that appeals to me. There is also the added bonus of getting an insight into the workings of the minds of other writers and ‘Creatives’, one tweet at a time. (Sidebar: I have never been a fan of people calling themselves ‘Creatives’. Doesn’t sound very ummm … creative. Intellectual property developer on the other hand…)

If there is one person who is brilliant at the art of writing succinctly it’s the Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole. Teju Cole a published author of the 2011 bestselling book ‘Open City’ is a master of tweeting. He puts the wit in Twitter. He is able to play the most beautiful games with language using just 140 characters. 

This is not an easy feet by any means. I have tried. And failed. Dismally. I first became aware of Teju Cole a few years ago when he was doing his Small Fates project on Twitter. He would tell a story based on stories he read in the papers in just one tweet. He was somehow able to paint a complete picture while leaving out almost all the details. I was in awe. I still am.

“I don’t normally do this kind of thing”: 45 small fates (Tweets) by Teju Cole

Ever since his timeline has continued to be a both a source of inspiration and a reminder of the beauty of simplicity.

Teju Cole’s musings on Twitter provide a haven from the clutter of all too similar tweets about the latest breaking story. Unlike a lot of people on Twitter, Cole doesn’t spend much time regurgitating other people’s opinions.This makes him one of my favourite people to follow on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As these tweets suggest, Teju Cole can run the gamut of literary genres on Twitter: reportage, epigram, autobiography. But what I find most refreshing is how much they revel in their simplicity. And therein lays his genius.

You can follow him @tejucole

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Posted by on June 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Lessons From My Twitter Detox

Twitter is a fascinating platform. At its very best it delights and instructs. It is also a formidable networking tool. It is a bridge to worlds and people you would otherwise never have the pleasure of interacting with. It breaks and covers news at such a swift pace “old media” can’t keep up as witnessed during the “Arab Spring” and other revolutions around the world. Twitter is also great for raw commentary on other live events like sports instantly placing your fingers on the pulse of your hand picked community. At its worst Twitter can feel like the mental equivalent of dozens of people talking into your ear all at once. It feels superfluous, a platform for the narcissistic and banal.

 For me Twitter has been a conduit for more good than bad. I have a hyperactive brain and an almost insatiable need for information. Twitter makes me feel like I am not alone in my thinking. Occasionally somebody on my timeline mirrors my own mindset. They condense and articulate my spirit in a great joke, epigram or apercu. A lot of the times when I tweet I am just talking to myself. Twitter gives voice to the introvert in me. Twitter gives my overactive mind an arena for it to do its acrobatics. The problem with acrobatic shows with no referee or rules is that you can do significant harm to yourself or others.

Whilst Twitter is a great way to share and expose myself to a variety of ideas I have come to the realization that this constant exposure isn’t always necessarily  conducive to a sense of balance, stability or  ideas being able to take root. By the time I read something compelling on one website, there is another article being praised on my timeline. There is always another issue to be outraged about, something else to critique or another celebrity scandal that warrants stepping on the digital soapbox. There is always something to say or consume. That is the deceptive thing about Twitter. It can make you feel as if you’re actually doing something, even if you’re not. It not only serves as the distracter in chief, but is one of procrastination’s strongest allies.

Twitter has helped my writing in many ways. Twitter democratizes expression and gives a necessary public to writer’s, and types of writing, that otherwise would be confined to the hard drive. I am no exception. Following and interacting with other writer’s has helped me grow as a writer. It serves as a sounding board for my ideas. Some of my tweets have been the first drafts of the pieces I have written. The 140 character has somewhat tamed the rambler in me, schooling me on brevity and wit. On Twitter I have consciously curated my timeline to ensure the mélange of personalities and organizations I follow mentally stimulate me in a variety of ways. There are the people who tweet obscure yet fascinating and illuminating links to longer reads. The people who keep me updated on the latest developments in the worlds of Hip Hop, F1 and Manchester United. The writer’s who inspire me.  Finally, there were those who professed ideologies are diametrically opposed to mine but have a compelling way of conveying them.

Despite all this I quietly worried that inhabiting a 140-character universe meant my thoughts and writing were becoming staccato. Twitter was slowly eroding the patience and care I applied to my writing. It wasn’t as symbiotic as I needed it to be. There was an immediacy, automatism and compulsiveness, that I found becoming more and more disturbing. This all came to a head recently when a friend was telling me something and I found myself thinking to myself. ‘I don’t remember seeing that on Twitter”. Not to mention moments when something would happen and I would mentally step out of the moment to wittily capture the moment in a tweet.

A little over a week ago I made an active decision to take a step back from Twitter. I was in a losing battle for my soul and sanity. I need to revaluate my relationship with Twitter. I decided “F*ck hashtags and retweets. 140 character’s in these streets.” It was time for a Twitter detox. The premise was simple. No tweeting.

 Stepping out of the information cyclone that I had helped foster meant my thought process slowed down because I was exposed to less. The detox has been far from simple. The more I have been away from Twitter the more tweet worthy my experiences have seemed. So it’s been harder not to tweet. I have had my 10 year old cousin staying at my house. Engaging with him without distractions has been a fulfilling experience. I have been encouraged by his candidness and childlike curiosity. He reminded me of the vibrancy and beauty that exists in the world outside of these pixelated screens.

My detox reminded me that I needed to sit more. Sit with my thoughts. Sit at restaurants with family and friends without scrolling through my phone. Sit with disruptive emotions until there was some form of resolution (or not). Either way sitting and slowing down was a welcome change from the constant connectivity and speed.  The most important lesson I can take away from my Twitter detox is the need to strike a balance between the 140 characters in these streets and the 140 characters in tweets. I am determined to make Twitter work for me and not the other way round.

 Twitter, can’t live with it. Can’t live without it.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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